UFC on ESPN 9 marked the UFC’s return to Las Vegas and the main event featured former Champion, Tyron Woodley (19-5-1), and rising contender Gilbert Burns (19-3). This is a fight that was interesting for a number of reasons. There were a lot of questions going into the fight about just how good Gilbert Burns was and how motivated Tyron Woodley was. Early on in the fight, we got our answer. Burns took the center of the octagon early, and Woodley immediately through a huge power shot and whiffed. Burns landed a massive right hand that rocked Woodley early. The fight went to the ground where Burns possesses a huge advantage. Burns was able to get full mount, but he wasn’t able to really get a ton of damage done from the mount position. Woodley was able to regain his composure while being on the bottom. Woodley was able to explode up from the mount position and get the fight back on the feet with about 90 seconds left in the first round. However, he wasn’t able to accomplish much on the feet. Gilbert Burns could not have gotten off to a better start in the main event.
In the second round, Woodley came out with a lot of urgency landing some really big shots early. The two welterweights exchanged a few times in the second before Burns was able to land a big takedown with about two and a half minutes left in the round. Woodley was able to work his way back up to his feet using the fence. After Woodley worked his way up, both men stayed in the clinch the rest of the round with nothing significant happening as Burns coasted to his second straight round. The third round didn’t feature a ton of major moments as the two men stood and traded shots throughout the round. Burns continued to pressure the former champion, and Woodley seemed to be headhunting for a one-punch knockout. Woodley landed a couple of good shots, but this was another round where Burns seemed to be in control of the fight. The fourth round started really slow for both guys. The two engaged in a clinch for the first few minutes with not a lot of action. Referee Herb Dean separated two fighters, and after they separated, Burns completely took control. Burns popped Woodley several times with a few stiff jobs and momentarily dropped Woodley with a huge right hand. Burns took down Woodley towards the end of the round and almost ended things with a guillotine choke. Woodley looked completely lost heading back to his corner after losing his ninth consecutive round dating back to his loss to Kamaru Usman.
Coming out for the fifth, Woodley through with everything he had in the first couple of exchanges, but Burns was able to neutralize him against the cage. There wasn’t a ton of action the rest of the round. Woodley continued to look for a miracle shot, but that shot would never come. Gilbert Burns looked incredible, and the judges agreed giving him all five rounds and the unanimous decision victory. Burns made me a believer with that performance. His striking looked crisp, he was very fast, and his ground skills are elite. “Durinho” has now won six consecutive fights and called out the champion Kamaru Usman after the fight was over. It would be hard to argue against his case for a title shot after that performance. The UFC has been struggling to book Usman and Jorge Masvidal for July, and Burns just gave them another option for that card. Burns comes out of this fight without a scratch and he said he could fight in July. It will be interesting to see what the UFC does, but Gilbert Burns is for real and he made a believer out of me.
Fall From Grace
Just two fights ago, Tyron Woodley looked unstoppable. He had incredible power and a great wrestling base to dictate where any fight would take place. Since his submission of Darren Till, Woodley has not just lost two consecutive fights, but he’s been shut out in both fights. Woodley has lost ten consecutive rounds looking like a shell of the guy who was the champion. I’m really not sure where Tyron Woodley will go from here. Going into this fight, I thought if he showed up motivated, he could stop Burns. Instead, Woodley looked lost and out of it again. Maybe it was mental or maybe it was the first big shot that Burns landed. At 38 years old, you have to wonder how much is left in the tank for Woodley.
UFC on ESPN 9 took place in the same location where Dana White’s Contender Series takes place, the UFC Apex, and the fighters on the prelims fought like they were on the Contender Series. Everyone was going for the finish which led to incredible fights throughout the undercard. One standout performers was undefeated prospect Jamahal Hill (8-0) who stopped Klidson Abreu (15-5) with a huge knee to the body early in the first round. Hill is now 2-0 in the UFC since getting signed after his TKO win in the contender series. Chris Gutierrez (15-3-1) also looked incredible stopping Vince Morales (9-5) with a flurry of leg kicks in the second round. Gutierrez’s striking looked crisp and he put a beating on the lead leg of Morales which looked horrifying after the fight. Casey Kenney (14-2-1) was also able to pull off a slick guillotine choke on Louis Smolka (16-7) in the first round. The best fight we saw in the prelims was between Tim Elliot (15-11-1) and Brandon Royval (11-4). The pace was incredible in this fight and it was back and forth throughout. Elliot looked really good in the first round but found himself on the losing end of an arm-triangle choke in the second round.
Chookagian Bounces Back in Dominant Fashion
Katlyn Chookagian (14-3) and Antonina Shevchenko (8-2) was the fight I was the most intrigued by on the prelims. I thought it was going to be interesting to see how Chookagian would bounce back from her last loss and how Shevchenko would handle the step up in competition. The first round was shocking to watch as Chookagian immediately took Shevchenko down and took her back. The majority of the first round, Chookagian looked like she was seconds away from finishing the fight. She had Shevchenko in a fully locked in rear-naked choke a couple of times and she mounted Shevchenko and landed some heavy shots. The second round was very similar to the first round in that Chookagian immediately clinched and took down Shevchenko. Once they were on the ground, Chookagian immediately got to the mount position. Chookagian spent the rest of the round landing some pretty good ground and pound on Shevchenko, but never seemed close to finishing the fight. The third round made me raise my eyebrows a little to start. Chookagian decided to not go for the takedown for the first three minutes of the round after dominating the entire fight on the ground. As a result, Shevchenko was starting to build a little momentum landing some pretty decent shots. Chookagian was landing shots as well, but the former Muay Thai champ was getting the better of the exchanges. With about two minutes left in the final round, Chookagian finally shot in for the takedown. While she didn’t get one on her first attempt, she was able to get Shevchenko down before the round ended. In the final 15 seconds, Chookagian started dropping bombs and almost finished the fight. This was a huge fight for Chookagian coming off the loss to the champ, and she bounced back in a very impressive way winning on all three scorecards 30-25. Now that she’s back on the winning track, I think you’ll see Chookagian get a top 5 fighter in her next outing.
Main Card Recap
Kicking off the main card was a really good fight between Mackenzie Dern (8-1) and Hannah Cifers (10-5). Dern came into the fight as the biggest favorite on the card, and she showed why with a first-round knee-bar. Cifers came out and looked strong in the opening minute, but shortly after Dern was able to take control of the fight. Dern’s hands look much improved and she was able to land some pretty clean shots. The two got in a scramble, and Cifers seemed okay with trying to ground and pound the Jiu-Jitsu world champion which was not a good idea. Dern quickly locked up one of Cifer’s legs and finished the fight. This was such a big win for Dern after suffering her first career loss back in October. Dern struggled with her weight in her last fight, but her cut was no problem this time around. She made 115 pounds with ease and looked fresh in this fight. I would like to see a pretty quick turnaround for Dern with a step up in competition with a top 15 opponent.
Next up we had a lightweight fight between highly touted prospect, Roosevelt Roberts (10-1), and the entertaining Brok Weaver (15-5). There was a lot of heat before this fight with Weaver and Roberts let Weaver know he wasn’t happy about Weaver missing weight. The first round was pretty back and forth with both guys landing some clean shots. Roberts was talking to Weaver throughout the first round and landed the cleaner shots on the feet. Roberts was really showing off his speed in this fight. In the second round, Roberts was able to get the fight to the ground and that is where is ground skills took over. Roberts landed some heavy shots on the ground and was able to transition to a rear-naked choke. A very impressive performance for Roberts who is now 4-1 in the UFC. Roberts called out Matt Frevola (8-1) for his next fight. These two were supposed to fight back in April, and if Frevola can win on June 20th, this seems like the fight to make.
The third fight of the main card was a catchweight fight between Spike Carlyle (9-2) and Billy Quarantillo (14-2). Carlyle ran across the octagon as soon as the fight started and got the fight to the ground after a flying kick and some vicious elbows. Carlyle was able to get to the mount position and land some heavy shots. After going for an armbar, Carlyle lost top position and Quarantillo started to take control. Quarantillo was able to get Carlyle’s back and almost secured a choke. Carlyle was able to reverse the position and get back to the top. After that, Carlyle was able to control the rest of the round from the top position. There was a weird moment at the end of the round where Carlyle stood up as if the round was over and Quarantillo landed a clean shot that dropped Carlyle. In the second round, Carlyle landed a huge elbow early that rocked Quarantillo. After a scramble, Carlyle was able to get top position and control Quarantillo for a good portion of the round. Later in the round, after the fight was back on the feet, both men were able to secure takedowns. Quarantillo almost finished the fight with a triangle choke late in the round, but Carlyle was able to power through the choke. Carlyle was completely gassed going into the third round and Quarantillo was able to get the better of the grappling exchanges in the third round. Quarantillo through up several submissions early in the round, but Carlyle was able to slip out of everything and regain top position a couple of times. Quarantillo dominated all aspects of the third round even landing some very heavy shots on the feet. The two men fought to the scorecards in an incredibly close fight. I had Carlyle winning two rounds, but the judges saw this one differently giving Quarantillo the fight 29-28 on all three scorecards.
The co-main event of the evening featured a heavyweight battle between Blagoy Ivanov (18-3) and Augusto Sakai (14-1). The two heavyweights came out pretty slow in this one showing respect for each other. There were not a ton of exchanges early, but Ivanov rushed Sakai a few times throughout the round and was able to land a couple of clean shots. Sakai through some kicks throughout the first round, but seemed to be a little out of range early. Towards the end of the first round, Sakai was able to land some pretty decent leg kicks, one of which buckled the leg of Ivanov. In the second round, Ivanov came out pretty aggressive and landed some good left shots early. Sakai continued to land good leg kicks and seemingly found his range in the second round landing a few shots up top. As the round went on, Ivanov seemed to stay more on the outside feeling the effects of some of Sakai’s kicks. Sakai controlled most of the round with his striking, but Ivanov was able to secure a takedown near the end of the round. The takedown made the round closer, but this was seemingly a 1-1 fight going into the third round. Augusto Sakai was the much fresher fighter entering the third round and it showed. Sakai was able to stay on the outside and pick his shots against the labored Ivanov early. Ivanov did land a few good shots, but Sakai continued landing good shots even throwing a flying knee at one point. There was a little controversy in the third round where Ivanov was close to landing a takedown, but Sakai grabbed the fence to stop the takedown. There was no point deduction despite the obvious foul from Sakai. Ivanov seemed to get a second wind after the takedown attempt and really pushed the pace late landing some really good shots. Going to the scorecards, I thought Sakai one the fight 29-28 which two of the judges agreed with. Sakai won the fight via split decision, but one judge saw the fight 30-27 for Ivanov which was frightening to see.
The UFC’s return to Vegas was a successful one and they might have a new star on their hands. Gilbert Burns didn’t just open the door tonight, he kicked it in. I will be very interested to see what the UFC does with him next whether he gets a title shot or maybe a shot at Colby Covington. The card delivered in all aspects tonight and we get to turn around for another fight next week when we see UFC 250 headlined by the Lioness, Amanda Nunes. UFC 250 is completely stacked and I personally can’t wait to sit back down next week for another great night of fights.