The UFC’s welterweight division is loaded with contenders, storylines, and fights to make. Saturday night saw the addition of a former lightweight champion to that depth with Anthony Pettis scoring a sensational knockout victory over Stephen “Wonderboy” Thompson.
The former 155-pound champion, who miraculously attempted a campaign at featherweight once upon a time, seems to have found a weight class that will eliminate the stress of the weight cut on his performance. While clearly outsized by Thompson, Pettis displayed an aggressive game plan of leg kicks and pressure even though dropping the first round to the former title challenger.
With a win over the #3 ranked Thompson, Pettis is going to make an immediate splash rather than biding his time at the new weight. It’s an interesting dynamic as Pettis joins Ben Askren and Tyron Woodley, both men with ties to Rofusport, among the division’s elite. It is reminiscent of the dilemma AKA had a decade ago when Josh Koscheck, Jon Fitch, and Mike Swick occupied slots at welterweight but would never fight each other.
For Pettis, there is no shortage of fights as he noted he would like a rematch with Rafael dos Anjos, the man who dethroned Pettis of his lightweight gold in 2015. From a stylistic standpoint, Pettis being matched with the likes of Darren Till, Santiago Ponzinibbio, and Robbie Lawler would all be intriguing. The key will be if Pettis skyrockets in the rankings from this Thompson victory and where he views the most value from fighting those candidates.
At 32, there is a lot left for Pettis, who has been written off several times in his career and continues to reinvent himself and time will tell if the larger weight class agrees with Pettis. On night one, he leaves with a highlight-reel knockout and a victory over a solid contender.
*Jordan Espinosa def. Eric Shelton by unanimous decision (30-27, 30-27, 29-28)
*Chris Gutierrez def. Ryan MacDonald by unanimous decision (30-27 all)
*Randa Markos def. Angela Hill by armbar at 4:24 of Round 1
*Jennifer Maia def. Alexis Davis by unanimous decision (29-28 all)
*Marlon Vera def. Frankie Saenz by TKO at 1:25 of Round 1
*Bryce Mitchell def. Bobby Moffett by unanimous decision (29-28 all)
*Maycee Barber def. JJ Aldrich by TKO at 3:01 of Round 2
*Luis Pena def. Steven Peterson by unanimous decision (30-27 all)
*Jussier Formiga def. Deiveson Figueiredo by unanimous decision (30-27, 29-28, 29-28)
*John Makdessi def. Jesus Pinedo by unanimous decision (30-27, 30-27, 29-28)
*Curtis Blaydes def. Justin Willis by unanimous decision (30-25, 30-26, 30-27)
*Anthony Pettis def. Stephen Thompson by knockout at 4:55 of Round 2
Jordan Espinosa def. Eric Shelton by unanimous decision (30-27, 30-27, 29-28) – Flyweight
Espinosa was making his promotional following two wins on Dana White’s Tuesday Night Contender Series. I thought it was a close fight and I had it even going into the final round. Espinosa landed a head kick but followed it with an eye poke. Shelton moved forward throughout the round, but Espinosa was active with his jab. Espinosa improved to 14-5 with the victory.
Chris Gutierrez def. Ryan MacDonald by unanimous decision (30-27 all) – Bantamweight
Gutierrez was the clear winner of the fight and each round. He feinted a lot in the first round and established his kicking game. MacDonald was cut on his head and bled throughout the fight from the wound and took an elbow to it in the second round. Gutierrez slowed a bit in the third round, although still won it and went for an armbar and guillotine attempt in the closing seconds. This was Gutierrez’s first UFC win after losing his debut last November.
Randa Markos def. Angela Hill by armbar at 4:24 of Round 1 – Strawweight
These two were part of Season 20 of the Ultimate Fighter in 2014.
Markos and Hill had a big striking exchange immediately. This led to a clinch and Markos took her down into side control. Markos maneuvered to her back and extended her leg over to set up for the armbar. Hill defended but Markos had tremendous control and eventually locked on the submission for the victory. This was Markos’ first win in over a year following a loss to Nina Ansaroff and a majority draw last September against Marina Rodriguez. Markos wants to fight on the card in Ottawa on May 4th.
Jennifer Maia def. Alexis Davis by unanimous decision (29-28 all) – Flyweight
Maia won the first round through her boxing skill and connected with a big combination of punches. In the second, Davis swept the leg for a takedown and mounted Maia, who recovered half-guard but stayed on the bottom for the round and ate several short elbows. The third round was close, Maia landed a lot of strikes at a distance while Davis quietly piled up leg kicks. I had it 29-28 for Maia.
Maia improves to 16-4-1 and this was her first UFC win after getting a tough opponent in Liz Carmouche last July and going the distance in a decision loss. Maia has a good resume that includes wins over Jessica Andrade, Zoila Frausto, Vanessa Porto, and Roxanne Modafferi.
Marlon Vera def. Frankie Saenz by TKO at 1:25 of Round 1 – Featherweight
Vera used a leg kick and then caught him with a left jab that dropped Saenz. Vera followed with shots to the head and finished him, one of the shots hit Saenz in the back of the head. It was Vera’s third consecutive win following victories over Wuliji Buren and Guido Cannetti last year.
Bryce Mitchell def. Bobby Moffett by unanimous decision (29-28 all) – Featherweight
This was a great fight. Mitchell won the first and third rounds and essentially, won the fight in the final minute. In the first, he dropped Moffett with a left hand and nearly had him with a triangle armbar. Moffett came back in the second with a pair of takedowns and a D’arce attempt. It appeared Moffett was on his way to victory securing several takedowns in the third round when Mitchell escaped and took Moffett’s back. He flattened Moffett and applied a rear-naked choke, but Moffett escaped, the positional control and submission attempt were enough to swing the round and win the fight for Mitchell.
Mitchell earned his second win in the UFC coming off Season 27 of TUF. He also demanded camo shorts from Reebok after the fight.
Maycee Barber def. JJ Aldrich by TKO at 3:01 of Round 2 – Flyweight
Aldrich won the first round and provided problems for Barber to overcome. Aldrich rocked Barber and twice Barber went down to the canvas. In the second, it was Barber who was able to stun Aldrich and then connected with a knee and stopped Aldrich with strikes.
Luis Pena def. Steven Peterson by unanimous decision (30-27 all) – Catchweight
Pena is enormous for the weight class, so much so that he missed weight at 148.5 pounds.
Peterson was the better wrestler and scored two takedowns in the second round. But it was Pena with the better striking and overcame the wrestling to win the round with his strikes. He had a strong finish to Round 2. In the third, Pena hit an uppercut and high kick. He got to Peterson’s back on the mat and ended with a left head kick.
Pena apologized for the missing weight in his post-fight interview.
Jussier Formiga def. Deiveson Figueiredo by unanimous decision (30-27, 29-28, 29-28) – Flyweight
If people had a clearer idea of flyweight’s future, this would be a more important fight as it’s among the top contenders within the division.
Formiga dictated his style of a fight with the takedowns making the difference. He got one late in the first and mounted Figueiredo. In the second, he took Figueiredo down again and was controlling him throughout the round when Figueiredo cut him open with a right elbow off his back but wasn’t enough to steal the round. The third round started with Figueiredo standing but was eventually taken and could never change the tone of the fight to his advantage. I scored it 30-27 for Formiga.
He said Henry Cejudo is running from him. Formiga has won three straight and it must be frustrating for him and Joseph Benavidez as the division awaits an answer on its fate.
John Makdessi def. Jesus Pinedo by unanimous decision (30-27, 30-27, 29-28) – Lightweight
It wasn’t an entertaining fight for the Nashville crowd, who booed it consistently. Makdessi out struck Pineda in each round and tore apart Pinedo’s lead leg with kicks while also relying on sidekicks to the body and closing the distance to enter. Pinedo wanted a brawl and let it go in the second, landing a head kick in the process. Pinedo had his best round in the third but was still a Makdessi round on my card due to the more effective striking. It was Makdessi’s third consecutive win after victories over Abel Trujillo and Ross Pearson. Pinedo is only 22-years old and has a lot of promise with a fight against someone like Makdessi a solid learning experience.
Curtis Blaydes def. Justin Willis by unanimous decision (30-27, 30-26, 30-25) – Heavyweight
This was utter domination from Blaydes. I scored the fight 30-25 for him with 10-8s in Round 1 and 2.
Blaydes took him down and repeatedly slammed him back down on the mat while delivering knees in the one-sided round. It continued in the second where Blaydes rocked Willis with a right hand and then got a big takedown. In total, Blaydes had seven takedowns in the fight. In the third round, Blaydes was a bit more conservative for the first half and then got a big takedown in the center. He was in side control and controlled Willis for the duration.
Blaydes looked phenomenal and a contender at heavyweight. It was funny because Daniel Cormier interviewed him after the fight and asked who he wanted next and Blaydes probably wanted to say “you”, but he listed off Junior dos Santos, Derrick Lewis, and Stipe Miocic as options.
Anthony Pettis def. Stephen Thompson by KO at 4:55 of Round 2 – Welterweight
The fight started with each throwing a lot of kicks. Thompson connected with the body and hit a spin kick to the head and had the edge in the round. In the second, Thompson was looking great with body and leg strikes. Thompson started using his jab as Pettis threw leg kicks. Thompson used a sidekick to send Pettis against the cage, he bounced off and landed a beautiful superman punch that knocked Thompson down and he was finished with two follow up shots for the knockout.
This was enormous for Pettis winning in his welterweight debut and said he would like to stay around at the new weight as the cut was killing him at lightweight. It’s another name added to the deep welterweight ranks.