UFC Fight Night Report: Rodriguez vs Stephens ends in no contest
By: Eric Marcotte
On Saturday night the UFC returned to Mexico City at Arena Ciudad for their 17th ESPN+ card. The event was headlined by a featherweight bout between contenders Yair Rodriguez and Jeremy Stephens. Rodriguez’s last fight was an instant classic against Chan Sung Jung, which Rodriguez emerged victorious with one of the greatest knockouts of all time, finishing Jung with only a second left in the fifth round. On the flip side, Jeremy Stephens was looking for a rebound win against one of the divisions hottest prospects, following back-to-back losses to Jose Aldo and Zabit Magomedsharipov. Elsewhere on the card, former UFC strawweight champion Carla Esparza faced off against Mexico’s own, Alexa Grasso.
Brendan Fitzgerald provided commentary for the event alongside UFC Hall of Famer Michael Bisping. Performance bonuses were awarded to Paul Craig and Steven Peterson. Fight of the Night bonuses went to Carla Esparza and Alexa Grasso. The reported attendance for the event was 10,112.
*Claudio Puelles def. Marcos Mariano by unanimous decision (30-25 all)
*Bethe Correia def. Sijara Eubanks by unanimous decision (29-28 all)
*Paul Craig def Vinicius Moreira by rear-naked choke at 3:19 of Round 1
*Sergio Pettis def. Tyson Nam by unanimous decision (30-27 all)
*Angela Hill def. Ariane Carnelossi by TKO at 1:56 of Round 3
*Kyle Nelson def. Polo Reyes by KO at 1:36 of Round 1
*Jose Quinonez def. Carlos Huachin by unanimous decision (30-27 all)
*Steven Peterson def. Martin Bravo by KO at 1:31 of Round 2
*Irena Aldana def. Vanessa Melo by unanimous decision (30-26 all)
*Brandon Moreno vs. Askar Askarov ended in a split draw (28-28, 28-29, 30-27)
*Carla Esparza def. Alexa Grasso by majority decision (29-28, 29-28, 28-28)
*Yair Rodriguez vs. Jeremy Stephens ended in a no contest at 0:15 of Round 1
CLAUDIO PUELLES (8-2, 155) VS MARCOS MARIANO (6-5, 154) – LIGHTWEIGHT
Puelles took Mariano down in the first twenty seconds of the fight and eventually worked for a kimura that allowed Mariano to reverse position into Puelles guard, before quickly being stood up. Puelles returned Mariano to the ground with a slam and went back to work. Mariano took this round without much difficulty.
Once again, Puelles effortlessly took Mariano to the ground within seconds. Mariano did a decent job of minimizing damage but had absolutely nothing to offer Puelles here. Puelles controlled the entire round.
Expectedly, Mariano was taken down seconds into the beginning of the third (after registering his first strike). Puelles transitioned into a kimura attempt, and Mariano grabbed his own shorts to prevent Puelles from completing the submission, which spiraled commentators Michael Bisping and Brendan Fitzgerald into an amusing conversation regarding the legality of shorts grabbing and Bisping’s knowledge of grappling. Puelles dominated every second of this fight and I scored this fight 30-24 in his favor.
WINNER: Claudio Puelles by unanimous decision (30-25 all)
This was a completely dominant performance for Puelles. Now 0-2 in the UFC it appears that Mariano will not be able to compete at this level of competition, at least until he shows significant improvement in his takedown defense.
SIJARA EUBANKS (5-3, 135) VS BETHE CORREIA (10-4, 136) – BANTAMWEIGHT
The first half of the first round was spent on the feet. It was a primarily a boxing match with both women landing some clean shots, but Eubanks had the edge. Eubanks shot for a takedown to bring Correia against the cage and began raining down heavy left hands. Correia survived, but this was a good round for Eubanks.
They began exchanging big overhand rights in the second. Eubanks seemed to be a bit slower to start this round, and Correia showcased improved takedown defense. I thought Correia won this round with a significantly higher striking output.
Correia landed a few jabs and body shots in the first couple minutes of the final round, and one of those jabs appeared to bother the right eye of Eubanks. Correia continued to outland Eubanks here, although Eubanks landed some hard-counter punches of her own. I scored this fight 29-28 Correia.
WINNER: Bethe Correia by unanimous decision (29-18 all)
Things looked bad in the first, but Correia’s cardio held up as Eubanks faded, and picked up the win. This was Correia’s first win since 2016.
VINICIUS MOREIRA (9-3, 206) VS PAUL CRAIG (11-4, 206) – LIGHT HEAVYWEIGHT
The fighters engaged in the clinch against the cage, and Moreira pulled guard about thirty seconds into the fight. They reached a stalemate on the ground and Moreira escaped the position and attempted to take Craig back down in a better position. As Moreira shot for a single leg, Craig landed a pair of right knees, the second of which dropped Moreira and began to throw vicious strikes down upon his clearly rocked opponent. Referee Dan Miragliotta could have stopped the fight here, but Craig changed strategy took Moreira’s back and sunk in the rear-naked choke to get the finish.
WINNER: Paul Craig by rear-naked choke at 3:19 of Round 1
This was by far the best Paul Craig has performed since his UFC debut. Moreira clearly intended to grapple Craig, but pulling guard within the first minute of a fight is typically not a good sign. Craig is now 4-4 in the UFC and has yet to see a decision.
SERGIO PETTIS (17-5, 124) VS TYSON NAM (16-9, 126) – FLYWEIGHT
This was Pettis’s return to the flyweight division after a brief experiment at 135. Bisping noted that Pettis was one of the few fighters who did not arrive in Mexico City before fight week to adjust to the altitude.
The first round was a feeling-out process. Neither fighter landed or attempted anything significant. This was a very tough round to score due to the tentatively of both fighters, but Pettis was a bit more active, which likely gave him the round on the judge’s scorecards.
Pettis landed a spinning backfist early in the second. The crowd was getting very restless. Nam was having trouble cutting Pettis off, leading to Pettis landing jabs and low kicks to keep Nam at bay. Nam landed a left hook, but there wasn’t enough on it to do any damage. Pettis landed a cartwheel kick and an up-kick at the end of the round.
The fighters were a bit more comfortable in the third, putting a bit more on the end of their landed blows. Pettis connected with a sharp elbow out of the clinch and landed a hard body kick to Nam. Pettis threw a front kick, and Nam tried and failed to end the fight with a takedown.
WINNER: Sergio Pettis by unanimous decision (30-27 all)
The crowd hated this fight, but I thought Pettis looked pretty sharp, especially as the fight progressed. He will always be compared to his brother, and if there is one thing that Sergio could learn from Anthony right now, is that he has to let loose offensively, especially if he wants to threaten higher-ranked opponents. Still, he picked up the victory here and broke his short losing skid.
ARIANE CARNELOSSI (12-1, 112) VS ANGELA HILL (9-7, 115) – STRAWWEIGHT
Carnelossi was putting on the pressure from the get-go trying to back Hill into the cage. Hill never has much issue fighting backwards and was out landing Carnelossi by a significant margin. Hill connected with some fantastic knees in the clinch to the body of Carnelossi, and a clean uppercut to end the round.
Hills low kicks, jabs and uppercuts were still reaching their targets, but Carnelossi was beginning to walk through them to land her big hooks. This was a better round for Carnelossi, but I gave Hill the edge. Still, this round had to be a confidence booster for Carnelossi.
Coming out of a clinch exchange against the cage, Hill connected with a sharp elbow that opened a huge cut up above the left eyebrow Carnelossi. The doctor was brought in to examine Carnelossi, and the fight was called.
WINNER: Angela Hill by TKO at 1:56 of Round 3
Hill may not have the most impressive record in the UFC, but she fights so often that she has had plenty of cage time to improve. She picked up a dominant victory here, and her first stoppage victory in the promotion. The stoppage was a bit odd, as cuts of that size do not typically stop a fight, but perhaps Carnelossi said something of her vision being obstructed.
POLO REYES (8-6, 145) VS KYLE NELSON (12-3, 146) – FEATHERWEIGHT
Kyle Nelson had Reyes backed against the cage and broke away with an elbow, before viciously swinging at Reyes against the cage, connecting with a wild right hand that rocked Reyes, and continued his barrage of strikes until the fight was stopped.
WINNER: Kyle Nelson by KO at 1:36 of Round 1
Some may argue this was an early stoppage, but Reyes looked like he was out on his feet. Regardless, Nelson needed this win after starting his UFC career with a pair of losses. He showcased some real power here.
JOSE QUINONEZ (8-3, 134) VS CARLOS HUACHIN (10-4, 136) – BANTAMWEIGHT
After a brief period of feeling each other out, both men ducked in at the same time and it was Quinonez that landed a short right that dropped Huachin. Huachin defended himself on the ground and escaped the predicament. Huachin landed a few looping hooks. The inside leg kicks were starting to pile up from Quinonez. Huachin ate a huge kick to the head at the end of the round.
Quinonez mixed it up in the second, shooting for a takedown that caught Huachin completely off guard. Huachin eventually escaped the position and returned to the feet with ninety seconds remaining in the round. Quinonez circled for the remainder of the round and Huachin was unable to cut the cage to put him in any danger.
Quinonez dominated the first half of the third round after securing an early takedown and landing a series of elbows down on Huachin. Huachin claimed he was poked in the eye but referee Dan Miragliotta told him to fight on. Huachin was distracted for the rest of the round and I scored this fight 30-27 Quinonez.
WINNER: Jose Quinonez by unanimous decision (30-27 all)
Quinonez fought a slick multifaceted game and Huachin never found the answer. Quinonez is now 5-2 in the UFC.
MARTIN BRAVO (12-2, 144) VS STEVEN PETERSON (17-9, 146) – FEATHERWEIGHT
This fight opened up the main card.
Bravo opened the fight up with heavy pressure and a high paced attack. Within three minutes he had taken Peterson down, rocked him and put him to the ground with a sweep of the leg. Peterson was just trying to find the space to recover for most of this round but finally found his rhythm again towards the end of the first. Bravo may have expended a lot of energy this round, and looked slower towards the end.
Into the second Peterson landed a solid right hand but was quickly taken down. He escaped the position. Bravo attempts a spinning elbow, but out of nowhere, Stevenson counters with a spinning back fist that knocks Bravo unconscious in brutal fashion.
WINNER: Steven Peterson by KO at 1:31 of Round 2
This was one of the best knockouts of the entire year. I urge anyone who missed this to go back and watch the finish to this fight. This was a big win for Peterson who was 1-3 in the promotion coming into this fight.
Cain Velasquez was shown in the audience and got a big reaction when he took his Lucha mask off. Jorge Masvidal also came out to a loud reaction, and it’s amazing how much his star has grown in 2019.
IRENE ALDANA (10-5, 135) VS VANESSA MELO (10-5, 140) – BANTAMWEIGHT
Melo took this fight on short notice and missed weight by 5lbs after originally scheduled opponent Marion Reneau pulled out.
The first round consisted of Melo moving forward and continuously running into the jabs and low kicks of Aldana. Aldana won this round comfortably and was starting to pile up the body shots towards the end of the round.
“Vanessa is anything but Melo” stated Michael Bisping as the Brazilian pressured forward. Melo did appear to have more confidence here but was still marching into Aldana’s jabs. Aldana’s striking was looking pristine here. Aldana kept setting up the right straight that was landing at will. 2-0 Aldana heading into the third.
Beautiful question mark kick from Aldana lands early in the final round. She narrowly missed a spinning head kick a minute later. Aldana’s jabs and left hooks to the body continue to control the fight. Aldana turned it on in the last thirty seconds, just marching forward and putting a beating on Melo.
WINNER: Irena Aldana by unanimous decision (30-26 all)
Aldana was a massive favorite coming into this fight and backed those odds up. Her striking was on point here. Aldana is now 4-3 in the UFC.
BRANDON MORENO (15-5, 124) VS ASKAR ASKAROV (10-0, 125) – FLYWEIGHT
Askarov grabbed on to Moreno early and dragged him down to the ground. Askarov took Moreno’s back as he looked to get up against the cage. Moreno maneuvered his way through a triangle attempt to move into Askarov’s guard and began throwing hard strikes down on Askarov. Moreno landed a pair of hooks that wobbled Askarov when they returned to the feet. Very good round.
Moreno came out swinging and Askarov capitalized on Moreno’s wild offense with another takedown. Moreno returned to his feet, landed some strikes, was brought back to the ground, and this exact sequence of events happened about three times. Moreno went for a kick to the body as Askarov shot, and Moreno’s knee connected square in the head of Askarov. Askarov was dropped but survived long enough for time to expire. Another excellent round in front of a great crowd.
In a turn of events, Moreno started the third round with a slick takedown of his own. Both men were active here, but Moreno’s strikes had the edge on the power given his top position. Moreno slipped to Askarov’s back and started searching for the rear-naked choke. He didn’t find it but finished the round in dominant position, and I scored the fight 29-28 in his favor.
Result: Split Draw (28-28, 28-29, 30-27)
I thought this fight was great. Men’s flyweight has been one of the most consistently entertaining divisions for the past year. I was somewhat surprised by the result, as I thought Moreno was a step ahead of Askarov for the majority of the fight. Not sure where a judge possibly found a 10-8 round.
CARLA ESPARZA (14-6, 115) VS ALEZA GRASSO (11-2, 116) – STRAWWEIGHT
After a few minutes of feeling one another out, Esparza shot right in for a successful takedown, but Grasso escaped without much issue. Esparza landed a decent right hand rushing forward. Grasso’s takedown defense was holding up well until Esparza brought her down with a slick head and arm throw. Grasso made her way back to her feet and the round ended.
Esparza completed an early takedown in the second and began working in Grasso’s guard. Esparza eventually took Grasso’s back, but Grasso was able to get back to her feet shortly thereafter. Grasso landed a clean right cross, and Esparza responded with one of her own before taking Grasso back down.
Grasso started letting loose in the final round and had Esparza hurt with a series of strikes against the cage. Grasso slipped moving forward and didn’t get back up with the same momentum. The fight made its way back to the ground and Grasso looked like she had an armbar fully locked in, but Esparza somehow escaped from this position. With twenty seconds to go Grasso got back to her feet, and the two fighters traded wild strikes to run out the clock for an appreciative audience. I scored this fight a draw, giving Grasso a 10-8 in the final round.
WINNER: Carla Esparza by majority decision (29-28, 29-28, 28-28)
This was another entertaining fight and I wouldn’t be surprised to see a wide variety of scorecards. I thought Grasso was looking fantastic as the fight went into the later rounds, but Esparza did enough to secure the first two rounds on the scorecards. The boos from the crowd were so loud you could barely hear Esparza in the post-fight interview. She had beer poured on her as she walked to the back. I hope one day we get past booing fighters out of the building when the crowd disagrees with the decision.
A fight between featherweight champion Max Holloway and number one contender Alexander Volkanovski was announced for UFC 245. Holloway has won his last 14 fights at 145lbs, and Volkanovski is riding a 17-fight win streak, including wins over Jose Aldo and Chad Mendes.
YAIR RODRIGUEZ (11-2, 145) VS JEREMY STEPHENS (28-16, 145) – FEATHERWEIGHT
Rodriguez opened up with some quick kicks to the leg and chin of Stephens. Rodriguez swiped his hand down quickly which raked the left eye of Stephens. Stephens appeared to be unable to open the eye and the doctor was brought in. Herb Dean was doing everything in his power to keep the fight going, repeatedly telling Stephens and the doctors to wait until the end of the five-minute time period. The fight was ultimately stopped.
Result: No Contest at 0:15 of Round 1 (accidental eye poke)
The crowd started throwing things into the cage. Rodriguez was furious. Michael Bisping was having a blast. Stephens was escorted out of the cage. Stephens was pelted with beer, bottles, and ice as he left the cage, which was disgusting. This looked like it could have been a mess, but the crowd (and Rodriguez) calmed. In his post-fight interview Rodriguez apologized for this outcome and expressed interest in rescheduling the fight.