UFC Fight Night Report: Robert Whittaker defeats Darren Till, Shogun scores third win against Lil Nog

Eric Marcotte reviews Saturday's UFC Fight Night card from Abu Dhabi headlined by Robert Whittaker vs. Darren Till and a third encounter between Mauricio “Shogun” Rua and Antônio Rogério Nogueira.

UFC Fight Night Report: Robert Whittaker defeats Darren Till, Shogun scores third win against Lil Nog

UFC Fight Night Report: Robert Whittaker defeats Darren Till by unanimous decision. Shogun closes out trilogy with a third win against Lil Nog.

By: Eric Marcotte 

On Saturday night, the UFC held their fourth and final “fight island” card at the Flash Forum on Yas Island, Abu Dhabi. This was a very lengthy card, with fifteen bouts scheduled, which matched UFC 2 for the most fights on a single UFC card. The event was headlined by a fight between former UFC Middleweight Champion, Robert Whittaker, and sixth ranked middleweight, Darren Till. Till made the move up to the middleweight division last November at UFC 244, where he defeated Kelvin Gastelum by split decision. For Whittaker, this was his first fight since he lost his title to Israel Adesanya last October. Prior to that knockout loss, Whittaker won nine consecutive fights, capped off by two consecutive wins against Yoel Romero. Taking Whittaker’s status at middleweight into account, this was a huge fight for Darren Till, as an impressive win could feasibly move him to the front of the line for a middleweight title shot. In the co-main event, Mauricio “Shogun” Rua met Antonio Rogerio Nogueira for the third and presumably final time. Their first fight at PRIDE FC: Critical Countdown 2005 was a classic, and their rematch at UFC 190 earned Fight of the Night honours as well. This card also marked the return of Alexander Gustafsson, who made his debut at heavyweight against the division’s former champion, Fabricio Werdum.

The commentary team for the card consisted of John Gooden, Dan Hardy, and Paul Felder. There were no fight of the night bonuses handed out, but there were six performance bonuses were awarded in total, and they went out to Tanner Boser, Tom Aspinall, Jesse Ronson, Khamzat Chimaev, Paul Craig, and Fabricio Werdum (everybody who won via knockout or submission on the card, with the exception of Francisco Trinaldo, who missed weight and was thus ineligible).


*Nathaniel Wood def. John Castaneda by unanimous decision (30-27 all)

*Ramazan Emeev def. Niklas Stolize by unanimous decision (30-27, 30-27, 29-28)

*Pannie Kianzad def. Bethe Correia by unanimous decision (30-27, 30-27, 29-28)

*Tanner Boser def. Raphael Pessoa by TKO at 2:36 of Round 2

*Movsar Evloev def. Mike Grundy by unanimous decision (30-27, 30-27, 29-28)

*Tom Aspinall def. Jake Collier by TKO at 0:45 of Round 1

*Jesse Ronson def. Nicolas Dalby by rear naked choke at 2:48 of Round 1

*Francisco Trinaldo def. Jai Herbert by TKO at 1:30 of Round 3

*Khamzat Chimaev def. Rhys McKee by TKO at 3:09 of Round 1

*Alex Oliveira def. Peter Sobotta by unanimous decision (30-27 all)

*Paul Craig def. Gadzhimurad Antigulov by triangle choke at 2:06 of Round 1

*Carla Esparza def. Marina Rodriguez by unanimous decision (29-28, 30-27, 29-28)

*Fabricio Werdum def. Alexander Gustafsson by armbar at 2:30 of Round 1

*Mauricio “Shogun” Rua def. Antônio Rogério Nogueira by split decision (29-28, 29-28, 28-29)

*Robert Whittaker def. Darren Till by unanimous decision (48-47 all)


Both fighters were aggressive to begin the fight, and each man was landing hard shots when they would trade in the pocket. Additionally, both men were throwing a high number of leg kicks in the opening round. Wood landed a few body kicks, and tripped Castaneda to the ground late in the round. They fought this round at a high pace, and whenever one fighter landed, the other would immediately respond. It was a competitive five minutes, but Wood took the opening round.

Wood was beginning to pull ahead in the second round. He was landing in combination, mixing up his attack to the body and the head. Wood cut Castaneda open with a left hook. It seemed as though Castaneda was looking for that one big shot to put Wood out, but he was no longer matching Wood’s output in their exchanges, and towards the end of the round he was getting tagged a lot. The low kicks were really adding up for Wood as well, and he clearly won the second round.

Once again, Wood opened up the round strongly. They exchanged sharp elbows in the clinch. Wood connected with a powerful straight right hand that Castaneda just ate. He definitely showed off his chin in this fight. Wood landed a few more kicks to Castaneda’s lead leg. The fight went the distance, and I scored it 30-27 Wood.

WINNER: Nathaniel Wood by unanimous decision (30-27 all)

Nathaniel Wood looked great in this fight. He fought at a very high pace for fifteen minutes, throwing hard and never taking his foot off the gas. Wood has given a very good account for himself thus far in the UFC, with a record of 4-1, and that only loss coming to John Dodson. He is certainly someone that is worth keeping an eye on at 135lbs, and to Castaneda’s credit, he gave a good account of himself as well on short notice.


Emeev took Stolize down about thirty seconds into the first, but Stolize quickly escaped to his feet. Nonetheless, Emeev brought him right back to the ground not long thereafter, and started squeezing Stolize’s neck, threatening a choke. Stolize defended the choke attempt, and worked his way back to the feet once more. The third time Emeev brought Stolize to the ground, Stolize attempted a guillotine choke, but Emeev avoided it and racked up a decent amount of control time. With seconds remaining, Stolize escaped the positon, and landed a hard knee as Emeev shot in for a last second takedown. It wasn’t enough to win him the round, but this was the biggest moment of the fight thus far.

Emeev landed a big right hand at the beginning of the second. Stolize stuffed a takedown attempt. Emeev was getting the better of the striking in this round, as Stolize seemed a bit more cautious then he was in the first, slowed perhaps, by the threat of the takedown. Emeev landed another hard right near the end of the round. I had him up 20-18 after the second.

Into the third round, Emeev landed a pair of knees coming out of an early clinch exchange. Stolize took Emeev down at one point, but Emeev popped right back up. He spent a great deal of this round trying to take Stolize down with a back bodylock. He continued to land impactful knees. Stolize attempted another guillotine near the end of the round, but couldn’t get the finish. 30-27 Emeev on my scorecard.

WINNER: Ramazan Emeev by unanimous decision (30-27, 30-27, 29-28)

It wasn’t the most impressive win of his career, but Emeev controlled the vast majority of the fight, earning the unanimous decision win. He showed off both his grappling and his striking ability here, and is now 4-1 in the UFC.


Kianzad had a clear edge on the feet, out-boxing Correia early. She wrapped Correia up in the Thai clinch, and landed a number of knees until Correia backed her up with an uppercut. Correia countered Kianzad with some wide hooks on occasion, but by in large this was a great round for Kianzad. With ten seconds left in the round, Bethe Correia heard the clap that signifies the remaining time, and she mistook it for the end of the round. She let her guard down, and Kianzad swarmed her with strikes to the end the round, landing three big right hands in the exchange.

After starting the round off strongly, Kianzad tripped backwards while she had Correia back in the Thai clinch, and Correia immediately capitalized on the opportunity, following her to the ground. Correia let her up, which was somewhat puzzling. This round was closer than the last, with both fighters having a pretty similar output. Still, the biggest shots belonged to Kianzad, and I had her up 20-18 going into the final round.

Correia landed a big left hook that shook Kianzad, and she immediately responded with a left hook of her own. Kianzad landed a clean combination of punches, and Correia shot for a takedown, which Kianzad defended. Her edge in the boxing department continued to be evident, as she continued to light Correia up whenever she threw in combination. Correia ended the fight with a successful takedown. 30-27 Kianzad.

WINNER: Pannie Kianzad by unanimous decision (30-27, 30-27, 29-28)

Both fighters were wearing the effects of this fight on their faces by the end of it. It was a brawl, but Kianzad was just the more technically sound striker, and she looked very good in this fight. She is now 2-2 in the UFC.


Boser landed a number of leg kicks throughout the round. He threw a couple quick left hands near the end of the round. Pessoa connected with a spinning back kick to the body. This was not an action packed five minutes. 10-9 Boser.

Boser continued to utilize leg kicks to control the fight. Pessoa checked one, but it did not dissuade Boser from continuing to throw them. Boser landed a wild left hand that backed Pessoa up, and he sort of collapsed against the fence. Pessoa was done, but referee Herb Dean was a little late stopping this one, and Boser landed a number of follow up strikes before the fight was stopped.

WINNER: Tanner Boser by TKO at 2:36 of Round 2

It appeared as though Boser’s knuckle caught Pessoa in the eye on that final punch, which caused Pessoa to collapse in the fashion he did. With this win, Tanner Boser became the first UFC fighter to go 2-0 with two finishes since the “empty arena era” started in May. Boser called out Maurice Greene once more in his post-fight interview, which is a fight that I could see generating some interest at this point. Boser is now 3-1 in the UFC.


Evloev threw a body kick and Grundy brought him down to the ground. Evloev scrambled out of the position in very impressive fashion, but Grundy wasted no time in bringing him right back to the ground. Grundy began to look for a D’Arce choke, and it looked very tight, but Evloev kicked off of Grundy to escape back to his feet. Evloev landed a right hand that hurt Grundy, but he was not quick enough to capitalize on the moment. Very close round with some fun grappling exchanges. I gave the edge to Grundy.

Grundy shot for another takedown early in the first, but Evloev stuffed it. Evloev found success with his jab throughout the round. He was doing a fantastic job of defending all of Grundy’s attempts to bring this fight to the ground. Neither man had a moment throughout this round like they did in the first, and Grundy just didn’t have the output to warrant an argument for scoring this round in his favour.

Evloev was starting to mix head kicks into his combinations in this round. Evloev’s ability to get right back up whenever Grundy got him to the ground continued to impress. Again, Grundy was unable to get much off this round, and Evloev just looked a couple strikes ahead of him, landing four or five times for every Grundy blow. 29-28 Evloev.

WINNER: Movsar Evloev by unanimous decision (30-27, 30-27, 29-28)

The first round was very competitive, with Grundy almost finishing the fight with a D’Arce, and Evloev rocking him later in the round, but after that it was all Evloev. His grappling ability throughout the fight was very impressive, and the fight wasn’t even competitive on the feet, with Grundy landing in single digits every round. Evloev is now 3-0 in the UFC.


Aspinall landed a knee to the body and a quick 1-2 that dropped Collier, and the fight was over less then a minute into the first round.

WINNER: Tom Aspinall by TKO at 0:45 of Round 1

This was Collier’s first fight in years, and he looked unrecognizable from the middleweight fighter he was a few years ago. For Aspinall, this was his UFC debut, and all of his professional wins have come by knockout or submission. Aspinall called out Serghei Spivac in his post fight interview.


Dalby looked way bigger than Ronson. Both men dug into the body with strong kicks. Dalby was fighting very aggressively, and Ronson floored him with a straight left, followed him to the ground, and sunk in a rear naked choke to get the finish.

WINNER: Jesse Ronson by rear naked choke at 2:48 of Round 1

This was a huge win for Jesse Ronson, who was cut from the UFC six years ago following three split decision losses (to very tough competition). He was noticeably undersized here, but Dalby was fighting over aggressively, and Ronson made him pay. In his post-fight interview, Dalby called out Luis Pena and Jalin Turner… for being tall.


Trinaldo missed weight by four pounds.

Herbert tagged Trinaldo with a right hand early, and Trinaldo responded with a kick to the body. Trinaldo took Herbert to the ground near the cage. Herbert attempted to make his way back up, and Trinaldo attempted a guillotine, which Herbert defended. Trinaldo got his back down, and he transitioned to half guard. Herbert escaped yet again, and landed a high knee before Trinaldo backed him up with a body shot. Herbert ended the round with a takedown of his own.

Hebert immediately dropped Trinaldo with a straight right hand at the beginning of the second round. He followed Trinaldo to the ground and took his back. Trinaldo fought off Herbert’s attempts at securing the rear naked choke, and escaped back to his feet with two and a half minutes remaining. Herbert hurt Trinaldo with another straight right hand, and Trinaldo looked exhausted by this point in the fight. Herbert landed a number of knees throughout this round, and that straight right hand continued to find its way through Trinaldo’s defence. I thought this was a 10-8 round for Herbert.

Early in the third round, Trinaldo landed a wild left hand that floored Herbert, and Herbert was clearly done, but referee Herb Dean did not stop the fight, and Trinaldo just stood over Hebert, refusing to jump on him, knowing the fight was finished. Still, Herb Dean did not stop the fight, and Trinaldo had to hit Herbert a number of times before the fight was stopped.

WINNER: Francisco Trinaldo by TKO at 1:30 of Round 3

The commentators were losing their minds at Herb Dean. Dan Hardy was as heated as I’ve ever seen him. I can’t blame them, this was a horrible stoppage for Dean, his second on the card. Hardy was loudly arguing with Dean off mic before the post-fight interview, and things were definitely a bit tense.

As far as the fight is concerned, this was a fantastic comeback victory for Trinaldo, who was dominated in the second round before getting the huge knockout in the third. Trinaldo, who will be 42 in a month, expressed his interest at moving to welterweight in the future. He mentioned Mike Perry and Donald Cerrone amongst possible future opponents.


This bout kicked off the seven-fight(!) main card.

Chimaev picked McKee up on one side of the octagon, carried him all the way across, and put him down in front of his corner. He quickly advanced to top mount, and was throwing down some brutal ground and pound strikes. This was a complete beatdown. Chimaev just kept on the attack, and eventually the fight was stopped.

WINNER: Khamzat Chimaev by TKO at 3:09 of Round 1

“It doesn’t matter. I’m going to smash everybody.” Wow. He was a huge favourite in this fight, so it’s not like this result was unexpected, but with two wins, in two divisions, in ten days (the quickest turnaround in UFC history), the hype surrounding this guy is very understandable. His confidence is off the charts, and he has completed dominated his first two fights. Some people are naturally going insane, talking about Chimaev/Usman or something along those lines, and while that’s ridiculous, I do think he is going to be in there with a ranked opponent soon. Again, this could not have gone any better for Khamzat Chimaev, who has catapulted himself to the top of everybody’s top prospect lists.


Oliveira kicked things off with a sharp kick to the body, and Sobotta returned the favour not long after. Oliveira backed Sobotta up with a front kick to the body. By the mid-way point of the round, Sobotta’s midsection was looking red. Oliveira was controlling this round with his kicks to the body. 10-9 Oliveira.

Sobotta switched up the game plan in the second round, as he attempted to bring Oliveira to the ground. Oliveira defended the attempt and cut Sobotta with an elbow on the break. After a couple more kicks to the body, Oliveira caught Sobotta low, which halted the action. Later in the round, Oliveira poked him in the eye, which paused the fight yet again. Near the end of the round, Oliveira dropped Sobotta with a right hand. Fouls aside, this round was still all Oliveira, and there was no point deduction, so I had it 20-18 Oliveira at the conclusion of the second.

Oliveira stuffed Sobotta’s first takedown of the round. He hurt Sobotta with a body kick, but as he advanced on Sobotta he glanced down at his toes in discomfort, leading the commentators to speculate that he may have broken one. Neither fighter was too busy this round, but Oliveira’s body kicks continued to dictate the fight, and I scored the fight 30-27 in his favour.

WINNER: Alex Oliveira by unanimous decision (30-27 all)

Alex Oliveira did not fight as wildly as he typically does, and his game plan paid off, as he clearly won every round of this fight. He landed a ton of body kicks, which made Sobotta hesitant to close the distance, and thus, Sobotta never really felt like he got into this fight. Oliveira is now 2-3 in his last five bouts.


Antigulov took Craig down inside the first minute, and Craig responded by throwing up a triangle. Antigulov was more focused on landing strong ground and pound strikes then escaping the position, and as time wore on, Craig tightened the triangle choke, and eventually Antigulov was forced to tap out.

WINNER: Paul Craig by triangle choke at 2:06 of Round 1

Paul Craig has finished all thirteen of his professional wins, and this was his twelfth win by submission. The triangle choke seems to be his go-to move, and you have to question Antigulov’s decision to engage Craig in that position instead of working out of it (although to be fair, Antigulov had no shortage of reasons to be confident in his own skills on the ground). Regardless, Craig’s grappling ability continues to impress. He is now 5-4-1 in the UFC.


Esparza took Rodriguez down with a single leg early in the first. Esparza couldn’t get too much done in terms of advancing positon or racking up efficient ground and pound strikes, but she certainly racked up the control time in this opening round. Rodriguez cut Esparza open with an elbow from the bottom. Esparza gave up her positon, seemingly in search of a heel hook of sorts, but she didn’t come close to getting it, and Rodriguez landed some good strikes in the final minute of the round. 10-9 Rodriguez.

Rodriguez landed a pair of right hands above Esparza’s right eye. The swelling from that elbow from the first round above Esparza’s eye was huge. Esparza brought the fight back to the ground with three minutes remaining. Esparza was having considerably more luck finding effective ground and pound shots in this round. Esparza attempted another heel hook, which was a poor decision, as Rodriguez started landing damaging hammerfists, reopening the cut on Esparza’s eye.

Esparza got Rodriguez back down and landed her best ground and pound strikes of the fight thus far. She controlled almost the entirety of the round with her wrestling, and while Rodriguez was still active off her back, I didn’t think it was enough to win her this final round. I scored the fight 29-28 Rodriguez.

WINNER: Carla Esparza by unanimous decision (29-28, 30-27, 29-28)

I was somewhat surprised by the decision, but Esparza racked up a ton of takedowns and control time. I think she would have won the fight comfortably if she didn’t attempt those leglocks in the first two rounds. Esparza is now on a four-fight win streak, and the commentators were speculating that a title shot is not out of the realm of possibility due to injuries at the top of the division. In her post-fight interview, Esparza called out Claudia Gadelha, who she previously dropped a close split decision to.


This marked Gustafsson’s first fight at heavyweight.

Gustafsson was avoiding most of Werdum’s strikes early, and he did a fantastic job defending an early takedown from Werdum, but Werdum eventually got Gustafsson where he wanted him, took his back, and locked in an armbar. Gustafsson was forced to submit, and Werdum picked up the first-round submission victory.

WINNER: Fabricio Werdum by armbar at 2:30 of Round 1

Whenever you’re ready to write Fabricio Werdum off, he has a habit of doing something like this. He’s in my opinion, the most dangerous grappler in heavyweight history, and he proved it yet again. It’s hard to read to much from Gustafsson’s performance here, as the fight went to the ground so quickly. I would like to see him give it another go, but I wouldn’t be surprised if this is the last time we see him in the octagon either. Werdum has gone 4-3 since losing his heavyweight championship in 2016.

Notably, I believe this was the last fight on Werdum’s UFC contract, and he has previously stated that he will not re-sign with the UFC. If this was Werdum’s final fight in the UFC, he will walk away with a 12-6 promotional record, highlighted by his submission victory over Cain Velasquez at UFC 188 to win the undisputed heavyweight championship.


Rua and Nogueira had fought twice previously, with their first bout taking place at PRIDE FC: Critical Countdown 2005, and their second fight taking place at UFC 190 in 2015. Shogun won both fights by decision.

The first half of the round was slow, with Shogun landing some leg kicks before pressing Nogueira against the cage for a short period of time. Nogueira connected with a strong straight left. In the final minute both guys started trading recklessly in the pocket, and Nogueira seemed to be landing the stronger shots, backing Shogun up, and Rua responded by taking Nogueira down to the ground to end the round. The end of this round really resembled the opening rounds from both of their previous fights, albeit in slow motion. 10-9 Nogueira.

Nogueira was pressing forward, repeatedly throwing that straight left, and Shogun was responding with kicks and knees to the body. Nogueira just sort of ran into Shogun and they ended up on the ground, with Lil Nog on top. Rua scrambled to his feet with two minutes remaining. Shogun attempted a takedown of his own, which Nogueira defended. Shogun connected with a left had and a kick to the body. I had it 19-19 going into the final round.

Shogun opened up the third round with another low kick that Nogueira clearly felt. Rua through a body kick and a right hand in a slick combination. He landed a left hand as Nogueira moved forward, and swarmed him before taking him down near the cage. Shogun ended the fight with some decent ground and pound. I scored the fight 29-28 Rua, but it could have gone either way, just like their last two bouts.

WINNER: Mauricio “Shogun” Rua by split decision (29-28, 29-28, 28-29)

It’s honestly amazing that these two had three fights, spread out over the course of fifteen years, and each of those fights looking so similar. I was fully prepared for this fight to be a depressing reminder of how these two men have aged, and was pleasantly surprised when it was honestly kind of fun. With this win, Shogun went up 3-0 against Lil Nog, although that doesn’t do justice to how close each fight was. Shogun has gone 5-1-1 in his last seven fights.

In his post-fight interview, Nogueira confirmed that this was the final fight of his career. “Minotouro” finished his legendary nineteen-year career with a record of 23-10. Throughout his career Nogueira defeated many legends of the sport, including Dan Henderson, Alistair Overeem, Tito Ortiz, Rashad Evans, and Kazushi Sakuraba. His first fight against Mauricio Rua was a true classic, that holds up over a decade later.


Till walked out to the octagon in silence, which was a first for this empty arena era as far as I can recall.

The fighters touched gloves to kick off this main event. Whittaker opened up the fight with a pair of jabs. Till caught Whittaker with a left elbow and Whittaker went to the ground. He looked composed and picked himself back up quickly. Till quickly became the more active fighter, and Whittaker was lunging in with some of his strikes in reckless fashion. Till was feinting a lot, and avoided most of Whittaker’s biggest strikes. Whittaker connected with a right hand and a low kick to end the round. 10-9 Till.

Whittaker caught Till with a left hook, and they exchanged leg kicks. Whittaker lunged in with an overhand right that dropped Till, and Whittaker followed him to the ground. Whittaker picked away at the body for a while, and then dropped a pair of big elbows. Till made his way back to his feet with two minutes remaining. Whittaker continued to attack the lead leg of Till. This round was all Whittaker. 19-19.

Till connected on a lead uppercut as Whittaker continued to beat up Till’s left leg. Both men dodged head kicks from the other. Till landed a solid knee. There seemed to be something wrong with hie eye at one point, but he shook it off. Till defended a takedown attempt from Whittaker and Whittaker landed a left hook on the break. This sequence repeated itself near the end of the round, except this time Whittaker finished with an elbow. Both men were hesitant and the round was razor close, but I gave the edge to Whittaker.

In between rounds, Till was having a ton of trouble with his lead leg, but he was doing a good job of hiding it in the fight. The output had really slowed for both men now they had felt each others power. Till landed a beautiful combination of strikes that Whittaker just ate. Till defended a takedown attempt from Whittaker, but was caught by a right hand. Till connected with his powerful straight left. Whittaker landed an uppercut in the clinch. Another extremely close round. I had the fight tied at 38-38 going into the fifth and final round.

Whittaker landed a solid right hand to kick off the fifth. Till was active to kick off this round, nailing Whittaker with a couple left hands. Whittaker continued to throw leg kicks, and landed another solid shot after Till shrugged off one of his takedown attempts. Till finally acknowledged one of Whittaker’s stronger low kicks. Till landed an elbow that cut Whittaker open badly near the end of the round, but Whittaker responded with a trio of takedowns to end the round. This fight was close, but I scored it 48-47 for Robert Whittaker.

WINNER: Robert Whittaker by unanimous decision (48-47 all)

This was a close technical fight, but Whittaker had a slight edge, and he defended his place as the top ranked middleweight contender with this performance. Both men got knocked down early, and were throwing a ton of feints to keep the other man cautious. The difference makers to me were Whittaker’s leg kicks, and the strikes he was landing whenever they broke from the clinch. Whittaker called for a title shot in his post-fight interview, expressing his desire to run it back with Israel Adesanya, but I think he’ll need another win before he gets that opportunity. I think Jared Cannonier or Jack Hermansson would be sensible next fights for the former middleweight champion. For Till, there are no shortage of options. He may have lost this fight, but he proved he can hang with the middleweight elite, and I wouldn’t mind seeing him against another top five fighter next.

About Eric Marcotte 185 Articles
A graduate of Laurentian University, Eric reports on Mixed Martial Arts at POST Wrestling.