UFC Fight Night Report: T.J. Dillashaw returns, defeats Cory Sandhagen by split decision
By: Eric Marcotte
On Saturday evening, the UFC held a Fight Night event at the Apex Facility in Las Vegas, Nevada. The card was headlined by one of the more anticipated fights of the year thus far, with T.J. Dillashaw making his return to the octagon to face Cory Sandhagen. Dillashaw last competed in January of 2019, with the then bantamweight champion moving down in weight to challenge Henry Cejudo for his flyweight title. Cejudo finished Dillashaw in the first round, and Dillashaw received a two-year sanction from USADA after testing positive for EPO, vacating his bantamweight title. Now 35 years of age, the two-time bantamweight champion looked to climb back to the top of the division’s rankings, starting with Cory Sandhagen. Sandhagen came into this fight riding back-to-back highlight-reel knockout wins (over Marlon Moraes and Frankie Edgar), and a third one would almost certainly put him right behind Petr Yan in the line for a bantamweight title shot.
The commentary team for this card consisted of Brendan Fitzgerald, Daniel Cormier, and Dominick Cruz. Performance of the Night bonuses went out to Darren Elkins and Adrian Yanez. Fight of the Night honors were awarded to Kyler Phillips and Raulian Paiva.
*Diana Belbita def. Hannah Goldy by unanimous decision (30-27 all)
*Sijara Eubanks def. Elise Reed by TKO at 3:49 of Round 1
*Julio Arce def. Andre Ewell by TKO at 3:45 of Round 2
*Mickey Gall def. Jordan Williams by rear-naked choke at 2:57 of Round 1
*Nassourdine Imavov def. Ian Heinisch by TKO at 3:09 of Round 2
*Brendan Allen def. Punahele Soriano by unanimous decision (30-27, 30-27, 29-28)
*Adrian Yanez def. Randy Costa by TKO at 2:11 of Round 2
*Maycee Barber def. Miranda Maverick by split decision (29-28, 29-28, 28-29)
*Darren Elkins def. Darrick Minner by TKO at 3:48 of Round 2
*Raulian Paiva def. Kyler Phillips by majority decision (29-28, 29-28, 28-28)
*T.J. Dillashaw def. Cory Sandhagen by split decision (48-47, 48-47, 47-48)
DIANA BELBITA (13-6, 114.5) VS HANNAH GOLDY (5-1, 115.5) – STRAWWEIGHT
They wasted little time before engaging on the feet, with Goldy landing several head kicks in the opening minute. Goldy was dropped hard by a right hand, and Belbita attempted to jump in and finish the fight with ground and pound. Goldy made it back to her feet, but she was getting swarmed and things were not looking great for her. Goldy was able to take Belbita down momentarily, and while she didn’t keep her there for long, it bought her enough time to recover. Goldy was cut open badly above her left eye, and got caught by one last hard right hand to end the round. 10-8 Belbita.
Goldy began the second round with a strong combination of punches. Belbita continued to land that right hand, and every time it landed, it was doing damage. Goldy pursued a takedown for a large portion of the round, to no success. Goldy connected with a big head kick towards the end of a much closer round. 20-17 Belbita.
Belbita landed a head kick of her own early in the third. Belbita rocked Goldy with another big right hand and swarmed her once more against the cage. Goldy was able to wrap Belbita up against the cage to relieve the pressure, but she wasn’t able to complete her takedown, and they spent the next couple of minutes wrestling against the cage. With seconds left in the round, Goldy finally got Belbita back to the ground, and she rained down huge shots from top mount to end the final round. 30-26 Belbita.
WINNER: Diana Belbita by unanimous decision (30-27 all)
This was a pretty fun fight to start the night. Belbita’s right hand was the difference-maker in this fight, hurting Goldy multiple times to secure rounds on the scorecards. Goldy actually came pretty close to completing a remarkable comeback in the final seconds of the fight, but there just wasn’t enough time left on the clock for her to finish the fight. This marked Belbita’s first UFC win after a pair of losses to start her run in the promotion.
SIJARA EUBANKS (6-6, 125) VS ELISE REED (4-0, 125) – FLYWEIGHT
Eubanks rushed in immediately, securing a takedown. Eubanks began to work from half guard, before moving into top mount, where she began to hunt for a finish. Reed could not improve her position, and the fight was eventually stopped after enough ground and pound from Eubanks.
WINNER: Sijara Eubanks by TKO at 3:49 of Round 1
Reed’s right eye was swollen completely shut by the end of the fight. Eubanks delivered as dominant and as well-executed of a performance as you could have asked for here, spoiling Reed’s UFC debut. Eubanks called out half of the flyweight division in her post-fight interview, making it clear that she is looking for a ranked opponent in her next bout. Eubanks is now 5-4 in the UFC.
JULIO ARCE (16-4, 135.5) VS ANDRE EWELL (17-7, 135) – BANTAMWEIGHT
Arce landed the first big shot of the fight, a right hand that he really loaded up on after catching a kick. He wobbled Ewell with a left hook later in the round, but wasn’t able to really follow up on it. Not the most action-packed round, but still, this was a clear round for Arce. 10-9 Arce.
A solid front kick to the body of Ewell landed for Arce. Arce was bleeding next to his right eye following a shot from Ewell. In response, Arce connected with a strong body shot that had Ewell dropping his hands momentarily. Much like the first round, a left hook from Arce wobbled Ewell badly, but this time, Arce swarmed him, and the fight was stopped as Arce was swinging hooks at Ewell against the cage.
WINNER: Julio Arce by TKO at 3:45 of Round 2
Arce looked great here, and he may have found a home for himself down at bantamweight. That’s not to say he wasn’t a solid fighter at 145lbs, but I think this is a move that will suit him well, and if this performance is any indication, there may be some fun fights in his future at 135lbs. Arce is now 4-2 in the UFC, with both of those losses coming by split decision.
MICKEY GALL (6-3, 169.5) VS JORDAN WILLIAMS (9-4, 1 NC, 170.5) – WELTERWEIGHT
Gall dropped Williams with a heavy right hand from the clinch in the opening minute, and while Williams was able to get back to his feet, he still looked somewhat hurt. He was able to recover eventually, and an eye poke to Gall brought a momentary pause to the fight. Gall staggered Williams with a straight right hand when the action resumed, before taking Williams down and quickly moving to his back. He locked in a rear-naked choke, and Williams was forced to tap.
WINNER: Mickey Gall by rear naked choke at 2:57 of Round 1
There have been some notable improvements to Gall’s striking game throughout his last few fights, but I’m not sure he’s ever showcased power as he did here. Every clean shot he landed hurt Williams, and dropping a man from the clinch in the fashion he did is no easy feat. His grappling skills, of course, have never been in question, and he secured the sixth rear-naked choke finish of his career with this win. Gall is now 6-3 in the UFC.
NASSOURDINE IMAVOV (9-3, 185.5) VS IAN HEINISCH (14-4, 185.5) – MIDDLEWEIGHT
Heinisch quickly backed Imavov into the cage. Imavov was able to create some space but took a few hard leg kicks afterward. Imavov landed a left hand and began to search for a takedown of his own, which Heinisch defended. As the round progressed, it felt as though the story of the fight was becoming the jab of Imavov against the leg kicks from Heinisch. It was a tough round to score, but I gave the slight edge to Imavov. 10-9 Imavov.
The leg kicks continued to pile up for Heinisch, but not much else was going his way early in the second. Imavov was starting to overwhelm Heinisch offensively, and he landed a big knee to the head that sent Heinisch to the ground. Imavov threw down left hands onto the shelled-up Heinisch until the fight was stopped.
WINNER: Nassourdine Imavov by TKO at 3:09 of Round 2
The fight was fairly even in the first round, but Imavov really began to pull ahead in the second. He offered a wide variety of offenses, and it seemed as though Imavov was having trouble keeping up with him by the end of the fight. Imavov is now 2-1 in the UFC, and I think it would be fair to say this was his best performance thus far.
PUNAHELE SORIANO (8-0, 185.5) VS BRENDAN ALLEN (16-4, 185.5) – MIDDLEWEIGHT
Soriano cracked Allen with a pair of looping left hooks in the opening minute. Soriano was really punishing Allen for any moments of aggression, responding with strong combinations of hooks. Allen was having more success as the round progressed but was still eating some huge shots from Soriano. 10-9 Soriano.
Allen was doing good work attacking the body, as Daniel Cormier was questioning the legitimacy of the live odds displayed on the broadcast. Soriano was still swinging hard, but he was starting to look very fatigued as the momentum of the fight began to shift in the favor of Allen. This was a great round from Allen, who just tore Soriano apart with kicks to the body throughout these five minutes. 19-19.
Soriano was looking better in the third round, tagging Allen with some heavy left hands to counter those body kicks. The left side of Soriano’s body was so red by this third round, but to his credit, he continued to constantly move forward despite the damage. Allen ended the round strongly with some more body shots, and I scored this fight 29-28 in his favor.
WINNER: Brendan Allen by unanimous decision (30-27, 30-27, 29-28)
This was a really fun fight to close the prelims. Allen ate some heavy hooks from Soriano, but he weathered them well, and eventually took over the fight with his body shots. Soriano kept in the fight until the final horn sounded, but this was definitely a strong performance from Allen, leaving no questions as to who would be scored as the winner when the decision was announced. Allen called out Sean Strickland in his post-fight interview, who beat Allen by TKO last year.
ADRIAN YANEZ (13-3, 135.5) VS RANDY COSTA (6-1, 135) – BANTAMWEIGHT
Costa was the aggressor early, throwing some beautifully timed head kicks. Costa felt like he was throwing a strike every second, constantly tagging Yanez with his jab, while mixing in the occasional straight right. Yanez was busted open by Costa’s offense, and he was having a lot of trouble in dealing with Costa’s pace and getting his own offense off. Costa began to slow down in the final minutes of the round, allowing Yanez to make up some ground, but this was a clear round for Randy Costa. 10-9 Costa.
Yanez was the aggressor in the second round, moving forward while throwing out combinations. Yanez began to really unload with strikes to Costa against the cage, and he eventually dropped Costa with an uppercut. Yanez teed off on Costa as he covered up on the ground, and the fight was soon stopped.
WINNER: Adrian Yanez by TKO at 2:11 of Round 2
Aside from the main event, I think this was the fight I was looking forward to most from this card, and it delivered completely. Costa looked unbelievable in the first round, but that pace was unsustainable, allowing Yanez to take over in the second. Adrian Yanez is a fighter that I, and many others are high on right now, and he showcased some of the reasons why here, with his precise striking, knockout power, and unbelievable chin. Yanez is now 3-0 in the UFC, with all of those wins coming by way of knockout.
MIRANDA MAVERICK (9-2, 125.5) VS MAYCEE BARBER (8-2, 125.5) – FLYWEIGHT
Slow start to the fight, with both fighters trying to find their range. Maverick landed a few kicks to the body, and that was probably enough win her a fairly uneventful round. 10-9 Maverick.
The fight continued at a similar pace in the second round, with Maverick doing a slightly better job of hitting her intended targets. Barber nearly took Maverick down, but Maverick was able to power back to her feet in impressive fashion. Maverick secured a takedown of her own late in the final minute, and ended the round on Barber’s back. 20-18 Maverick.
Barber landed a big right hand and took Maverick down in the process. She was beginning to fight with a bit more urgency and was finding success with her stronger shots. Maverick still slightly outlanded Barber throughout the round, but I thought Barber landed the best shots of the round, and I gave her the final five minutes on my scorecard. 29-28 Maverick.
WINNER: Maycee Barber by split decision (29-28, 29-28, 28-29)
I was shocked by the decision here. I don’t know how you could possibly give Barber either of the first two rounds, but two of the judges clearly saw things differently than myself. To Barber’s credit, she really came alive in the final round, showcasing some of the aggression that made her such a hot prospect in the division. Barber called out Jessica Eye in her post-fight interview.
DARREN ELKINS (25-9, 146) VS DARRICK MINNER (26-11, 145.5) – FEATHERWEIGHT
Minner attempted a front choke as Elkins went for a takedown, and while he didn’t get that submission, he moved into top mount and attempted an armbar. Elkins escaped but seemed to get cut somewhere in their scramble. Elkins rolled for a knee at one point, and got elbowed in the head repeatedly for his troubles. Very entertaining round. 10-9 Minner.
Minner immediately took Elkins back down to begin the second round. The scrambles between these two were wild. Elkins found his way on top and trapped Minner in the crucifix position. He threw down countless left hands, and Minner was clearly getting tired. Minner just couldn’t get out from under Elkins, and Elkins picked up the TKO stoppage.
WINNER: Darren Elkins by TKO at 3:48 of Round 2
There is a formula to Darren Elkins wins that this fight followed to the letter. Minner almost secured a 10-8 on Elkins in the first, but he exhausted a ton of energy trying to get the finish, and that’s when Elkins is known to come alive. After one last guillotine attempt in the second round, Minner just had nothing left in the gas tank, and Elkins poured it on with ground and pound until the fight was stopped. Not long ago, Elkins had lost four consecutive fights and it seemed as though he was on his way out of the sport, but he’s rebounded strongly with back-to-back finishes, and he sounded as though he was looking forward to getting back in there during his post-fight interview.
KYLER PHILLIPS (9-1, 135.5) VS RAULIAN PAIVA (20-3, 135.5) – BANTAMWEIGHT
Phillips was fighting wildly and knocked Paiva down in the opening minute. Paiva recovered quickly and secured a takedown, but Phillips popped right back to his feet and went for a takedown of his own. Phillips caught Paiva with a right hand as he rushed his way inside, but he was able to get the fight down to the ground regardless, following a spinning wheel kick attempt from Phillips. Phillips scrambled to his feet, and rocked Paiva with another right hand. An elbow from Phillips grounded Paiva, but he somehow survived until the end of the round. 10-8 Phillips.
Paiva went on the attack in the second round, tagging Phillips with a right hand that put him on the retreat. Phillips was in trouble and took Paiva down to relieve the pressure. Paiva worked his way up and attempted a takedown of his own. Phillips defended the attempt, but he ate a series of hard shots from Paiva in response. They exchanged huge right hands to end the round. 19-18 Phillips.
They continued to trade crazy shots in the third, with neither man giving an inch. Paiva seemed to be slightly fresher, but Paiva was still capable of throwing those wild shots at full force. They both completed takedowns during the round, but it was Paiva who was able to maintain control from on top, racking up a couple of minutes of control time. Fittingly, this fight ended with Paiva and Phillips trading huge right hands. I scored the fight 28-28, resulting in a draw.
WINNER: Raulian Paiva by majority decision (29-28, 29-28, 28-28)
This fight was wild. If you told me after the first round that Raulian Paiva would ultimately go on to get his hand raised by the end of this fight, there wouldn’t have been a chance that I would have believed you. I disagreed with the judges here, as I thought the opening round was a pretty clear 10-8 in favor of Phillips, but all the credit in the world goes to Paiva for responding to that adversity in the fashion he did. These two men were placed in a prominent position on this card, and they delivered completely with this fight. This fight marked Paiva’s bantamweight debut in the UFC, and he is now 3-2 in the promotion.
CORY SANDHAGEN (14-2, 136) VS T.J. DILLASHAW (16-4, 136) – BANTAMWEIGHT
They touched gloves to begin the fight. Both men looked comfortable on the feet, and Sandhagen went for a flying knee that Dillashaw attempted to duck under. Sandhagen somehow turned that flying knee into an attempted inverted triangle, and they wound up on the ground following this exchange, with Dillashaw momentarily assuming top control before Sandhagen picked himself up. They exchanged right hands, and Sandhagen was able to scramble out of a takedown from Dillashaw. Dillashaw landed a solid left hand, before taking Sandhagen back down. Sandhagen was active off of his back, but Dillashaw finished the round with some strong ground and pound. Great opening round. 10-9 Dillashaw.
Dillashaw’s left knee was in rough shape following a kneebar attempt from Sandhagen near the end of the first. Sandhagen caught Dillashaw with a left hook as T.J. attempted to duck out of the way, and he dropped him quickly here. Sandhagen was starting to pull ahead on the feet, and he cut Dillashaw open badly above his right eye. The doctor was quickly brought in to check the cut, and it was determined that he could continue fighting for the time being. Sandhagen partially landed on a flying knee, as well as a spinning elbow moments later. Dillashaw’s vision was impacted by that cut, and his movement was looking slightly off with that hurt knee. That being said, Dillashaw kept in this fight, finding a level of success in the clinch. 19-19.
Dillashaw’s cut was still looking nasty, but the bleeding seemed to have stopped to begin the third. T.J was fighting aggressively and began to pursue another takedown. Sandhagen’s takedown defense held up well, and he continued to tag Dillashaw with his hands, causing that cut to leak again. T.J. got caught by a hard right hand and responded with a leg kick. Sandhagen went for a spinning attack but got taken down in the process. He worked his way up quickly but ate a few more leg kicks after they separated. Dillashaw stuffed a takedown attempt from Sandhagen and wrestled him against the cage for the remainder of the round. 29-28 Dillashaw.
Sandhagen’s legs were taking a beating. Dillashaw was starting to look very confident on the feet, and while Sandhagen continued to defend his takedown attempts, he was spending a lot of time-pressed against the cage. Sandhagen caught T.J. with a pair of left hands, but he continued to have difficulties maintaining separation. Still, as close as this round was, I thought Sandhagen took it late. 38-38.
Dillashaw pressed forward early in the fifth round. Sandhagen’s hands were still fighting their target, and whenever he really let loose, he was giving T.J. problems. Dillashaw continued to pursue takedowns, to very limited success. Sandhagen was catching Dillashaw on his way in, while avoiding the punches T.J. was really loading up on. Dillashaw landed some solid shots on a break from the clinch, and this was anyone’s fight with a minute remaining. Dillashaw let loose with his offense late, but this one went the distance. I did not envy the judges in the slightest here, but I scored the fight 48-47 for T.J. Dillashaw.
WINNER: T.J. Dillashaw by split decision (48-47, 48-47, 47-48)
This was a tremendous fight between two of the best bantamweights in the world. There were so many questions regarding Dillashaw would look after his two-year suspension, and I think he really looked about as good as he ever has here. His chin held up against a heavy hitter, he fought through a severe cut as well as a potentially injured knee, and he was able to go for twenty-five minutes despite the lengthy layoff. I thought this was one of the closest five-round fights in recent memory, and while I gave the slightest of edges to Dillashaw, I don’t think I would have been able to argue against a 48-47 score for Sandhagen either. Dillashaw made it clear in his post-fight interview that he plans on regaining his bantamweight championship, and after this performance, he might just get pushed to the top of the line. Aljamain Sterling and Petr Yan are expected to rematch for the title later this year, and it really wouldn’t shock me if Dillashaw faced the winner. For Sandhagen, there is no shortage of fun fights to make in the talent-stacked bantamweight division, but perhaps the most sensible matchup would be against Rob Font.