It took him 26 fights in an 11½ -year professional career to get there, but Michael Chandler wasted no time in announcing his presence in the Octagon on Saturday night.
The former Bellator lightweight champion knocked out Dan Hooker in the first round of the co-main event of UFC 257 on Saturday night in AbuDhabi, United Arab Emirates.
Chandler, who is 34 and trains in Boca Raton, Florida, got the job done with a left hook that dropped the New Zealander, followed by a flurry of punches before referee Herb Dean waved it off just 2 minutes, 30 seconds into the fight.
But Chandler’s short night’s work was not finished.
“Conor McGregor, surprise, surprise, there’s a new king of the lightweight division!” Chandler bellowed into the microphone during his interview inside the cage. “Dustin Poirier, your time is coming. And Khabib [Nurmagomedov], if you ever do see fit to grace us with your presence back here in the UFC Octagon, in your quest for 30-0, you’ve got to beat somebody. So beat me, if you can. God bless, see you at the top!”
The callout of Nurmagomedov could draw the UFC lightweight champion’s interest, as he retired in October and this past week indicated — via UFC president Dana White — that he had no plans to return unless he saw something special at UFC 257. Chandler’s debut was indeed special.
Khabib vs Chandler. Book it. #UFC257
— Michael Chiesa (@MikeMav22) January 24, 2021
He made quick work of Hooker, who is 30, and came into the fight No. 6 in ESPN’s lightweight rankings. Chandler is No. 7 — for now.
— Jeff Wagenheim
Fight in progress:
In a violent, back-and-forth affair, Calderwood pulled out a unanimous-decision victory (30-27, 29-28, 29-28) over Eye in a pivotal women’s flyweight fight. Calderwood emptied her entire toolbox — landing nasty knees to the head and body, elbows and hard-punching combinations.
ESPN had Calderwood ranked No. 5 in the world at women’s flyweight coming in. She was lined up for a title shot against champion Valentina Shevchenko last year, but fell to Jennifer Maia to lose out on that opportunity. This win gets Calderwood back in that conversation. But “Dr. Kneevil” is not banking on it.
Close back n forth fight. Calderwood more diverse attacks though #UFC257live
— Brian BOOM Kelleher (@brianboom135) January 24, 2021
“If they want me to go on and fight 10 more girls, I’m good for that, too,” Calderwood said in her postfight interview.
Eye was bullying Calderwood in the first round in the clinch a bit. But Calderwood got her shots in, too, and when the fight was more wide open at distance she did her best work. In the second round, Calderwood landed a front kick to the face and a hard body kick. Back in the clinch, Calderwood chewed up Eye with elbows.
Eye wisely chose to try and take Calderwood down to start the third round, but was unsuccessful. Calderwood slowed down a bit in the final round, but still landed a huge knee out of the Thai clinch that opened a cut over Eye’s left eye. When the bell rang, the two women shook hands, potentially signifying the end of the beef.
Calderwood, 34, has won four out of her past six fights. The Scotland native has five UFC women’s flyweight wins, tied for second all time. Eye, a 34-year-old Ohio native fighting out of Las Vegas, has dropped three of her past four.
— Marc Raimondi
Makhmud Muradov had just absorbed a hard overhand right hand, which sent him backward toward the cage, drawing a cheer from the Andrew Sanchez corner. But the cheering quickly stopped, as Muradov came forward with a right hand that connected on the button, wobbling Sanchez and leading to the finish for Muradov’s 14th straight victory.
The 30-year-old native of Uzbekistan, who lives in the Czech Republic, had not competed since 2019, seeing four fight bookings canceled. So it took him a while to get his punching attack going. But until that time, his kicks were doing just fine.
Muradov kept the fight at kicking distance early. That meant both men were coming up short with many of their punches, but Muradov was landing calf kicks that by the end of Round 1 had damaged Sanchez’s lead leg.
Muradov did more damage with his hands in Round 2, especially in the final moments, when he landed two hard rights. He came out for the third round throwing the right hand again and again, stunting the offensive output of Sanchez. When Muradov wobbled his opponent with a right hand, he followed with a flying knee that sent Sanchez backward toward the cage, where Muradov finished with a flurry of punches at 2:59 of the round. It was his 17th career knockout.
Sanchez, who is 32 and from St. Louis, trains at Tristar Gym in Montreal. He came in having won three of four.
— Jeff Wagenheim
Rodriguez picked up the biggest victory of her career, a TKO finish of Ribas at :54 of the second round to open the UFC 257 main card. The bout was a key one in the UFC women’s strawweight division, and Rodriguez picked up her first knockout since 2018. But the ending came in bizarre fashion.
Rodriguez dropped Ribas with a huge right hand and looked to finish on the ground with more punches. Referee Herb Dean closed in, looking to stop the fight, but seemed to stumble into Rodriguez incidentally. Rodriguez thought the bout was over, because Dean touched her and she stopped the onslaught. But Dean never officially halted the bout.
“[Dean] came in close, he had his hands out,” Rodriguez said through an interpreter in the postfight interview. “I thought I was throwing lot of punches and she was immobile.”
Super sketchy moment there lol but excellent striking by Rodriguez!! Clean! #ufc257
— Stephen Thompson (@WonderboyMMA) January 24, 2021
Dean told the two fighters to continue competing and they did. Rodriguez didn’t let the funky sequence deter her. She landed another huge right hand, followed by a second one. Both rocked Ribas. Dean stepped in from there with Ribas still standing. This time, it was over. For real.
“Now, you know who I am,” Rodriguez said.
Ribas had a good first round. She was able to get a bodylock takedown and spend a good duration of time in top position, landing some ground and pound. But Rodriguez’s power punching took over in the second round.
Coming in, ESPN had Rodriguez ranked No. 8 in the world at women’s strawweight. This victory should get her a big contender bout. Rodriguez cashed as a +260 underdog and she was +1200 to win by knockout, according to Caesars William Hill.
Rodriguez, 33, was coming off the first loss of her career, via split decision to Carla Esparza last July. The Brazil native is now 3-1-2 in the UFC. Ribas, a 27-year-old Brazil native, was on a five-fight winning streak.
— Marc Raimondi
Arman Tsarukyan flowed and flowed for 15 minutes, putting on pressure when the fight was being contested on the feet, then taking Matt Frevola to the canvas again and again on the way to earning his third win in a row.
The 24-year-old Russian hit double figures with his takedowns, and every time Frevola tried to scramble into better position on the mat, Tsarukyan was a move ahead of him.
What a fight!!!! That was an incredible pace! #UFCFightIsland8
— Tatiana Suarez (@tatianaufc) January 24, 2021
When Frevola did manage to make it a standup fight, Tsarukyan was too slick for him there, too, feeding him a diet of punch combinations and using head movement and footwork to avoid most of what Frevola tried to land. Frevola was barely able to eclipse the 28% mark in striking accuracy.
All three judges gave each round to Tsarukyan, with one scoring the fight 30-26.
For Frevola, who is 30 and from Huntington, New York, it was his first loss in his past four fights.
This matchup was hastily put together on Friday after weigh-ins. Frevola was scheduled to face Ottman Azaitar, but Azaitar was pulled from the bout — and cut from the UFC — after sneaking a guest into the fighter hotel, a violation of the promotion’s safety protocol. Tsarukyan was slated to fight Nasrat Haqparast, but Haqparast was ill and did not weigh in. So Frevola and Tsarujyan were matched up, though at a 157-pound catchweight after Tsarukyan missed the lightweight limit.
— Jeff Wagenheim
The questions were aplenty for Brad Tavares going into his first fight back from ACL surgery. He answered them authoritatively.
Tavares bested Antonio Carlos Junior via unanimous decision (30-27, 30-27, 29-28) to take his place back among the toughest middleweight fighters in the sport. Carlos Junior was also making his return from ACL surgery.
The story of the fight was Carlos Junior’s inability to get Tavares to the ground. Carlos Junior is one of the most dangerous Brazilian jiu-jitsu practitioners in the UFC middleweight division. But Tavares stuffed just about every single takedown, never allowing Carlos Junior to work his dominant top game and submission skills. At one point in the first round, Carlos Junior followed up a combination beautifully with a double-leg takedown attempt. Yet somehow Tavares kept his balance, got to the cage and kept his back off the mat.
Tavares takedown defense legit as always
— Jamahal “Sweet Dreams” Hill (@JamahalH) January 24, 2021
Per UFC Stats, Tavares stopped 11 of 12 takedown attempts.
On the feet throughout, Tavares was the better man. He chopped at the taller Carlos Junior’s lead leg and landed beautiful boxing combinations, most of the time finishing with a hard straight right cross. By midway through the second round, Tavares had all the momentum, and he rode it the rest of the way.
Tavares, 33, snapped a two-fight losing streak with the victory. The Hawaii native, who lives and trains in Las Vegas, owns 13 UFC middleweight wins, tied for third all time. Carlos Junior, a 30-year-old Brazil native, has dropped three straight.
— Marc Raimondi
Julianna Pena gets Sara McMann to tap out late in Round 3 of their bout.
Sara McMann entered the fight as the slight favorite and all-time UFC bantamweight leader in takedowns with 20. Julianna Pena, who has 14 takedowns of her own, was up for the challenge.
After two very even rounds, Pena took control in the third and finished off McMann via rear-naked choke. She earned her sixth UFC victory, her first by submission.
“It played exactly as I thought it was,” Pena said. “Sarah is the best wrestler in the division … and I beat the best wrestler in the division.”
Pena then called out the champ, Amanda Nunes, saying she should “quick ducking her.”
The Lioness already responded to Julianna Pena’s callout at #UFC257 👀
— ESPN MMA (@espnmma) January 24, 2021
Pena landed some knees and attempted a guillotine to bring the fight down in the first round, but McMann was evasive. Both women exchanged big shots from their respective positions and went to the corners without a clear victor in the round.
The second round started with a Pena guillotine attempt and a great use of the cage as McMann used her feet on the metal to switch positions to rotate out of danger. Pena transitioned into a triangle, putting immense pressure on McMann. Despite McMann being on top, Pena dominated, working very well from her back. McMann landed some key elbows from the top, but Pena kept the pressure on. McMann secured Pena’s back, trying to lock in a choke, but a hand-fight ensued, Pena escaped and there would be a third round.
A quick minute of standup started off the final frame, but to nobody’s surprise the fight went back to the ground with Pena being the dominant fighter. Pena caught her breath and fought for position for over a minute, then landed some hammerfists and elbows that quickly turned the fight in her favor for good. Pena rolled McMann over, secured a body triangle and finished the fight with the submission.
At 1:21 left in the final round, this was the fourth-latest stoppage in UFC women’s bantamweight history.
Pena outlanded McMann 38-21 in significant strikes and 140-28 in total strikes, according to UFC Stats. McMann has lost three of her last four.
— Andrew Feldman
Khalil Rountree Jr. drops Marcin Prachnio late in Round 2, but Prachnio gets up and the fight keeps going.
Anyone who watched the second round between Khalil Rountree Jr. and Marcin Prachnio would have been shocked by the final result. Rountree dropped Prachnio with a right hook and cracked him with a head kick.
But Prachnio was the clear winner in the first and third rounds. And that was enough to earn a unanimous-decision win (29-28, 29-28, 29-28).
— Stephen Thompson (@WonderboyMMA) January 24, 2021
Prachnio did a solid job keeping Rountree at bay with side kicks and leg kicks in the first round, mixing in some hard punching combinations. Rountree put Prachnio in huge trouble in the second with a check hook and then a left head kick that caught Prachnio right under the chin. But Rountree was never able to land the follow-up shot to put Prachnio down for good.
In the third, Rountree seemed to have lost steam and Prachnio remained fresh, coming forward with big-punching combinations. Rountree landed a nice uppercut with Prachnio ducking in, but it was too little, too late.
Prachnio, 32, picked up his first UFC victory with this result. The Poland native was likely fighting for his UFC job — he had lost three straight, all by some form of knockout. Rountree, a 30-year-old California native who trains in Thailand, has dropped two straight and three of four.
— Marc Raimondi
Movsar Evloev headed to Fight Island with a purpose — to get a number next to his name. It didn’t look promising early, but he ultimately topped UFC veteran Nik Lentz in a 150-pound catchweight fight, and when the next set of featherweight rankings come out, Evloev likely will have just that. Evloev remained undefeated and won the bout by split decision 29-28, 29-28, 28-29. He has won all four of his UFC bouts by decision.
The fight didn’t start out in Evloev’s favor. The -700 favorite from Russia was caught in a number of Lentz’s guillotine choke attempts in the first round. Evloev remained patient and fought his way out, ultimately landing a few key shots on Lentz in the closing seconds. Even though Evloev was in inferior positions for most of the round, Lentz’s face was bloodied as he walked back to his corner.
The second round showed a different side of Evloev, who landed at will with furious combinations. Lentz went back to the guillotine attempt nearly every time Evloev changed levels, but Evloev was evasive and showed brilliance in the scramble to avoid getting finished.
The third round was nonstop aggression from Evloev with essentially the entire round taking place on the feet. Evloev mixed in some kicks with his never-ending jabs, constantly touching Lentz at all times and putting his cardio to the test.
After the fight, Evloev pleaded to Dana White and asked for a top-15 opponent next.
Lentz has lost his past three bouts. The former D-1 wrestler had the record for most guillotine attempts in UFC history entering the bout with 20, and added to that total throughout the night.
— Andrew Feldman
It’s early in his UFC career, but Albazi sure seems like he’ll be a handful for even the best fighters in the flyweight division.
Albazi defeated Zhumagulov via unanimous decision (29-28, 29-28, 29-28) in a complete performance to open UFC 257 on Saturday. Albazi got it done with every aspect of MMA, from striking to wrestling to grappling.
“I like to finish fights to be honest,” Albazi said. “But Zhalgas is very tough. I hope to get a finish next time.”
Amir Albazi dedicates his win tonight to city of Baghdad, which was recently hit by a pair of suicide bombings. Albazi has a great story, his family fled from Iraq when he was 7, but he still loves it and wants to be a symbol of hope for his birthplace.
— Brett Okamoto (@bokamotoESPN) January 24, 2021
Albazi was in Zhumagulov’s face from the opening bell. Zhumagulov got some licks in early, swinging with hard punches and landing a few of them in the first round. Albazi, though, would not be deterred. He moved forward with feints followed by combinations and never let Zhumagulov truly get comfortable in the cage. He took Zhumagulov down briefly at the end of the round and then did so again in the third, taking Zhumagulov’s back.
Albazi, 27, has won three straight, including his first two in the UFC. The Sweden-born fighter of Iraqi descent has lost only to former UFC flyweight Jose Torres in his career. Zhumagulov, a 32-year-old Kazakhstan native, has dropped two in a row and is still searching for his first UFC victory.
“I felt like he was desperate in the end,” Albazi said. “He wanted to trade and hopefully get me out in something, so I just played it cool, moved around. I knew there wasn’t too much time left.
“I expected him to be a little bit harder to take down, but when I got a hold of him, it was a lot easier than I thought. Now, looking back to the fight, I should have gone for the takedown earlier.”
— Marc Raimondi