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It was close to a worst-case scenario for the Ultimate Fighting Championship.
An accidental foul stopped the UFC Fight Night 159 headliner between Yair Rodriguez and Jeremy Stephens a mere 15 seconds into the first round on Saturday at Mexico City Arena, resulting in an anticlimactic no-contest. Fans voiced their displeasure afterward, first with boos and then by hurling debris into the cage.
Rodriguez (11-2, 7-1 UFC) connected with a leg kick and a front kick to the face during the initial exchange, but in his bid to maintain a safe distance, “The Ultimate Fighter Latin America” winner swiped his hand across Stephens’ left eye. Referee Herb Dean afforded the Alliance MMA representative five minutes to recover, but Stephens (28-16, 15-15 UFC) could not open his eye, necessitating the stoppage.
Esparza Spoils Grasso Homecoming
Takedowns and top control were enough to propel Team Oyama’s Carla Esparza to a contentious majority decision over Alexa Grasso in the three-round women’s strawweight co-main event. Two of the judges scored it 29-28 for Esparza, while a third had it deadlocked at 28-28.
Esparza (15-6, 6-4 UFC) struck for multiple takedowns in the first and second rounds, managed to neutralize the Lobo Gym rep and kept the fight in her comfort zone. Everything changed in Round 3, where Grasso nearly finished it on two separate occasions. The 26-year-old rocked Esparza with a left hook, flurried with punches and stuffed two subsequent takedown attempts. However, she did not fully capitalize on the moment. Later, Esparza snatched a single-leg, scrambled on top and wandered into an armbar. Grasso (11-3, 3-3 UFC) rolled to a dominant position and bent the former strawweight champion’s arm beyond its bounds. Esparza refused to tap, withstood a final standup exchange and put her fate in the hands of the judges.
The loss was Grasso’s first in seven career appearances in her native Mexico.
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Moreno-Askarov Results in Split Draw
Onetime Legacy Fighting Alliance champion Brandon Moreno and former Absolute Championship Berkut titleholder Askar Askarov fought to a split draw in a back-and-forth three-round flyweight feature. Scores were 28-28, 29-28 for Askarov and 30-27 for Moreno. Neither man was satisfied with the verdict.
Askarov (10-0-1, 0-0-1 UFC) stormed out to a quick lead, as he swooped in for a takedown in the first round, advanced to the back and set his position with a body triangle. Moreno eventually scrambled on top, only to be met with a volley of elbows from the bottom after failing to pass guard. Askarov executed multiple takedowns in the middle stanza, but wandered into a late knee strike, dropped to his knees and surrendered his precarious grip on momentum. Moreno (15-5-1, 3-2-1 UFC) surprised the Dagestani newcomer with a takedown inside the first minute of the third round, applied his ground-and-pound and climbed to the back before nearly securing a rear-naked choke.
However, his inability to close the deal sent the fight to the judges and ultimately cost him a victory.
Aldana Handles Replacement Melo
Lobo Gym standout Irene Aldana recorded her fourth win in five outings, as she cruised to a unanimous decision over Vanessa Melo in a three-round women’s bantamweight showcase. All three cageside judges scored it the same: 30-27 for Aldana (11-5, 4-3 UFC).
A short-notice replacement for Marion Reneau, Melo (10-6, 0-1 UFC) marched forward but struggled to successfully navigate the height and reach deficits with which she was presented. Aldana exploited her superiority in the standup exchanges, pumped her jab, incorporated leg kicks and unfurled efficient punching combinations to the head and body. The 31-year-old Mexican staggered Melo with a stiff right hand in the final minute of the fight before settling for the decision.
The loss closed the book on Melo’s run of five consecutive victories.
Peterson Spinning Backfist KOs Bravo
Fortis MMA export Steven Peterson wiped out “The Ultimate Fighter Latin America 3” winner Martin Bravo with a spinning backfist in the second round of their featherweight attraction. Peterson (18-9, 2-3 UFC) drew the curtain 91 seconds into Round 2.
Bravo (11-3, 1-3 UFC) pushed a breakneck pace and controlled a majority of the exchanges in the first round, mixing in a pair of takedowns for good measure. Peterson waited for his moment to strike, coiled behind a mask of grit and determination. Bravo cut loose with a spinning backfist, only to be met with one on the counter. The Entram Gym standout absorbed the devastating impact and hit the canvas supine and unconscious.
The sensational knockout put an end to Peterson’s two-fight losing streak.
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