There were two big cards this weekend. The first was Bellator 153 on Friday and on Saturday was UFC 197. The Brain and the Heart were tied at 32-23 heading into the weekend. After it was all over the Brain went 6-4 for the weekend, while the Heart went 5-5. That brings the overall records to 38-27 for the Brain and 37-28 for the Heart. There were plenty of big name fights, upsets, and highlight reel finishes, so let’s look at the top 10 moments of the weekend:
- Esparza Beats Lima despite Short Notice
Esparza stepped in to face the tough Juliana Lima on three weeks’ notice after Jessica Aguilar had to withdraw due to an injury. Lima was unable to deal with the solid wrestling of Esparza and spent most of the fight on her back. Esparza was relentless and did a great job of keeping Lima on the ground. She easily cruised to a 30-27 unanimous decision victory. She’s possibly only one fight away from another title shot, but in order to earn it she’ll have to beat Rose Namajunas. Those two first fought at the TUF 20 Finale for the inaugural UFC Strawweight Championship. Esparza won the first fight by third round submission.
- Whittaker Continues Climb towards the Top
Whittaker was able to pick up another impressive win against another tough opponent. Although he wasn’t able to finish Natal, he did earn a unanimous 30-27 on all of the judge’s scorecards. Whittaker took whatever Natal dished out and just continued to walk forward and pick away at his opponent. The win now puts Whittaker at 5-0. Normally you hear about guys needing a change and moving down in weight, but Whittaker has been one of the rare cases of a fighter moving up in weight and having even greater success. He was ranked number 7 heading into this fight. His next fight should no doubt be against a top 5 opponent. The only middleweight not currently booked is Michael Bisping. I actually think this would be an outstanding fight and they should definitely book it.
- Pitbull Finishes Corrales in Second Round
Corrales stepped in on less than two weeks’ notice for the injured John Teixeira to take on one of the division’s best in Patricio Freire. Corrales put in a solid effort, but it was clear that Patricio was the better fighter. Pitbull was able to dictate how and where the fight took place. He was able to bait Corrales and locked in a tight guillotine that eventually forced the tap with just under a minute left in the second round. Patricio puts himself right back on the short list of contenders. He’ll likely need one more win against one of the top guys to secure another shot at the title.
- Santos Picks Up Shocking Submission over Ward
A lot of people (myself included) heavily favored Ward in this fight and expected him to walk all over Santos. Santos made us all look like fools and proved he’s still got some gas left in the tank. This one was over before it started. Ward was wrapped around behind Santos, and Santos surprised Ward by rolling and trying to lock in a kneebar. It wasn’t quite there so Santos switched to a heel hook that forced the tap at just 30 seconds into the first round. Ward is still young and has plenty of time to work his way back up, but this is definitely a disappointing setback for him. Huge win for Santos, and he may now be the next in line for a shot at the title.
- Page Adds another Highlight Finish to the List
People were expecting Page’s next fight to finally be a solid step up in competition, so they were fairly disappointed when this fight was announced. Absolutely no disrespect to Holloway, but Page has looked to potentially be a top fighter in the division and Holloway isn’t a good gauge of where Page is actually at. Page was able to land a couple of really hard shots as Holloway was rushing forward. He then took the fight to the ground where Holloway tried to secure a heel hook. Not only was Page able to defend, but he grabbed Holloway’s ankle and almost immediately forces a tap. To add insult to injury Page stands over him after the stoppage. Although Page was expected to win easily, he still found a way to add another impressive finish to his resume. I hope his next opponent is finally someone that has the ability to test him. He seems to want that as well so hopefully Bellator will set it up.
- Barboza Gets Big Win against Pettis
Barboza and Pettis were willing to trade shots all night, but it seemed that Barboza was just a little quicker and continually landed the harder shots. Barboza was able to turn Pettis’ leg a deep purple by the end of the fight and he took the 30-27 unanimous decision for the biggest win of his career. Pettis has now dropped three in a row for the first time in his career. All three of those losses have come against extremely tough competition, but he definitely needs a win in his next fight. Barboza gets back on track and picks up a marquee win in the process. He looked extremely sharp and may finally be ready for the next level.
- Rodriguez Lands Massive Jumping Head Kick KO
There was solid action from both fighters in this fight, but Rodriguez clearly had the advantage. However, this fight will be remembered for the KO finish that is sure to show up in highlight reels for years to come. A couple minutes into the second round Rodriguez ran towards Fili, leapt into the air, and threw a kick that perfectly landed on Fili. The huge shot immediately knocked Fili out and rightfully earned Rodriguez a $50,000 Performance of the Night bonus.
- Koreshkov Spoils Henderson’s Bellator Debut
Henderson was a fairly large favorite heading into his Bellator debut against the welterweight champion Koreshkov. Apparently Koreshkov didn’t get the memo as he refused to let Henderson find any openings all night. Henderson kept coming, but Koreshkov was ready for anything. In the end, Koreshkov earned a clean sweep on the judges’ scorecards 50-45. Henderson’s debut definitely didn’t go as planned, but he still has plenty of options. He could stay at welterweight and with another couple wins get a second chance at the belt. Another possibility is for him to drop back down to lightweight, where he could realistically get another immediate title shot against the ever-improving Will Brooks. Koreshkov picks up the biggest win of his career and just proved that he’s definitely for real. Like I said above, I could definitely see him fighting Santos after his quick submission win over Brennan Ward.
- Mighty Mouse Proves He’s the Best Once Again
Cejudo was able to get the early takedown, but Johnson was able to immediately get back to his feet. Johnson landed a solid knee to the midsection and clearly hurt Cejudo. Johnson continued his attack of knees and dropped Cejudo. He added a couple punches on the ground to seal the deal retain his flyweight title. Cejudo is still a solid addition to the flyweight division, but he’ll definitely need a few more fights to get another title shot after a finish like that. Johnson has now won 10 in a row and is still the UFC’s only flyweight champion. He really has practically cleared out his division. If he chooses to stay, Benavidez is the easy call, even though he’s lost to Johnson twice already. Otherwise, he could choose to move up and look to avenge one of his two losses against current bantamweight champion Dominick Cruz.
- Jones Captures Interim Belt
Jones was able to land punches and kicks when he committed, but he looked very reserved throughout the five rounds of action. Part of that was definitely because of the power of Saint Preux, but I’m sure the long layoff played a factor as well. Jones was able to utilize his wrestling in the later rounds and did a nice job of advancing position. Although Saint Preux wasn’t able to really ever put Jones in danger he still deserves credit for stepping in on short notice. I thought his conditioning was pretty solid considering he had no upcoming fight scheduled. Jones looked a little hesitant in his return, but he was still able to win every round and earn a 50-45 unanimous decision. Depending on how long Saint Preux will be out of action following an apparent broken arm, I think a fight with Rashad Evans would make a lot of sense. Jones will obviously be looking to unify the belt he never officially lost against the current light heavyweight champion Daniel Cormier. Jones was able to earn the unanimous decision when they fought back in January of 2015. It will be interesting to see how the second fight between these two plays out.
Be sure to check back in two weeks when the UFC heads to the Netherlands for UFC Fight Night 87. The main event is a heavyweight clash between Alistair Overeem and Andrei Arlovski.
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