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Wednesday, December 8, 2021

Brunson willing to wait for second shot at middleweight title

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Derek Brunson had been hearing the UFC middleweight champion talk up potential challengers for months. Israel Adesanya had spoken about Jared Cannonier, who won two weeks ago. And earlier this year the champ had said the 185-pound contender who excited him most was Darren Till, who happened to be Brunson’s opponent on Saturday.

One name that had not come out of Adesanya’s mouth: Derek Brunson.

So after dominating Till from start to third-round submission finish in the UFC Fight Night main event in Las Vegas, Brunson made sure to let Adesanya know that he is not one to be overlooked.

“I’m tired of these guys not mentioning my name,” Brunson said. “Izzy, look at the camera, mention my name. I heard you mentioning Till and Cannonier. Yeah, I’ve been busting my butt for four years after my loss to get to this point. So yeah, I’m ready to contend.”

The loss to which Brunson referred was a first-round TKO suffered at the hands of Adesanya in 2018. That was during Adesanya’s rise toward becoming champion. But Brunson has made something of himself since then, too. He has won five fights in a row, including smashing a couple of rising prospects the UFC was trying to build on his name, in Edmen Shahbazyan and Kevin Holland.

And then there was Saturday’s win in the headline bout of a fight card that the promotion essentially built around his opponent. It wasn’t just the UFC that was banking on Till. Despite having lost three of his last four coming in, the Englishman was the betting favorite.

But Till did not have a chance, because Brunson was all over him right from the start. Brunson got takedowns in all three rounds, and he used them well. He remained on top for most of the first 10 minutes and inflicted damage with punches and elbows, bruising the right side of Till’s face.

And in Round 3, after Brunson absorbed a hard left hand — Till’s most promising moment — Brunson went right back to his old reliable wrestling offense, getting another takedown. Once he got Till’s back, he ended the fight quickly with a rear-naked choke. It was a thorough beatdown and efficient finish.

@DerekBrunson was dominant! Great job and he is in fantastic shape wasn’t even breathing hard in 3rd round!!!

— Daniel Cormier (@dc_mma) September 4, 2021

Though Adesanya handled their first fight rather easily, Brunson could be a handful for him in a rematch. Brunson’s wrestling is dominant, and Adesanya had difficulty getting out from underneath light heavyweight champ Jan Blachowicz in their fight last March. Will it even come to an Adesanya-Brunson rematch, though? Adesanya is expected to defend his belt next against former champion Robert Whittaker. So it could be a while before Brunson or Cannonier get a chance at whoever holds the belt.

Brunson is willing to wait. “I’m not broke,” he said, in a reference to Cannonier saying after his recent win that he has no money and needs to take another fight rather than sitting out until Adesanya and Whittaker have settled their business.

“I’ll sit and wait,” said Brunson. “That’ll give me five, six months to get my body right and prepare for this last, long title push that I’m trying to make.”

Heavyweight: Tom Aspinall (11-2; 4-0 UFC) def. Serghei Spivac (13-3; 4-3 UFC) by first-round TKO (punches) | Watch this fight on ESPN+

Aspinall extended his win streak in the UFC to four, with a first-round finish of Moldova’s Spivac.

Fighting out of England, Aspinall hurt Spivac with a knee to the body and then a crushing right elbow to the head in the center of the Octagon. Spivac fell backwards from the shot, and Aspinall followed him to the ground with strikes to secure a TKO finish at the 2:30 mark.

Damn Aspinall is good…really good!! #UFCVegas36

— Alex Volkanovski (@alexvolkanovski) September 4, 2021

From the opening bell, Aspinall’s presence loomed large, as he immediately took the center of the Octagon and went to work walking Spivac down. His power appeared to give Spivac pause, as he threw very few strikes and spent time covering up on the feet.

Aspinall has been very impressive since joining the UFC’s heavyweight division. He’s 4-0 with four finishes, including three first-round knockouts. Spivac, 26, saw a three-fight win streak snapped.

Welterweight: Alex Morono (20-7, 1 NC; 9-4, 1 NC UFC) def. David Zawada (17-7; 1-4 UFC) by unanimous decision | Watch this fight on ESPN+

Morono came in with 12 finishes in his career, with all but one coming in the first round. Zawada entered the bout with finishes in 15 of his 17 wins. And both men showed that kind of urgency in this fight.

The fight went the distance, though, with Morono a beat ahead throughout a fight that remained a standup contest for the full 15 minutes. The 31-year-old from Houston was first in most punching exchanges, and also had the last word as well. By leading the dance the whole way, he earned three 30-27 scorecards for his third win in his last four fights.

It was his ninth win since 2016, tying him for fourth-most among UFC welterweights over that time.

Zawada, who is 31 and from Germany, has lost four of his five UFC fights.


Light heavyweight: Khalil Rountree Jr. (10-5, 1 NC; 5-5, 1 NC UFC) def. Modestas Bukauskas (11-5; 1-3 UFC) by second-round TKO (leg kick) | Watch this fight on ESPN+

Leg kick TKOs have become more and more common with the surging popularity of the low calf kick. But this was an entirely different situation.

Rountree stopped Bukauskas with the rarest of kick TKOs at 2:30 of the second round. The technique was a step-in, downward kick to Bukauskas’ left leg, specifically his oblique. Bukauskas buckled, he let out a scream of pain and referee Herb Dean stepped in to stop it. The injury appeared to be one to Bukauskas’ knee.

“I did study that [technique] and I did know that that was something I wanted to do when the opportunity came,” Rountree said.

OMG 😱 that side kick to the knee was brutal #UFCvegas36

— Thiago Moisés (@ThiagoMoisesMMA) September 4, 2021

Rountree came out aggressive with big power shots. He landed a hard one-two combination early in the first round and finished with a massive double-hook combination. Rountree also attacked the lead leg with kicks, causing a cut on Bukauskas’ left leg.

In the second round, Rountree said he was waiting for Bukauskas’ jab to use that oblique kick — and it worked exactly to plan, finishing the fight. The unfortunate part is that Bukauskas could now be looking at an extended period of time on the shelf.

Rountree, 31, snapped a two-fight losing streak with the finish. The Los Angeles native, who trains out of Thailand, has four finishes in five UFC victories. Bukauskas, a 27-year-old Lithuania native fighting out of England, has dropped three straight following a win in his UFC debut in July 2020

Lightweight: Paddy Pimblett (17-3; 1-0 UFC) def. Luigi Vendramini (9-3; 1-3 UFC) by first-round TKO (punches) | Watch this fight on ESPN+

Pimblett warned anyone who would listen ahead of his UFC debut that he intended to steal the show on Saturday. And that’s exactly what he did.

The Liverpool, England native knocked out Vendramini in devastating fashion at the 4:35 mark of their lightweight bout. The finish came after Pimblett survived an early knockdown by Vendramini, courtesy of a left hook to the chin. Pimblett appeared to be in serious trouble from the shot, but he ultimately worked his way out of bottom position following the knockdown and recovered on his feet.

Pimblett’s kicks stood out early, but his hands closed the show. He caught Vendramini with a flurry to the head and then literally chased him across the Octagon, unloading more shots along the fence until Vendramini was knocked out cold. It is the 10th time in Pimblett’s career he’s finished a fight inside the first round.

Well! Damn! I’m definitely gonna be talking about @PaddyTheBaddy 😳

— Paul Felder (@felderpaul) September 4, 2021

Pimblett landed 47 total strikes to Vendramini’s 25, and connected on 58 percent of his significant strikes. A former champion under the Cage Warriors banner, Pimblett has won three in a row.

Women’s flyweight: Molly McCann (11-4; 4-3 UFC) def. Ji Yeon Kim (9-4-2; 3-4 UFC) by unanimous decision | Watch this fight on ESPN+

The fight was in its final 30 seconds, and McCann had a message for her opponent. The message had no words. It was conveyed with two hands pointing to the mat at the center of the cage. Fight me right here, the gesture said. And that’s precisely what the two women did until the horn sounded.

It wasn’t the first time in the fight that McCann had dictated where the fisticuffs would take place. Righty at the start, the 31-year-old from England came charging across the cage and immediately erased Kim’s 10-inch reach advantage. But the South Korean stood her ground, used swift footwork to evade damage and landed counter-punches.

But McCann kept coming.

It was a close fight all the way, and an entertaining one in which each fighter had her moments. In the end, all three judges turned in 29-28 scorecards favoring McCann, who broke a two-fight losing streak with her first win since 2019.

For Kim, also 31, it was her second loss in a row. She has dropped three of her last four.

Men’s bantamweight: Jack Shore (15-0; 4-0 UFC) def. Liudvik Sholinian (9-3-1; 0-1 UFC) by unanimous decision | Watch this fight on ESPN+

It would still be accurate to keep the “prospect” tag on Shore. But he certainly does not fight like it.

Shore outpointed Sholinian via unanimous decision (30-27 on all three judges’ scorecards) in an impressively efficient performance. Shore landed takedowns early, showing off his superior wrestling. But he also boxed up Sholinian on the feet and mixed in hard calf kicks to keep his opponent off balance. Shore put forth a truly well-rounded game.

In the first round, Shore took Sholinian down and looked for an arm-triangle choke. Shore could not get the finish, but then got into mount. As good as his grappling was, he didn’t use it as much in the second and third rounds. Instead, Shore highlighted his improved standup skills, even wobbling Sholinian in the third round with a combination.

Good scrap! I like both of these guys! Congrats to Shore #UFCVegas36

— GIGA CHIKADZE (@giga_chikadze) September 4, 2021

Afterward, Shore said he wants a top-15 caliber opponent next.

“I feel like I’m ready,” Shore said in his postfight interview. “I feel like I’ve proven that I’m ready. The only way is up for me. I’m only getting better and better.”

Shore, 26, is now 4-0 in the UFC. This was his second straight decision after five finishes in a row. Shore, a Wales native, has to be considered one of the top up-and-coming fighters in the bantamweight division. Sholinian, a 31-year-old Ukraine native, had a four-fight winning streak snapped.

Men’s catchweight (150 pounds): Julian Erosa (26-10; 3-6 UFC) def . Charles Jourdain (11-4-1; 2-3-1 UFC) by third-round submission (D’arce choke) | Watch this fight on ESPN+

Erosa, of Yakima, Washington, picked up a slick submission over Jourdain on the back end of a very entertaining 150-pound catchweight fight.

The finish came at 2:56 of the third round. Erosa pounced on a D’arce choke as Jourdain looked to work back to his feet from a takedown. Jourdain was caught completely off guard by the attempt, and tapped moments later. It marks the first time Jourdain, of Quebec, has ever been finished.

It was a decisive finish for a bout that went very back-and-forth on the feet. Erosa, who improved to 4-4 in the UFC, did some good work to Jourdain’s body. Jourdain answered with lead left hands in the second round, including one that resulted in a knockdown.

Jourdain falls to 1-1 on the year. Erosa, who signed with the UFC off the Dana White Contender Series, is now 4-1 in his last five after starting off 0-3 in the UFC.

Middleweight: Marc-André Barriault (13-4, 1 NC; 2-3, 1 NC UFC) def. Dalcha Lungiambula (11-3; 2-2 UFC) by unanimous decision | Watch this fight on ESPN+

For 15 minutes, Barriault did not take a step backward. That, in itself, was impressive, as he was in the Octagon with a powerful man who threw everything with maximum oomph. But Barriault steadily walked down Lungiambula the whole time, and by the time the fight was in its final minute, he had an exhausted Lungiambula on retreat.

Damn that was awesome. Barriault didn’t care if he was winning he was fighting to get the finish. Great fight and very impressive! #UFCVegas36

— Tatiana Suarez (@tatianaufc) September 4, 2021

Barriault did not get the finish he was trying for right to the final horn, but he put an exclamation point on all three judges’ cards, as they scored it 30-27, 29-28 and 29-28. That gave the 31-year-old from Quebec two wins in a row after he’d gone winless in his previous four fights.

Lungiambula, a 34-year-old native of the Democratic Republic of Congo, is based in South Africa but has been training in Las Vegas. He threw power shots the whole time but landed nothing that stopped Barriault from advancing. Lungiambula did score two takedowns in Round 1, but he faded as the fight wore on and lost for the second time in three fights, following a win in his UFC debut in 2019.

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