Image: Jeff Bottari/Zuffa (via Getty Images)
The UFC's Saturday debut in Raleigh, North Carolina, ended with Curtis Blaydes facing, and passing, his toughest test to date with a second round TKO of former heavyweight champion Junior dos Santos in the night's main event on ESPN+.
The UFC's no. 2 heavyweight contender stopped Dos Santos at 1:06 of the second round with a vicious barrage of knees and punches after teasing a takedown that Dos Santos had been blocking the entire fight.
The first round was relatively close as Blaydes went for multiple takedowns, but Dos Santos managed to evade them. In the second, Blaydes continued to tease the takedown but started landing more on the feet before the finishing flurry. It was the tenth win by form of knockout for the youngest fighter in the UFC top 10.
Blaydes put over Dos Santos as a legend in his post-fight promo and said it was an honor just to be in the Octagon with him, let alone to pick up the win. He also asked for a title shot but he'll likely have to wait for a title eliminator match against the winner of the upcoming fight between Francis Ngannou and Jairzinho Rozenstruik. Current champion Stipe Miocic and former champion Daniel Cormier are awaiting a date for their third fight.
The other former Brazilian champion on the card fared a little better but still went down in defeat as former lightweight kingpin Rafael dos Anjos lost via unanimous decision to TUF 15 champion Michael Chiesa. Both were former lightweights competing at 170, but Chiesa looked better than he had in any of his three previous fights in the division.
Chiesa used his wrestling to dominate RDA for two of the three rounds. He then made a quick callout of former interim champion Colby Covington, asking for a fight in July. Covington suffered a broken jaw in his December welterweight title fight with Kamaru Usman, but could be ready should UFC choose to make that fight.
The other fight on the show with ranked contenders saw Alex Perez pick up a slick first round submission win over Jordan Espinosa at flyweight. Both were ranked in the lower part of the top 15 and Perez asked for a fight with Askar Askarov, who is coming off an impressive win over former title challenger Tim Elliott. Perez has very quietly built up a 5-1 UFC record with the only loss coming to Joseph Benavidez, who fights for the vacant title next month.
Here's what happened on the rest of the show:
- Angela Hill (11-7) had the most impressive win of her career with a second round TKO win over Hannah Cifers (10-4) at strawweight (4:26). She closed it out with ground and pound after a takedown.
- Jamahal Hill (7-0) stayed unbeaten after his UFC debut, picking up a unanimous decision in a light heavyweight fight over Darko Stosic. Scores were 29-27 across the board. I had it 29-28. Stosic did win the third as Hill was fading. Media scores were 92% for Hill with the vast majority scoring it 29-28.
- Bevon Lewis (7-2) got the first victory of his UFC career with a unanimous decision over Dequan Townsend in a middleweight fight. Scores were 30-27 across the board, which is what I had as well. Lewis hurt his knee in the 2nd round and was wobbling pretty noticeably when the fight was over. All media scores were for Lewis with all but one scoring it 30-27.
- Arnold Allen (16-1) spoiled the featherweight return of Nik Lentz (30-11-2), getting the unanimous decision on scores of 29-28 and 30-27 x2. I had it 30-27 but all three rounds were close and Lentz actually landed more strikes. Media scores were all for Allen, evenly split with 30-27 and 29-28 scores.
- In a very boring bantamweight fight, Justine Kish (7-2) got a decision win over Lucie Pudilova (8-6) on straight 30-27 scores in a flyweight fight. I actually had it 29-28 Pudilova. All three rounds were close because neither fighter did much of anything. Media scores were 82% for Kish with most having it 29-28.
- Montel Jackson (9-1) got a decision win over Felipe Corrales in an insane fight. Jackson had a bantamweight record 11 takedowns but also landed some of the hardest, cleanest head strikes you’ll ever see and, except for once, managed to stay on his feet. Scores were 30-26 x2 and 30-25 with the latter score being the same as what I had. All media scores were for Jackson with most having the 30-25 score.
- Sara McMann (12-5) returned from a long layoff after giving birth and scored a dominant decision win over Lina Lansberg (10-5) in a bantamweight fight. Scores were 30-27, 30-26 and 30-25. I had it 30-26. Media scores were all for McMann with the majority having it 30-26.
- Brett Johns (16-2) submitted the debuting Tony Gravely (19-6) at 2:53 of the third round in a bantamweight fight. After splitting the first two rounds, Johns secured a rear naked choke for the win.
- Herbert Burns (10-2) knocked out Nate Landwehr (13-3) at 2:43 of the first round in a featherweight fight. It was the UFC debut for the ONE championship vet and a highlight reel knee to the jaw from the clinch sealed the win for Burns.