From the fact that no one was quite sure what to call it – UFC Sunrise? UFC Fort Lauderdale? UFC Fight Night 150? – to the uncertainty of whether it was airing on ESPN or the companys over-the-top streaming service and the fact that the main event changed not once, not twice, but thrice, there were a few ways this card could make you shake your head.
But aside from the naming issues and trying to figure out where the event aired (the main card was on ESPN+ for those keeping score at home), the one thing that was never laughable or amusing was the deep of talent scheduled to compete on this fight card.
While this one was “just another Saturday fight card” in the eyes of some, real fans knew this was a stacked event from start to finish, with quality early prelims, a strong four-pack of fights airing on the ESPN portion of the prelims and a six-fight main card that included an interesting lightweight prospect returning to action, a new name in the bantamweight division getting a step up in competition, a pair of legit “this should be fun” fights that still carried divisional significance, the sophomore appearance of an overpushed, underprepared heavyweight and a main event that could end up determining the next title challenger in the middleweight division.
This was an intriguing card on paper and it delivered inside the Octagon on Saturday evening at the BB&T Center in Sunrise, Fla.
Jumping back into the cage just a few weeks after finishing David Branch, Hermansson started fast, survived a push in the middle round and pulled away down the stretch to score the biggest win of his career, sweeping the scorecards against the perennial contender Souza.
Now this is the fight we’ve been waiting to see from Hill ever since she returned to the UFC. The former Invicta strawweight champion replaced Jessica Penne on short notice against Jodie Esquibel. You wouldn’t know it was short notice, though, because she looked completely at ease in the cage, landing punches in bunches and mixing in kicks en route to a unanimous-decision victory. That snapped a two-fight losing streak, and maybe one of MMA’s most entertaining Twitter personalities is finally ready to make her run.
“The Joker” worked combinations and quality footwork to sting Souza on the feet early before threatening with his patented off-set, arm-in guillotine choke, but couldnt get the Brazilian out of there. After Souza appeared to shift the momentum in his favor with a dominant third round, Hermansson rallied, getting back on his bike, getting back to throwing combinations and outworking Souza over the final 10 minutes to secure his fourth straight victory.
Sometimes, you don’t need to have a fast finish to make an impression. Sometimes just dominating for 15 minutes will do the job. That was the case for 25-year-old California lightweight Roosevelt Roberts in his main-card opener against Thomas Gifford. Roberts basically just clobbered Gifford from bell to bell. That was the first time the former Dana White’s Contender Series competitor went the distance after winning his first seven fights by finish. He also showed poise on the mic, issuing a callout to Matt Frevola.
Souza was a fixture in the top five and had been “promised” a title shot with a victory, but now Hermansson has bounced him from the queue and usurped his position. While a title shot isnt likely to come for the Scandinavian standout, hes made it clear that hes a player in the 185-pound weight class.
People have been sleeping on Hermansson for a while and many still didnt consider him a factor even after his quick finish of Branch in Philadelphia, but there is no way to overlook him any further because only contenders have gotten the better of Souza in the past and the 30-year-old from Sweden just beat him soundly.
Whats going to be interesting to see is where Souza goes from here. Hes 39 and just got bounced from the title mix. Hes now 1-2 in his last three and 2-3 in his last five, which shows how crucial this fight was overall. Souza is talented enough to make another run, but a position as the gatekeeper to the upper echelon might be the more likely landing spot for him going forward.
UFC on ESPN+8 is in the books, and it’s time to take stock in the evening’s performances. MMA Junkie looks at who’s up, who’s down and who’s flat after a night of action in Sunrise, Fla.
After losing his promotional debut by disqualification in January, Hardy picked up his first UFC win Saturday, steamrolling and stopping the returning Smoliakov.
Right out of the gate, it was clear that Smoliakov had zero interest in standing with Hardy, who clipped him with an uppercut on a hurried, telegraphed entry that he stopped with ease. From there, Hardy went searching for a home for his clubbing power shots, catching Smoliakov with an uppercut that dropped him before getting him out of there with heavy ground-and-pound.
4️⃣straight in the Octagon for @Cors_Life 👊 #UFCFtLauderdale on ESPN+ pic.twitter.com/IOUJI97JPu
Video: UFC Fort Lauderdale: Jack Hermansson Octagon Interview
Look, Hardy is green and needs to continue gaining experience and being given a chance to develop as a fighter. Dont mistake the fact that he has been in the co-main event for each of his UFC appearances as a sign that he needs a serious step up in competition next time out; thats not what the UFC is looking to do and it shouldnt be what anyone wants, until theyre just eager to see Hardy get stomped.
Let him spend another three months working with the crew at American Top Team and then drop him in there with another Smoliakov or Allen Crowder next time out. He has potential, but hes a long way from being a finished product, so think long term, let him work and see what happens.
Expected to be a Fight of the Night contender from the minute it was booked, Perry and Oliveira delivered and the hometown favorite sent the partisan crowd at the BB&T Center into hysterics by finding his comfort zone and outworking the Brazilian over the final two rounds to secure the unanimous decision victory.
Oliveira started hot and took the fight to Perry, mixing up his strikes and cutting Perry below the eye very early. At times, the popular welterweight appeared to be in trouble, but he did a good job of riding out the storm, landing a few shots of his own in return and keeping Oliveira honest.
Perry seemed to wake up over the final two rounds, showing more aggression and connecting with far more power shots than he did in the first. As the Brazilian “Cowboy” tired in the third, Perry pressed forward, distancing himself down the stretch to secure the 2-1 nod on all three scorecards.
What it means: While neither man is a contender at welterweight, this one still helps delineate things in the 170-pound weight class.
Perry had looked great against overmatched opponents or fading veterans, but now he has a very good win under his belt. That should help cement his standing as a top-25 welterweight and keep him in the mix for a couple more fights like this or perhaps even slightly bigger opportunities going forward.
Hes a fun addition to every card hes on and a huge favorite with fans, so hell remain a fixture in prime spots like this. If he can string together a few more key victories, then he could work his way into the top 15.
The same still applies to Oliveira. The fun-loving veteran is hyperactive both in terms of his offensive output inside the Octagon and the number of times he competes every year. You need fighters like that in every division and hes entrenched in the 16-to-25 range in the deep welterweight ranks, so Oliveira wont be going anywhere any time soon.
“The Hulk” connected with a spinning back fist that caught the veteran clean and caused him to stagger, giving the young mauler from Moldova an opportunity to swarm and search for the finish. Although he clearly had Teixeira hurt, the finishing window quickly closed and the fight continued.
Once it got to the second, Teixeira started having more success while Cutelaba began to slow down and midway through the frame, the Brazilian landed flush, rocking Cutelaba and creating a finishing opportunity of his own, climbing around to back mount and finishing with a quick, deep rear-naked choke.
What it means: This was a wildly entertaining fight while it lasted and one that serves as a reminder of the levels that exist in the light heavyweight division, as well as the fact that Teixeira is still a tough cuss who has no interest in being a stepping stone for the next generation just yet.
A former title challenger, Teixeira has settled in at the bottom of the top 10 and it feels like the right place for him, as hes a skilled, savvy veteran who can pile up appearances in fights like this for a couple more years. Have him continue to be the litmus test for some of the newer names in the division and if he wins a few more, move him up into a more significant matchup.
As for Cutelaba, he continues to show flashes of potential, but struggles with regulating himself. Hes got big power and is a tough matchup because of his pressure style, but he gasses himself out and once hes tired, his fundamentals fall to pieces. If he can tighten some of that up, he could blossom into being a contender because there are always going to be opportunities at light heavyweight.
But even if nothing changes, Cutelaba should enjoy a lengthy run as an all-action fixture in the 205-pound ranks.
After initially being scheduled to clash in January, these two bantamweights finally shared the Octagon on Saturday and good lord, was it fun.
Both men had their moments in the 15-minute affair, with Sandhagen pumping out volume and Lineker bombing away with his trademark power shots. Each of the first two rounds was close, with the American using his footwork and expansive arsenal to pick at Lineker while the Brazilian was doing what he is known to do, firing off punishing body shots and thudding hooks in every exchange.
Just when it seemed like Sandhagen was pulling away in the third, Lineker connected flush, forcing a panic shot from the surging upstart that resulted in Lineker latching onto a tight guillotine. While he was able to send blood spurting from Sandhagens nose, he wasnt able to get the tap.
4️⃣straight in the Octagon for @Cors_Life 👊 #UFCFtLauderdale on ESPN+ pic.twitter.com/IOUJI97JPu
What it means: This was a tremendous fight and both men turned in outstanding performances, with Sandhagen picking up the biggest win of his career and graduating from prospect to contender.
His movement and ability to deliver effective offense from various looks, levels and disciplines slowed Lineker at times, as Sandhagen was able to get him to bite on numerous feints and connect with counters as Lineker swung wide. Although he slowed a little in the third and got stuck with a couple, the Elevation Fight Team member was able to keep his wits about him and secure a fourth straight UFC victory.
Bantamweight is flush with talent, including lots of promising young up-and-comers, plus the title picture is currently hazy, but Sandhagen has reached the fringes of contention and should end up facing an even bigger name next time out. He has top-end potential and while he may end up stumbling before he gets there, expect Sandhagen to be a contender for years to come.
Even though he came out on the wrong side of things, nothing changes for Lineker as a result of this fight. Hes still a top-10 fixture. Hes still a power-punching terror. Hes still a dangerous guardian to the elite ranks in the bantamweight division and a guy who can be counted on for performances like this every time out.
A long-range prospect in the lightweight division, Roberts impressed on the Contender Series last summer before choking out Darrell Horcher in his promotional debut before the end of the year. For his sophomore effort, the unbeaten upstart squared off with seasoned regional vet and promotional newcomer Gifford, outworking him over all three rounds to earn his eighth straight win in the process.
What it means: No one is going to look back on this fight as one of the biggest moments of Roberts career, but make no mistake about it – this was a crucial bout that will pay serious dividends for the undefeated lightweight in the long run.
Roberts had finished everyone hed faced prior to Saturday night, so getting to log 15 hard minutes against an awkward guy like Gifford, who continually made him work, will end up helping the 25-year-old more than a first-round stoppage win. In every round, Roberts had to deal with awkward scrambles and attacks from Gifford, who was constantly searching for opportunities to attack off his back. Although he was never really close on anything, it kept Roberts honest and forced him to make adjustments.
There is a ton of depth at lightweight and zero reason to rush Roberts, who called out Matt Frevola and spoke to UFC matchmaker Sean Shelby about the matchup immediately following this bout. Its a great matchup and the kind of incremental step up in competition that makes a lot of sense for Roberts at this point of his career.