Two of the best heavyweights in the world will clash with title implications on the line.
Curtis Blaydes and Derrick Lewis meet Saturday in the main event of UFC Fight Night in Las Vegas. The bout was initially scheduled for back on Nov. 28, but Blaydes tested positive for COVID-19 and the contest was pulled one day prior to the event.
ESPN has Blaydes ranked No. 3 and Lewis ranked No. 5 at heavyweight. While Francis Ngannou is getting the next title shot at champion Stipe Miocic next month at UFC 260, and all-time great Jon Jones seems waiting in the wings for the winner, the Blaydes vs. Lewis victor puts himself in pole position in case something happens with any of those athletes.
Blaydes (14-2, 1 NC) has won four straight and is coming off a unanimous-decision win over Alexander Volkov last June. The Illinois native, who trains out of Colorado’s Elevation Fight Team, has lost to only one man in the UFC: Ngannou, and he has done that twice. Blaydes, 30, is a former NJCAA national champion in wrestling and makes no apologies for his takedown and ground-control style in MMA.
Lewis (24-7, 1 NC) has won three straight, including a knockout win over Aleksei Oleinik in August. The Houston resident owns the most knockouts in UFC heavyweight history (11). Lewis, a 36-year-old fan favorite, has won six of eight and 12 of 15 overall.
Jeff Wagenheim and Marc Raimondi recap the action as it happens. You can also watch the fights on ESPN+.
Fight in progress
What a weird fight to score, Viera controlled significantly more but threw almost no strikes!
— Funky (@Benaskren) February 21, 2021
Recap to come.
For eight years, Minner toiled on the regional scene with mixed success, never getting a look from the UFC. Once considered a journeyman, the Nebraska native has now put together a UFC winning streak.
Minner defeated Rosa by unanimous decision (30-26, 30-27, 29-27) in a one-sided featherweight matchup. Rosa, a seven-year UFC veteran, is known for his grappling and scrambles. But it was Minner who beat him to every single position on the ground, where most of the fight took place. Minner had more than 12 minutes of ground control time, per UFC Stats.
In the first round, Minner got Rosa down, slipped to mount, landed elbows and was looking for an arm triangle. Rosa managed to scramble out, but Minner stayed in a good spot on the ground. Minner had his best success on the feet in the second round, landing a combination and dropping Rosa with punches. Back on the canvas, Minner looked again for the arm triangle after getting into mount. Rosa was able to transition into an armbar attempt from the bottom, but Minner was never in big trouble.
In the third, Minner once again found himself in top position after a scramble on the ground. Rosa went for a desperation kimura, but to no avail. Minner took Rosa’s back, but Rosa got into a position where he could land elbows and punches until the bell hit. It was a solid finish for Rosa, but nowhere near enough.
Minner, 30, has won two in a row following a loss in his UFC debut in February 2020. The Glory MMA product has won five of seven overall. Rosa, a 34-year-old Massachusetts native fighting out of Florida, has alternated wins and losses in his last nine fights, the duration of his UFC career.
The fight never went to the canvas. That’s all you need to know.
Oleinik came in with an astounding 46 submission victories during a 74-fight pro career that goes back to 1996. He is dangerous on the mat, and he did manage to create a clinch against the cage in the first minute, which he tried to convert into a takedown. But Daukaus kept the fight standing, broke away to fight at distance and landed a succession of punches that hurt his opponent and finished him just 1:55 into the bout.
For Daukaus, a Philadelphia police officer, it was his fifth straight victory, the last three coming in the UFC, all by first-round knockout.
— Paul Felder (@felderpaul) February 21, 2021
What made him a winner was not just his hand speed, not just his power, but also his ability to prevent Oleinik from taking the fight to the mat, where he has seen most of his success.
For Oleinik, who is 43 and from Ukraine, the loss was his second in a row. He got the early clinch against the cage, tried to pull Daukaus to the canvas but was unable to do so. That left him in a fistfight, and it quickly became clear that he was ill-equipped to stand with Daukaus.
Daukaus, 31, softened Oleinik with several punches to the head, then finished him with a flurry against the cage, with referee Herb Dean imploring Oleinik to fight back but seeing no offense being directed back toward Daukaus.
Hawes had to hang on for dear life.
In the third round, Imavov had Hawes in deep trouble with big combinations and a knee. Hawes, though, survived and pushed Imavov against the cage in the closing seconds. It was enough for Hawes to escape with a majority decision win (28-28, 29-28, 29-28) in a middleweight bout.
— Aljamain Sterling (@funkmasterMMA) February 21, 2021
“I wasn’t hurt enough to go down, though,” Hawes said in his postfight interview. “He definitely touched me. Man, just that experience. … Now, it’s a new me and those shots didn’t take me down. You’ve gotta hit me with a lot more.”
Hawes was dominant with his wrestling in the first round, grinding Imavov against the cage and taking him down. There was more of that in the second round. But when Imavov got space, he was able to land a combination and put Hawes on jelly legs. In the third round, Hawes tried to clinch and take down Imavov again. But Imavov stuffed the attempt and landed a clean combination to rock Hawes. He landed another combo and some uppercuts, then a knee in the clinch that appeared to really do damage. But Hawes hung on.
Hawes, 32, has won six straight, including his last two in the UFC. The New Jersey native, who trains at Sanford MMA in Florida, has really hit his stride after once being considered a failed blue-chip prospect. Imavov, a 24-year-old Dagestani fighting out of France, had a six-fight winning streak snapped.
Aspinall won for the third time in three UFC bouts. But this one was different.
For one thing, it was the first of his wins inside the Octagon that lasted longer than 1:35, as he had scored quick knockouts of his previous opponents. This fight lasted into the second round, and another thing that was different about it was that it ended in submission, Aspinall’s first tapout win since 2015.
Most different of all, making this the biggest victory in his career, was the opposition. Aspinall, 27, now owns a win over a former UFC champion.
That was quick td to the choke well done
— Chito Vera (@chitoveraUFC) February 21, 2021
In securing his sixth straight win, Aspinall showed off fast hands that put Arlovski in peril early. But the 42-year-old Belarusian, who lives and trains in Chicago, weathered a storm of lightning-quick punches against the cage, and came out of the flurry firing back. Arlovski’s face was marked up but he finished the first round looking fresh.
Then Aspinall used his quickness in a whole new way. A minute into Round 2, he surprised Arlovski with a takedown and wasted not a second before clamping on a rear-naked choke, eliciting an almost immediate tapout at 1:09 of the round.
For Arlovski, who reigned as UFC heavyweight champ in 2005 and 2006 and was in his 52nd career bout, the loss ended a two-fight winning streak.
Against a solid striker with fast hands, Gordon put in a veteran performance.
Gordon took down Chavez in the second and third rounds and grinded out a unanimous decision win (30-27, 30-27, 29-28) in a catchweight bout. Gordon missed weight by four pounds Friday morning for what should have been a featherweight bout. Gordon forfeited 30% of his purse to Chavez.
Jared has best gnp in featherweight
— Belal Muhammad (@bullyb170) February 21, 2021
Chavez had success on the feet with quick combinations in the first round. But by the end of the first, Gordon timed Chavez’s speed and started landing hard combinations of his own. In the second and third, Gordon had success on the feet, but he was able to get Chavez down in both rounds and on the mat the bout was one-sided. Chavez didn’t have many answers as Gordon landed shots from top position.
Gordon, 32, has won two straight and three of four. The New York native, who trains at Sanford MMA in Florida, has lost only to top lightweight Charles Oliveira since 2018. Chavez, a 33-year-old Florida resident, had a four-fight winning streak snapped.
Castañeda was getting beaten to the punch early, but once he tried leading the dance midway through Round 1, he could not miss, producing a TKO at 4:44 of Round 1 to secure his first UFC victory.
The 29-year-old native of Mexico, who fights out of Minneapolis, could not get going in the opening minutes, as Wineland staked out the center of the cage and pursued him aggressively with combinations of punches and kicks. Then, in the last minute of the round, Castañeda landed a straight right hand flush on the chin, wobbling Wineland. Castañeda went in pursuit, unleashing a flurry of six more punches, every one of which connected, the final one dropping his veteran opponent and leading to the stoppage.
For Wineland, 36, a former WEC bantamweight champion from Chesterton, Indiana, who was in his 40th career fight, it was the fourth loss in his last five bouts.
Castañeda is a veteran of 23 pro fights but just one previous one in the UFC. He came into the bout having lost three of his past four bouts, including his UFC debut last July.
Julian Erosa lands an incredible flying knee to Nate Landwehr’s chin to finish him early in Round 1 of their bout.
Erosa had Landwehr in trouble with uppercuts in the clinch. As Landwehr retreated toward the cage, Erosa came forward and landed a huge flying knee. Landwehr crashed to the canvas — and that was it.
Referee Mark Smith stepped in and pulled Erosa off. Landwehr argued. But Erosa was awarded a TKO win at :56 of the first round. Landwehr seemed to still be coherent and attempting to defend at the finish, but Smith thought otherwise.
— ESPN MMA (@espnmma) February 20, 2021
“[Smith] saved his life,” Erosa said. “[Landwehr] was gonna die. He pulled me off him.”
Landwehr actually clipped Erosa with a punch and briefly dropped him, before Erosa fired back in a big way.
“I’m willing to die tonight in that cage, I told myself in the back,” Erosa said. “He caught me with a punch, I don’t really even remember it. I just remember getting up off my knee and pushing forward.”
Erosa, 31, has won three straight, including his last two in the UFC. The Seattle native was actually released by the UFC in 2019 after three straight losses, but has worked his way back and is now finding success. Landwehr, a 32-year-old Tennessee native, has dropped two of three.
Casey O’Neill dazzles in her UFC debut with an impressive win over Shana Dobson.
O’Neill did not look like a fighter making her UFC debut. She did look like someone who’s undefeated.
The 23-year-old from Australia, who was born in Scotland and has lived Down Under since age 10, was dominant from start to merciful finish in keeping her record perfect in her first Octagon appearance.
No joke, this is Casey’s pace everyday in the gym. Absolute killer. 👹 #UFCVegas19
— Eric Nicksick (@Eric_XCMMA) February 20, 2021
O’Neill got an early takedown, and when she lost the position, she simply went for it again. By the end of Round 1, she was on top of Dobson, dropping elbows and threatening a submission.
Round 2 was more of the same. O’Neill took the fight to the canvas immediately and seized dominant position, for back control and then full mount. Dobson tried her best to escape the position, but O’Neill deftly maintained control. She delivered elbows and punches until the referee jumped in at 3:41 of the round.
Dobson, who is 31 and a Miami native, trains in Denver as part of Team Elevation, the same team as main-eventer Curtis Blaydes. She has lost four of her past five bouts.
Chas Skelly is left waiting in the Octagon after his opponent, Jamall Emmers, is unable to make the walk due to back spasms.
Chas Skelly stood in the Octagon and waited for his opponent, Jamall Emmers, to make his entrance. But Emmers never came out.
The UFC Fight Night bout between Skelly and Emmers was canceled Saturday when Emmers was unable to compete after suffering back spasms backstage, according to the UFC broadcast.
Wow that’s crazy back spasms are no joke uncontrollable
— Belal Muhammad (@bullyb170) February 20, 2021
Skelly was already in the cage at the UFC Apex in Las Vegas when Octagon announcer Joe Martinez made the announcement that the fight would not be happening.
Aiemann Zahabi lands a quick right hook in Round 1 and drops Drako Rodriguez for the finish at UFC Fight Night.
Zahabi had not been in a fight since 2019. What difference would three more idle minutes make?
The 33-year-old from Montreal, who trains in the Tristar Gym of his older brother, Firas Zahabi, threw barely a strike over the first half of the opening round. But then he unleashed an overhand right that collapsed Rodriguez for the one-punch knockout at 3:05 of Round 1.
When you’re down with your back against the wall, there’s no better feeling then getting a big win like that. #UFCVegas19
— Aljamain Sterling (@funkmasterMMA) February 20, 2021
In Zahabi’s first fight since May 2019 and second appearance since 2017, he ended a two-fight losing streak.
Rodriguez, who is 24 and fighting out of Sioux City, Iowa, was making his UFC debut. He came out as the aggressor and landed some clean shots early, including a couple of lead uppercuts. But when Zahabi finally connected, it was lights out for Rodriguez, who saw a three-fight winning streak come to an end.
This bout originally was scheduled to happen in December, but Zahabi tested positive for COVID-19. The rescheduled fight took place at 140.5-pound catchweight after Rodriguez missed the bantamweight limit on Friday.
Spivac left Vanderaa in a puddle of his own blood.
On top for most of the second round, Spivac pounded away from the position. The punches were not the hardest — both men were clearly tired. But referee Chris Tognoni called off the bout at 4:32 of the second, ruling Spivac the winner by TKO.
The first round went similarly. Spivac dominated on the ground and Vanderaa had few answers. Spivac seems like a legitimate prospect in the heavyweight division.
Spivac, 26, has won two straight and three of five fights in the UFC. The Ukraine native, who fights out of Moldova, has nine finishes in 12 career wins. Vanderra, a 28-year-old Washington native, was making his UFC debut following a first-round TKO against Harry Hunsucker on Dana White’s Contender Series last November.