Tagged in: Las Vegas

Robert Whittaker beats Kelvin Gastelum via unanimous decision in Las Vegas

Robert Whittaker doesn’t create a lot of headlines. He doesn’t talk any trash. Never has he made a spectacle of himself.

But quietly, Whittaker has built a résumé that rivals some of the most impressive in mixed martial arts.

The former UFC middleweight champion put forth another brilliant performance Saturday, defeating Kelvin Gastelum by one-sided unanimous decision (50-45, 50-45, 50-45) in the main event of UFC Fight Night in Las Vegas.

Whittaker beautifully mixed up his striking over all five rounds, landing jabs, straight rights, left hooks, leg kicks and even a front kick to Gastelum’s jaw in the final frame. It was a sublime showcase against another one of the top middleweight fighters in the world.

“I’m feeling on top of the world,” Whittaker said. “Obviously, this was a very hard fight. A lot of people were selling Kelvin short. … He’s one of the best fighters in the division. That was a very tough fight.”

ESPN had Whittaker ranked No. 2 in the world at middleweight coming in. This victory should put him in line for a shot at champion Israel Adesanya, who beat him for the belt two years ago.

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“Nothing but respect,” Whittaker said of Adesanya. “He’s a great fighter. But I think we should talk, mate. I think it’s time we crossed paths again.”

Whittaker and Gastelum were first supposed to fight at UFC 234 on Feb. 10, 2019, when Whittaker was the UFC middleweight champion. But Whittaker withdrew from the fight the day of the card due to a hernia. A collapsed bowel caused him to have to undergo emergency surgery.

On Saturday, Gastelum was replacing Paulo Costa, Whittaker’s original opponent, who had to pull out due to lingering effects of COVID-19.

The change of opponent did not affect Whittaker at all. He rocked Gastelum in the first round with a head kick and never really slowed down from there. The very tough Gastelum hung around for all 25 minutes, but rare was a minute when Whittaker was not in total control.

Later in the first round, Whittaker took Gastelum down and landed some ground-and-pound. In the second, Gastelum had some success with his boxing and straight left hands, but Whittaker landed some nice jabs and counters. Whittaker rocked Gastelum again with a combination in the third, a round in which Gastelum had some success early.

Whittaker landed two nice uppercuts in the fourth round and got right up from a Gastelum takedown. In the fifth, Whittaker was starting to wear some of Gastelum’s offense — Gastelum was bruised up, as well — but Whittaker capped the technical performance with a surprising front kick to Gastelum’s face.

Whittaker outlanded Gastelum in meaningful strikes 150-62, and 115 of those from Whittaker were to the head, according to UFC Stats.

Whittaker (23-5) has won three consecutive fights and 12 of his past 13 overall. The New Zealand-born Australia resident has just one loss since 2014, versus Adesanya. Whittaker, 30, held the middleweight belt from 2017 to 2019, dropping it to Adesanya at UFC 243 in October 2019.

Whittaker is 14-3 in UFC.

Gastelum (16-7, 1 NC) was coming off a unanimous decision victory over Ian Heinisch at UFC 258 on Feb. 13. The California native had lost three straight prior to that.

The 29-year-old Gastelum was once considered one of the best middleweight fighters in the world, fighting Adesanya for the interim belt at UFC 236 in April 2019.

Saturday’s card was held with no fans at the UFC Apex, a facility across from the promotion’s corporate campus, with COVID-19 protocols in place.

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Derrick Lewis KO’s Curtis Blaydes in biggest UFC main event upset in 5 years

Curtis Blaydes made no apologies about his strategy coming into a huge heavyweight fight with Derrick Lewis. Blaydes was going to use his dominant wrestling early and often. He told anyone who would listen.

Maybe it was a decoy. But Blaydes should have stuck to his original game plan, as Lewis crushed him with an uppercut knockout at 1:26 of the second round in Saturday’s main event of UFC Fight Night in Las Vegas.

Blaydes gained confidence on the feet in the first round and attempted only one takedown, which Lewis stuffed. And Lewis, one of the most dangerous KO artists in the history of MMA, made him pay.

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It was the biggest upset in a UFC main event since Michael Bisping defeated Luke Rockhold at UFC 199 in 2016, according to ESPN Stats & Information research. Lewis was a +350 underdog, per Caesars Sportsbook by William Hill, ESPN’s odds provider. Bisping was +400 against Rockhold five years ago.

With the stoppage, Lewis ties Vitor Belfort with the most knockouts in UFC history (12).

Lewis also is now tied for the second-most wins in UFC heavyweight history (16) with Frank Mir. Andrei Arlovski is the all-time UFC heavyweight victories leader, with 19.

Saturday’s finish came when Blaydes ducked in, trying to close the distance for a clinch or a takedown. Lewis saw it coming and let loose with a massive uppercut. Blaydes’ body shook on impact, and he was unconscious as he fell to the canvas. Lewis followed up on the ground with punches, until referee Herb Dean came in to pull him off.

“That was the only punch I was waiting for the entire fight,” Lewis said. “I knew he was gonna come in. … That’s all I was waiting for. I wasn’t worried about throwing a one-two, a jab or anything.”

The fight was originally arranged for Nov. 28, but Blaydes tested positive for COVID-19, and the contest was pulled one day prior to the event before official weigh-ins.

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Kamaru Usman defeats Gilbert Burns by TKO to retain UFC welterweight title

Kamaru Usman and Gilbert Burns were full of emotion while embracing in the middle of the Octagon on Saturday night. Burns had blood and tears running down his face. Some of their cornermen behind them were trying not to cry.

Usman stopped Burns, his former teammate, via TKO at 34 seconds in the third round to defend his UFC welterweight title in the main event of UFC 258 in Las Vegas.

Usman landed a right hand as he was switching stances to floor Burns, then slammed Burns with punches on the ground until referee Herb Dean pulled him off.

“Gilbert is a guy that I’ve known from the start,” Usman said in his postfight interview. “I love him. This one was tough for me to deal with.” Usman picked up his 13th consecutive win, surpassing legend Georges St-Pierre for the most consecutive victories in UFC welterweight history.

Only Anderson Silva has won more than 13 straight fights in UFC history, winning 16 in a row from 2006 to 2012.

Usman is tied with six other fighters with 13 consecutive wins.

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Usman and Burns were teammates in South Florida since 2012, first with the Blackzilians and most recently with Sanford MMA.

Usman departed for Colorado to train under coach Trevor Wittman last year after the initial fight with Burns was scheduled for July.

But Burns tested positive for COVID-19 and withdrew from that bout. Henri Hooft, the longtime head coach for both Usman and Burns, did not corner either man and said he would not even watch the fight.

The fight had major implications outside of the personal story. Coming in, ESPN had Usman ranked No. 5 in the world in its pound-for-pound MMA rankings. In the welterweight division, ESPN has Usman ranked No. 1 and Burns at No. 5.

Burns rocked Usman twice early with huge right hands. But Usman hung in through a tumultuous first round. He then took over in the second, working a beautiful jab and stymieing Burns’ power and explosiveness. Usman’s striking looked better than ever, as he switched stances and landed with power from each one.

In the second round, Usman dropped Burns twice, the second time with a jab. In the third, it was a right hand that resembled a jab that put Burns on his butt before Usman pounced and finished on the ground.

Usman outlanded Burns 83-45 in significant strikes, per UFC Stats.

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Promoter — Deal done for Anthony Joshua-Tyson Fury heavyweight title fight

Anthony Joshua’s promoter Eddie Hearn stated a deal for the world heavyweight champion to meet Tyson Fury in an undisputed world heavyweight title fight this year is all but done, with a venue in the Middle East a front-runner to host it.

Joshua defeated Bulgarian Kubrat Pulev last month to keep his IBF, WBO and WBA titles to set up the prospect of a mouth-watering clash with fellow Briton Fury who holds the WBC belt.

“The deal is done, really — without being signed,” Hearn told the Times.

“The financial elements of the deal are done. We’re talking through the broadcast situation, the only thing really now is to paper it. “And when you paper a deal like that, it does go back and forwards 15 times before every single letter is approved on the document.”

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Fury has not fought since beating American Deontay Wilder in their Las Vegas rematch in February to claim the WBC crown.

Fury and Wilder had a rematch clause in their contract but they couldn’t make the fight.

Hearn said Joshua and Fury would face off in two fights — with the first likely to be in the Middle East later this year — and he hoped to bring the rematch back to Britain.

“The Middle East will be aggressive and will be front-runners in this. To stage this fight, you need significant government support. You need someone who is staging this fight as a statement for their country,” Hearn added.

“I’d like it [the rematch] to be [in the United Kingdom]. Where? Millennium Stadium.”

Fury’s American promoter Bob Arum has stated before that he is “95 per cent confident the fight happens”. Arum said: “I don’t want to make a deadline, but I just can report that everything so far has been going splendidly, and we hope to have a signed document within the next couple of weeks.

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Glover Teixeira submits Thiago Santos in UFC main event

With a latent light heavyweight title shot on the line, 41-year-old Glover Teixeira managed to pull out another classic presentation. Teixeira managed to survive some big scares to submit Thiago Santos in the main event of UFC Fight Night from Las Vegas’ UFC Apex facility.

Santos, who was returning for the first time since suffering a knee injury in a split-decision loss to then-champion Jon Jones in July 2019, came out fast and hard, rocking Teixeira in the first round.

Teixeira survived the scare and fell back on his grappling, scoring a takedown and dominating the rest of the round from top position. The grappling of Teixeira would dominate in the second round as well, this time without the scare.

Teixeira put Santos down early and stayed on top for the entire round before locking in a deep rear-naked choke only to see Santos saved by the bell.

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Time running out in the second almost led to a nightmare scenario in the third round when Santos instantly dropped Teixeira with a crushing left hand and followed him to the ground, scoring with a series of heavy punches from the top position. Santos quickly ran out of gas, however, and Teixeira reversed position, ending up on top and shortly after locking in another rear-naked choke.

This time there was no safety to be found as Santos was forced to tap at the 1:49 mark of Round 3.

The victory ran Teixeira’s winning streak to five and seems to set him up to challenge recently-crowned champion Jan Blachowicz for the light heavyweight title — a belt Teixeira fought for in a losing effort in 2014. However, UFC president Dana White has recently called a fight between Blachowicz and middleweight champion Israel Adesanya “the fight to make.”

“Dana White, come on, man,” Teixeira said. “I’m an old man here. You’re going to give the shot to Adesanya and make me wait? Five fights in a row beating these young guys, it’s not easy. Give me that title shot, man.”

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Teofimo Lopez upsets Vasiliy Lomachenko to become youngest four-belt champion

There is a new lightweight king. At just 23 years old, Teofimo Lopez became the undisputed lightweight champion of the world by dethroning Vasiliy Lomachenko over 12 tense rounds inside the MGM Grand Conference Center in Las Vegas on Saturday night.

Lopez becomes the youngest fighter to become a four-belt champion since the WBO was founded in 1988.

After a strong start, Lopez overcame a late Lomachenko rally to win by the scores of 116-112, 119-109 and 117-111.

The fight was dominated early by the boxing of Lopez, who controlled the center of the ring by using his educated left hand and then hit Lomachenko with well-placed body shots that had the smaller boxer backing up.

Lopez (16-0, 12 KOs) built a big lead on the scorecards as he was able to neutralize the graceful movements of Lomachenko (14-2, 10) behind that jab. For most of the first half of the fight, Lomachenko just moved around the ring and did very little offensively. It was clear the technical acumen and poise of Lopez was vastly underrated. For long stretches of the bout he was actually outboxing the master boxer.

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Yet Lomachenko didn’t give up without a fight. As the fight entered the late stages, Lomachenko, sensing he was behind, started to ramp up the pressure and began to close the gap on Lopez. He struck him with quick, laser-like left hands that slowed the momentum of Lopez. To his credit, Lomachenko put together a late rally in the championship rounds.

“I think the first half of the fight he got more rounds than I did, but in the second half of the fight I took over,” Lomachenko said. “I was much better.”

But if a late statement was needed by Lopez, it was made in the 12th and final round.

Despite Lopez’s father saying he had the fight won entering the last round, Lopez kept the pressure on and got his hand moving, landing several significant power shots that halted Lomachenko in his tracks. Only a clash of heads that caused a gash over Lopez’s left eye stemmed the tide.

“I’m a fighter,” Lopez said after the fight regarding the 12th round. “I gotta dig in deep. I knew he was coming. I didn’t know if they had him up on the scorecards or not, and I love to fight. I can bang, too. I don’t care, man. I’ll take one to give one. That’s what a true champion does. I find a way to win.”

This round was a late exclamation to what was a sterling presentation by a young man who fulfilled the destiny of his outspoken father, who prophesied that not only would his son win a world title by his 15th fight, but he would topple a boxer many consider the best in the sport by his 16th.

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Dustin Johnson out of CJ Cup due to covid

No. 1-ranked Dustin Johnson has withdrawn from this week’s CJ Cup at Shadow Creek in Las Vegas after testing positive for COVID-19.

Johnson, according to the PGA Tour, was experiencing symptoms, prompting him to take a test. Players are tested prior to travel each week and on site as part of the PGA Tour’s coronavirus testing protocols.

“Obviously, I am very disappointed,” stated Johnson, a 23-time PGA Tour winner who took the Tour Championship and thus the FedEx Cup title last month.

“I was really looking forward to competing this week but will do everything I can to return as quickly as possible. I have already had a few calls with the tour’s medical team and appreciate all the support and guidance they have given me.”

According to David Winkle, Johnson’s agent at Hambric Sports, the golfer took an on-site test Sunday that was negative. But he started feeling symptoms Sunday night, stayed away from the course Monday and didn’t feel better Tuesday, so he took a test that came back positive.

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Because the symptoms started Sunday, it is possible that Johnson could return at next week’s Zozo Championship as long as his symptoms have subsided.

He would not be able to practice on site prior to the tournament.

Johnson has not played since he finished tied for sixth at the U.S. Open last month. It is also possible he could play at the Houston Open the week before the Masters, which is Nov. 12-15.

Johnson has been one of the most consistent players in the game of late, tying for sixth in his last start at the U.S. Open, winning the Tour Championship, finishing second at the BMW Championship, winning the Northern Trust and tying for second at the PGA Championship.

He will be among the favorites at the Masters next month. Johnson becomes the second player in straight weeks to test positive for COVID-19.

Tony Finau withdrew from last week’s Shriners Hospitals for Children Open due to a positive test. He also withdrew from the CJ Cup field and has been substituted  by Robby Shelton.

The PGA Tour has had a successful return to competition following a 13-week shutdown because of the coronavirus pandemic. Johnson is the 15th player who the tour has announced as having tested positive. Prior to Finau, two players tested positive at the U.S. Open, but there had been a six-week stretch of no positive cases before that.

J.T. Poston was the first alternate and replaces Johnson in the 78-player field.

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UFC Edgar vs Munhoz preview

Frankie Edgar believes his edge in high-level experience will make the difference on Saturday versus Pedro Munhoz in the main event of UFC Fight Night: Munhoz vs. Edgar. The future Hall of Famer gets an opportunity to prove it when he makes his bantamweight debut versus the division’s fifth-ranked contender.

Their fight headlines the marquee at the Apex facility in Las Vegas, with the main UFC Fight Night card slated for 8:30 p.m. ET. Edgar, the former lightweight champion, remains confident he has another title run left in him at UFC on ESPN.

However, the motivated Munhoz seeks a victory to bolster the pursuit of his first title. Munhoz is a -240 favorite (risk $240 to win $100), while Edgar is a +200 underdog in the latest Edgar vs. Munhoz odds from William Hill.

The 33-year-old Munhoz (18-4-1) has been considered a potential title-contender since his UFC debut in February 2014.

All four of his UFC losses have come against fighters who are still ranked, with three of them in the top 10. 

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The Brazil-born Californian had perhaps the biggest win of his career when he knocked out former titleholder and third-ranked Cody Garbrandt in March of last year. But he was outclassed three months later by the second-ranked Sterling, who now seems to be in line for a title fight versus new champion Petr Yan.

Edgar (23-8-1) is widely regarded as a UFC legend who has been involved in numerous memorable bouts. He won the lightweight championship in 2010 versus fellow icon B.J. Penn and made three successful defenses before dropping a pair of bouts against Benson Henderson, who is now in Bellator.

But the New Jersey native is just 1-3 in his last four appearances, with the lone victory coming against fading former contender Cub Swanson. He was stopped by Chan Sung Jung in the first round of their December bout and also suffered a first-round knockout loss in 2018 against Brian Ortega, who is ranked No. 2 at featherweight.

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Brunson stops Shahbazyan by third round TKO

The only way to the top of UFC’s middleweight division is through Derek Brunson. On Saturday, he slammed that door shut for a red-hot prospect.

Brunson stopped Edmen Shahbazyan via TKO 26 seconds into the third round in the main event of UFC Fight Night in Las Vegas.

The previously unbeaten Shahbazyan had all the hype coming in as the former training partner of UFC legend Ronda Rousey. But Brunson nearly finished him at the end of the second round and then did so early in the third.

The card took place with no fans at the UFC Apex, a facility owned by the promotion right across from its corporate campus. It was the first event in the United States after a month-long run in July on Yas Island in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates, which was dubbed Fight Island.

Brunson said in his post-fight interview that he was disappointed he was a heavy underdog. He said he is 3-0 since going to train under coach Henri Hooft at Sanford MMA — and recalled advice Hooft gave him when he first got to the South Florida gym.

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Brunson was a +290 underdog coming in.

This was the largest upset in a UFC main event since Michael Bisping (+400) knocked out Luke Rockhold to collect the UFC middleweight title at UFC 199 in 2016, according to ESPN Stats & Information.

When the third round started, Brunson started his onslaught again. He came forward with a big left hand, took Shahbazyan down and landed more ground-and-pound. This time, Dean had a quick hook and called it off, awarding Brunson a TKO.

Brunson said his instant thoughts were going home to see his family after being apart for the past four weeks while training. He said he will start thinking about his next opponent with his coaches within a week.

Brunson (21-7) is considered one of the strongest outs in the middleweight division. The North Carolina native is on a three-fight winning streak. Brunson, 36, has lost only to current or former champions since 2016: Israel Adesanya, Robert Whittaker, Anderson Silva and Ronaldo “Jacare” Souza.

Brunson is now tied with three others for the third-most finishes in UFC middleweight history with eight. UFC president Dana White stated he was impressed with Brunson’s performance.

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Gabriel Flores defeats Josec Ruiz by unanimous decision

Blue-chip lightweight prospect Gabriel Flores Jr. continued his development with a one-sided unanimous decision triumph over Josec Ruiz on Thursday at the MGM Grand Conference Center in Las Vegas.

All three judges scored it 100-89 for Flores (18-0, 6 KOs), who started quickly and outboxed Ruiz (21-3-3, 14 KOs) the rest of the way.

In the second round, Flores, 20, stunned Ruiz with a counter left hook and followed with a right cross that sent him down. It looked as though Flores might score an eye-opening knockout, but he eventually had to settle for a decision victory.

While Flores dominated every round, it was a solid learning experience for him. He got some quality rounds while facing a veteran who had never been knocked down coming into this contest.

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Flores, who recently relocated to Las Vegas from his hometown of Stockton, California, is a young fighter with a high boxing IQ and has a keen understanding of ring generalship.

Blessed with quick hands and great footwork, he is relying on his skills from the outside to win fights. Now he is waiting for some physical maturity so he can finish fights more emphatically.

After Thursday’s victory, Flores, coming off a 117-day layoff, exposed that he had suffered a lower back injury during a training session.

“It happened in my last sparring [session],” Flores said. “My lower back, it hurts severely. I feel probably 50 percent, with the punches I could’ve thrown tonight. I wasn’t tired, at all.”

Despite the victory, Flores wasn’t totally satisfied with his effort.

“Tonight was the night to show everybody what a great performance was, and I didn’t get to show them,” Flores said. “Fifty percent of me, that’s what I showed tonight.”

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