Fans packed MGM Grand Garden Arena for UFC 160's heavyweight title fight and contender bout, and those who arrived early for the prelims witnessed a heavyweight-caliber cadre of hard-fought bouts and finishes by men in weight classes far lighter.
Mike Pyle vs. Rick Story
After nearly being knocked out in the first round, welterweight Mike Pyle rallied back with elbows, knees and jiu-jitsu to pull off a split decision over fellow veteran Rick Story in the featured UFC 160 prelim on FX.
After a hard shot from Story, Pyle quickly clinched and Story got the takedown. As Story threw short punches from guard, Pyle worked to isolate an arm. He briefly spun with a belly-down armbar, but Story muscled out and wound up back in Pyle’s guard. As the two stood, Story stayed close teeing off on Pyle against the cage. As Pyle backpedaled, Story clocked “Quicksand” with a series of hooks to the head and body. Before Pyle could find his range, Story landed a body shot followed by a lunging left that dropped Pyle, bag-of-bricks-style, to the mat. Story dove with devastating ground and pound but Pyle somehow turtled up and survived the round.
The onslaught seemed to wake Pyle up, and he threw some testing jabs and kicks in the second. Still, Story poured it on, landing a right hook, left straight and body shot in rapid succession. A front kick from Pyle set up a knee from the clinch that seemed to stun Story, who responded with a takedown. With Story in his guard, Pyle grabbed one arm and tried to torque it backward, but he lacked the leverage to complete the kimura. The last minute played out in Pyle’s active guard, as the BJJ brown belt threw strikes from the bottom in between armbar and triangle attempts.
Both men seemed tired in the third, with many of of their strikes whiffing The flagging Story allowed Pyle to put him in a Muay Thai plum for a few knees, but he still surged forward with body shots. As Story worked for a takedown against the fence, Pyle landed cracking elbows, plus several more short elbows on the feet that drew blood. An exhausted Story ate a series of elbows on the feet before practically falling forward for a takedown. Pyle used an armbar to sweep into mount, then took Story’s back and finished the round in that dominant position.
Judges gave the fight to Pyle with scores of 29-28, 29-28 and 28-29, as he sees his lengthy career record rise to 25-8-1. Though happy with the win, Pyle wasn't happy with his performance. "I got hit too much in the first round but I feel I did get more technically sound as the fight went on" he said.Story slides to 15-7.
Dennis Bermudez vs. Max Holloway
Featherweights Dennis Bermudez and Max Holloway waged a relentless fifteen-minute battle, and ultimately it was Bermudez’ aggression, takedowns and plain old toughness that netted him a split decision win over striking phenom Max Holloway.
Bermudez shot early but Holloway defended, so Bermudez opened up with kicks. Holloway began popping his left jab out, and the four-inch reach advantage it highlighted kept Bermudez at bay for a bit. Bermudez did speed his way inside with his left hand and scored one right hand, but Holloway only increased his footwork and made Bermudez work more. Bermudez threw a left hand that Holloway met with a spinning back kick that hit Bermudez’ jaw and sent him shooting for a desperation takedown. They made it to the feet and Bermudez pushed things to the fence to recover, eating a couple of knees on the process. Three more spinning back kicks from Holloway in the last 30 seconds punished Bermudez’ body.
In the second, Bermudez went for a single-leg right away, but Holloway’s length allowed him to roll over and take Bermudez’ back as they stood back up. As soon as they split, Holloway scored a left head kick against the fence. Bermudez got inside with a Superman right, and fearlessly continued charging inside Holloway’s range with hooks and elbows. Bermudez’ continual forward motion let Holloway pick and choose his counters, and he scored with elbows, head kicks and right hands. Bermudez completed a takedown late in the round and easily punched out of the armbar attempt, but
Bermudez did not slow for round three and came out strong with leg kicks before getting a pair of takedowns. Though both men were active, their strikes connected far less than they had in the early going. The exchanges were tit for tat before Bermudez earned another big takedown and ground-and-pounded from top position before returning to a heavy half-guard for the remaining minute of the fight.
TUF 14 finalist Bermudez won the close bout with scores of 29-28, 29-28 and 28-29 and sees his record improve to 12-3. "I don’t why I have to take a punch sometimes to come alive in a fight," said Bermudez. "My striking coach wants me to drop the guys I’m working with and not let them up. I think that attitude came through in this fight.” Holloway, the youngest fighter in the UFC, is now 7-2, his only other loss coming in his UFC debut against Dustin Poirier.
Colton Smith vs. Robert Whittaker
In a welterweight matchup between TUF 16 winner Colton Smith and TUF Smashes winner Robert Whittaker, The Aussie barely broke a sweat, outboxing Smith before ending things in the third round.
For nearly the entire fight, Whittaker stood in the center of the Octagon with his left hand hanging down by his side, occasionally whipping it up to jab Smith and easily counterstriking when the Iowa-raised wrestler would shoot in for takedowns. Smith capitalized on the stance with two right hooks throughout the first round, but Whittaker largely ignored them and did damage with strikes. The third one, on the other hand, dropped Whittaker, setting up Smith for another quick takedown.
Round two opened with a brawl, as an uppercut-left dropped Smith briefly and then they exchanged wildly. They soon returned to the first-round pattern of Whittaker standing in the center and Smith circling, though Smith did get Whittaker down with a single leg. An accidental low blow to Whittaker halted the action for a bit. Smith fired off more leg kicks after the break, and the two exchanged wildly in the second half of the round. Whittaker opened up a cut on Smith’s cheek and visibly rocked his opponent throughout as the crowd in the MGM screamed their appreciation.
Smith’s one-inch reach advantage was completely invisible by the third, though he continued to push forward to strike, missing his opponent and wearing himself out in the process. During the next surge, Whittaker dropped him with a clean left, then followed things to the mat with punches until the referee called the TKO at 41 seconds.
Whittaker moves to 12-2 with the win, while Smith falls to 6-2. Whittaker summed up the fight, saying “He clipped me good, and I just tried to give him ten back for everyone one that he gave me.” Smith also gave his opponent credit: “Robert and I were throwing down in there for the fans. I’ve been called a boring fighter, and I really wanted to go in there and throw.”
See highlights from Whittaker's performance
Khabib Nurmagomedov vs. Abel Trujillo
Russian-born, AKA-homed ground monster Khabib Nurmagomedov made it 20 in a row with a three-round ragdolling of Abel Trujillo. The 24-year-old won the lightweight bout with scores of 30-27 (x3) and broke the UFC record for most takedowns in a fight with 21.
The two kept far more distance than yesterday at the weigh-in when they had to be separated, and the first throw came from Trujillo, who connected with a left. Trujillo came forward twice more with strikes before earning a takedown. Nurmagomedov thanked him by locking in an armbar attempt, and once Trujillo rolled out and stood up, Nurmagomedov took his back and threw him to the ground eight times in a row, never losing his grip around Trujillo’s back as the Blackzilian stood. Trujillo rolled out on the last takedown and was quickly triangled, where he stayed until the bell.
After another round-opening standoff, Trujillo swung for the fences, but Nurmagomedov landed then took down Trujillo. Both men scored with haymakers in the ensuing exchange on the feet, and then the Russian Sambo champion got another takedown on the All-American collegiate wrestler, followed by another cartwheeling trip that put him on Trujillo’s back with both hooks in. Though Trujillo briefly landed in top position and teed off after one takedown, both men continually got back up to their feet.
Trujillo chased Nurmagomedov with a left, but was clipped by a counter and wound up securely in the Russian-born fighters’ bodylock, as the rinse-and-repeat takedowns tallied up toward 20. Nurmagomedov landed some knees on the ground and mixed it up with one high-altitude takedown and a suplex but was relentless in getting things to the mat.
Nurmagomedov’s record remains perfect at 20-0, while Trujillo drops to 10-5. "I’m very sorry I didn’t make weight for the fight," said "The Eagle," who sacrified 20% of his purse after coming in 2.5 pounds over the lightweight limit. "I also wanted to showcase my wrestling techniques in support of the ‘Save Olympic Wrestling’ campaign. Wrestling means a lot to me and we have to do what we can to keep it alive.”
See highlights from Nurmagomedov's performance
Stephen Thompson vs. Nah-Shon Burrell
Flashy welterweight strikers Stephen Thompson and Nah-Shon Burrell spent much of their 15-minute bout jockeying for position against the cage. Although Burrell outstruck his opponent throughout the bout, Thompson’s power and diverse arsenal earned him the unanimous decision win in the first UFC 160 prelim to air on FX.
Thompson, a 57-0 kickboxer, welcomed the fight with two nasty body kicks to Burrell, who quickly threw a left and charged things to the fence. He worked for a takedown but was neutralized. Another exchange went the same way, with Burrell getting the clinch and throwing knees before separating. Back in the center, Thompson dropped levels as Burrell threw a hook, succeeding in his second takedown attempt. There were more struggles for position on the fence, and this time when they broke, Burrell tried to stay close, wobbling Thompson with an uppercut and then throwing more knees from clinch. Next it was Thompson who hurt Burrell with an uppercut, and as Burrell tried to trip Thompson to the mat, Thompson wound up in mount.
Round two was not tremendously different, though Thompson began using his hands more, throwing to body Burrell’s body and head and making it more difficult for “The Rock n Rolla” to close the distance. Once he had seemingly worn down Burrell, he unleashed a combination that ended with a high kick, then another pair of head kicks. With his hands down, Thompson threw long looping punches at Burrell’s body, as the Philadelphia prospect seemingly had no answer for Thompson’s arsenal.
Burrell ran forward with a right hand and continued his role as pursuer in the third. He was met by a pupu platter of video-game kicks from Wonderboy, but Thompson paid for his baiting, relaxed stance with two left hands that wobbled. That initiated a striking exchange in the center, the most prolonged of the bout, and which Thompson seemed to win. Thompson’s kicks worked both defensively and offensively, and another takedown likely erased any doubt that he’d won the round.
Judges scored the action 30-27 and 29-28 twice for Thompson, whose record now stands at 7-1, his only loss coming to surging veteran Matt Brown last April. “It’s been a year since I fought last and it sort of got worse as the fight drew nearer, knowing that I lost my last fight,” said Thompson. “I went out there and got past the jitters I had a strong first round and I wanted to showcase my wrestling a bit.” Burrell, the seventh youngest fighter in the UFC, now stands at 9-3.
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Brian Bowles vs. George Roop
Six-foot-one bantamweight George Roop used his length and precision striking to finish former WEC champion Brian Bowles inside of seven minutes.
Though Roop has a six-inch height advantage, the reach differential is only 1.5 inches, and Bowles closed the gap well in the first. Roop made the first statement, knocking Bowles around with front kicks and a foot to Bowles’ head. Bowles used a long left jab to get inside several times, and met Roop’s uppercuts with quick right hands. Roop surged with a knee that Bowles easily avoided; Bowles shot back with good right hands and body shots. Roop found success with his left jab and long kicks, but those slowed as the round wore on while Bowles appeared to pick up the pace as he found his range. With a minute or so left Bowles dropped Roop with a set of body shots, pounced with fists and dove into a deep guillotine. Roop escaped, but Bowles was in mount and he easily controlled the rest of the round.
Round two was mostly kicks plus a short elbow from Roop as Bowles seemed stymied about what to do other than throw body shots. Roop’s corner yelled for him to use angles and, as if on cue, Roop threw a right hand that dropped Bowles. Roop swarmed with more right hands on the ground. Herb Dean ended the fight, and then Roop supplexed his coach and threw fake ground-and-pound from mount to celebrate.
The end came at 1:43 of the second. Roop is now 2-0 at bantamweight, his third weight class under the Zuffa banner and 14-10-1 overall. Bowles, who was ranked 8th in the division coming in, falls to 10-3, with his only other losses coming to Urijah Faber and Dominick Cruz.
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Jeremy Stephens vs. Estevan Payan
In his 16-fight UFC career, Jeremy “Lil Heathen” Stephens has never shied away from tough opponents, gamely taking on names such as Joe Lauzon, Sam Stout, Anthony Pettis and Donald Cerrone. In his UFC 160 featherweight debut he met another warrior, the seemingly un-put-away-able Strikeforce import Estevan “El Terrible” Payan. Stephens snapped a three-fight losing streak over three bloody rounds in the opening fight of UFC 160, dominating Payan and showing that he still possesses his signature speed, power and durability in the new weight class.
There was no waiting-out period –Stephens came out with heavy leg kicks and Payan showed crisp boxing. Payan threw a body shot and a right hand that wobbled Stephens, who shot in and landed in an arm-in guillotine he had to escape. On the ground the two traded elbows but Stephens’ did damage from guard, opening a cut on Payan’s forehead. Payan scored with a big upkick and briefly had Stephens’ arm in danger, but “Lil Heathen” used the omoplata attempt to roll to his feet. Stephens efforted another takedown attempt on the cage and finally finished it, and the two traded knees on the way up. Stephens was the aggressor as the round wore out, landing more leg kicks and two nasty one-twos before the bell.
Stephens immediately wobbled Payan with a right hand to open round two. Payan scored a couple of low kicks of his own, but Stephens quickly answered with one then two takedowns. More ground-and-pound from top position opened Payan’s forehead cut again as Stephens passed to side then back control for the bulk of the bloody round. He worked for a rear-naked, but Payan’s bloodied face made it difficult to lock in.
With Payan’s corner imploring him to keep it standing, the two waged a kickboxing war in the third, with a massive right hand and a high head kick from Stephens re-opening the wound on Payan’s face. Stephens earned another takedown before the two minute mark, and kneed his opponent’s body and threw hammerfists as Payan struggled to stand. Stephens got it to the mat again with one minute left, continuing to damage Payan from half-guard.
Stephens’ scores were 30-27, 30-26 and 30-26, bringing his MMA record to 21-9 and his UFC record to 8-8. “I had a tough cut getting down there and this weight is a new challenge for me,” said Stephens. “I feel much lighter, faster, and I’m hitting even harder.” Payan drops to 14-4 (1 NC).
See highlights from Stephens' performance