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2015 – Year of the Challenger

Matthew Wells

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Championship fights in mixed martial arts bring an aura of excitement and tension that is unmatched by any other sport. For the defending champion, it is a chance to prove they deserve to wear the belt that signifies their skills, dedication, and championship drive to carry the torch for their division. For the challenger, especially a first-time challenger, it is the biggest moment of their entire career. All of the hours spent training, climbing the ladder, knocking off top contenders en route to that title shot, all comes down to that moment when Bruce Buffer leaves his feet in excitement while yelling “IT’S TIME!” In 2015, we witnessed incredible championship matchups that saw seven challengers earn the right to be called “Champion,” while only three defending champions tightened their grip and closed out the year with the gold around their waist.

AND NEW 

Rafael dos Anjos – Lightweight Championship – Won: UFC 185 *Performance of the Night* | Defended: UFC on Fox 17 *Performance of the Night*

  • UFC 185 – On March 14, at the American Airlines Arena for UFC 185 in Dallas, Texas, “Welcome to the Show” kicked off with an exciting dual championship card featuring title fights between straw weights Carla Esparza versus Joanna Jedrzejczyk and lightweights Anthony “Showtime” Pettis versus Rafael dos Anjos. Many expected to see “Showtime” show off his dynamic striking skills, however, dos Anjos had other plans. From bell to bell, Rafael stayed in the face of Pettis and used effective grappling and wrestling to take Pettis off his game. It was a grind-out type of victory, but a dominating performance nonetheless en route to earning the right to be called “Champion.” In addition to walking away with the title, Rafael also earned a Performance of the Night award for his efforts.
  • UFC on Fox 17 – On December 19, in Orlando, Florida, Rafael dos Anjos would defend his title for the first time against a man he previously defeated, Donald Cerrone. This would be Cerrone’s first crack at UFC gold, and for dos Anjos, and opportunity to overcome the accusations of performance-enhancing drug use and prove he earned the right to be called UFC Champion. The fight started with a very quick pace, with dos Anjos landing hard shots to the body including a knee from the clinch that sent Cerrone backward. From that point, the pain was apparent on Cerrone’s face and dos Anjos, sensing his opponent was in danger, began to turn up the tempo and blitzed Cerrone with punches. After a failed attempt at shooting for a takedown, Rafael kept Cerrone on the canvas and unloaded heavy strikes until Herb Dean saw enough. With a first round stoppage, Rafael dos Anjos defended his title for the first time in style, earning another Performance of the Night bonus.

Daniel Cormier – Light Heavyweight Championship – Won: UFC 187 *Performance of the Night* | Defended at UFC 192 *Fight of the Night*

  • UFC 187 – Even though Cormier lost a title fight to Jon Jones just a few months prior, Jon Jones was stripped of his title due to issues outside of the Octagon and Daniel Cormier took his opportunity to fight for the vacant strap. On May 23, at the MGM Grand Garden Arena for UFC 187 in Las Vegas, Nevada, the Light Heavyweight Championship belt that was stripped from Jon Jones was up for grabs in a fight between Daniel Cormier and the very dangerous and powerful Anthony “Rumble” Johnson. The striking power of Rumble versus the wrestling of DC would be the story of the fight, and very early in the first round, power looked to prevail. Rumble landed a huge punch that dropped DC early in the first round, but DC was able to weather the storm, and from that point on used his wrestling and pressure to wear down Johnson en route to earning the title and a Performance of the Night award.
  • UFC 192 – On October 3, in Houston, Texas, Daniel Cormier stood across the cage from the very tough Alexander Gustafsson. Cormier had a point to prove as many people thought Gustafsson would walk away the victor, based on their performances against a common opponent in Jon Jones. Once again proving MMA math is useless, Cormier came out with a point to prove and put a pace on Gustafsson that was too much to handle. DC launched Gustafsson in the air early in the fight with a highlight takedown and proceeded to use effective striking and grappling throughout the fight. Alex was a very game opponent and kept the fight interesting throughout, even dropping Cormier and threatened to finish. Ultimately, Alex turning his back to run and circle away from Cormier is what more than likely cost him a victory. The fight would go to the scorecards and the split-decision would be in favor of Cormier. The fight also earned Fight of the Night honors.

Fabricio Werdum – Heavyweight Championship – Unified: UFC 188 *Performance of the Night*

  • UFC 188 – On June 13, at the Arena Ciudad de Mexico for UFC 188 in Mexico City, Mexico, altitude played a major factor in the heavyweight clash between Cain Velasquez and Fabricio Werdum. After a very long layoff recovering from injuries, Cain stepped back into the Octagon to retain what was rightfully his, however, the Interim Champ had other plans. Werdum was very effective in controlling the head of Velasquez in the clinch which proved to be the key to the fight as it opened up striking opportunities and wore out Cain. As the fight went on, the gas tank of Cain began to run dry,  and Werdum found himself sinking in very, very tight guillotine choke as Cain shot in for a takedown in the third round. It was tight enough to get the tap and the Heavyweight Championship was unified in a Performance of the Night award-winning effort.

Conor McGregor – Featherweight Championship – Won:  UFC 189 (Interim Championship) *Performance of the Night* | Unified: UFC 194 *Performance of the Night*

  • UFC 189 – On July 11, at the MGM Grand Garden Arena for UFC 189 in Las Vegas, Nevada, drama was at an all-time high when Conor McGregor faced off against Chad Mendes for the Interim Featherweight Championship belt. Mendes took the fight on short notice as Jose Aldo had to pull out due to a rib injury. The Irish fans invaded Las Vegas to see their countryman compete for a piece of UFC gold and the UFC rolled out all the production stops with live music entrances for both fighters to add to the already vibrant atmosphere. Conor came out the gates in typical fashion, running across the cage and throwing a spinning heel kick to get the crowd hyped up, however Conor would spend most of the round, and part of the second round on his back from Mendes’ takedowns. Mendes landed heavy shots in the guard of McGregor, but Conor also landed some hard elbows of his own from the bottom, and worked Mendes body with kicks and punches when the fight was on the feet. The beginning of the end occurred when Mendes went for a submission that would open a window for McGregor to get back to his feet and finish the fight with a hard left hand. Conor earned Performance of the Night and the Interim Featherweight Championship.
  • UFC 194 – On December 12, possibly the most anticipated fight in the history of the UFC, would finally take place. Headlining a very stacked UFC 194 card, Jose Aldo would finally step in the cage across from Conor McGregor. The Irish, once again, invaded the MGM Grand to watch history. All of the hype. All of the trash talk. The world tour. It all came down to this moment. Thirteen seconds later, it was all over. Conor shocked the world by knocking out Jose Aldo with a perfectly placed counter left straight that dropped the only man to ever wear the UFC Featherweight Title. Two follow-up hammer fists later, and the Irish began to party. Many records were broken in this fight, from the fastest KO in UFC title fight history, to the live gate, and more. “Have I been wrong yet? Have I been wrong yet?” No, Conor has not been wrong yet, and he once again proved he can backup all of the talk with his performances in the Octagon. It goes without saying that a 13-second knockout of Jose Aldo also earned a Performance of the Night award.

Joanna Jedrzejczyk – Strawweight Championship – Won: UFC 185 *Performance of the Night* | Defended: UFC Fight Night 69 *Fight of the Night*, UFC 193 

  • UFC 185 – On March 3, in Dallas, Texas, Joanna Jedrzejczyk took on Carla Esparza in the co-main slot of a dual title fight PPV card. This fight was over as soon as Esparza found out her Plan A, which was to utilize her wrestling to set the tone of the fight, would not work against Joanna. There was no effective Plan B for Esparza either, as Joanna Champion picked her apart with her accurate and efficient striking, eventually leading to a second-round TKO stoppage. Joanna would be the first of two new champions on the night.
  • UFC Fight Night 69 – On June 20, at Fight Night 69 in Berlin, Germany, newly-crowned strawweight champion, Joanna Jedrzejczyk, was set to face off against Jessica Penne in a headlining about of an all-Fight Pass card. Joanna displayed precise striking and patience that wore down and bloodied Penne over the course of three rounds. Penne tried to use the clinch and takedowns to dictate the pace of the fight, but Joanna showed solid takedown defense while displaying lethal striking which showed on the busted and bloodied nose of Penne. The referee stopped the fight in the closing moments of the third around as Penne was very bloody and on survival mode while Joanna was teeing off on her opponent. The fight would earn the Fight of the Night award and $50,000 for both women.
  • UFC 193 – On Saturday, November 14, Joanna would compete in her third championship fight in the same calendar year against a very tough competitor in Valerie Letourneau.  This fight was second billing on the first fight card the UFC ever featured female matchups in the co-main and main event of the evening. Letourneau came in under the radar but certainly displayed incredible heart and determination throughout the fight. However, the story would be similar as her two previous championship bouts: precise striking, deadly accuracy, and superior takedown defense. 2015 was certainly a year to remember for Joanna Jedrzejczyk who became the champion and defended the belt twice.

Holly Holm – Bantamweight Championship – Won: UFC 193 *Performance of the Night, Fight of the Night*

  • UFC 193 – On November 18, at UFC 193 in Melbourne, Australia, the bantamweight strap was on the line when highly-touted challenger, Holly Holm met up to face a very dominant champion in Ronda Rousey, the only woman to ever hold the UFC Bantamweight Championship belt. The patience Holm displayed in her previous UFC bouts certainly came into play when she shared the Octagon with Ronda, who tried to drag Holly into a brawl. However, the superior game planning and coaching was apparent as Holm stayed focused, avoided the clinch game and worked her in-and-out striking while keeping Rousey at range. Clearly frustrated and confused, Ronda received very little technical advice in between rounds from her coaches. Then it happened. The left head kick that shocked the world. Ronda Rousey was knocked out cold on the canvas and a new champion in Holly Holm was born. It was the perfect game plan and perfect execution to dethrone Rousey.

Luke Rockhold – Middleweight Championship – Won: UFC 194 *Fight of the Night*

  • UFC 194 – On Saturday, December 12, Chris Weidman and Luke Rockhold were set to clash in the second Middleweight Title fight of 2015. Luke Rockhold showed a strong, confident demeanor all week leading up to the night of the fight. It was a quiet, laser focus that radiated through the UFC Embedded series, to the press conferences, to the open workouts, all the way until the cage door was shut and Bruce Buffer was ready to do his thing. For a man about to engage in the biggest fight of his career, he certainly seemed like he was focused on the task at hand, and it showed throughout the fight. Luke found himself in a very tough fight, as Weidman came out strong. The fight was potentially even after two rounds, but in the third, Weidman threw a wheel kick that proved to be a huge mistake as Rockhold secured a takedown and soon found himself in full mount, raining down punches for a full minute to close out the third round. While the fight wasn’t stopped at that point (and it should have been), the fight would conclude early in the fourth round when Herb Dean stepped in to spare Weidman from any further damage. Rockhold not only took home the Middleweight Championship belt but also a share of the Fight of the Night Bonus.

 

AND STILL

Demetrious Johnson – Flyweight Championship – Defended: UFC 186 *Performance of the Night*, UFC 191

  • UFC 186 – The first defense was on Saturday, April 25, at UFC 186 against a very fast and powerful striker, Kyoji Horiguchi.  Not only did Mighty Mouse successfully defend his belt for the sixth time, he did so in record-breaking fashion by submitting Horiguchi with a last-second, buzzer-beating armbar in the final round. It’s a record that literally cannot be broken unless time and rounds are altered in the future, as he secured his place in the record books with the latest submission victory possible at 4:59 in the fifth round. Johnson would earn a Performance of the Night award for the record-breaking performance.
  • UFC 191 – The second title defense occurred on September 5, at UFC 191 against a powerful man who dropped DJ in their first fight, John Dodson. Unable to seal the deal after tagging the champ in their first meeting, DJ recovered from being nearly finished early and found a way to keep the title belt around his waist. This was Dodson’s second crack at solving the puzzle that is Demetrious Johnson. This time, however, he would leave the cage without the gold, still searching for answers. Johnson put on a master class of mixed martial arts from striking to grappling, en route to a dominating victory over an opponent who gave him a scare in their first meeting.

Robbie Lawler – Welterweight Championship – Defended: UFC 189 *Fight of the Night EVER* 

  • UFC 189 – On July 11, at UFC 189, welterweight champ Robbie Lawler stood across the cage against Rory McDonald. This was a fight dubbed by the UFC president Dana White as “Fight of the EVER” at the post-fight press conference (obviously earning the Fight of the Night award).  This was a fight that had everyone on the edge of their seats throughout as it was an epic back and forth bloodbath. Both men were in danger of being finished at various points throughout the fight, and as a spectator, you knew at some point, one man would surely break from the punishment and the fight would be finished. The man that broke was MacDonald in the fifth and final round, as the accumulation of powerful, pinpoint jabs from Lawler took their toll and the pain couldn’t be tolerated any longer. Lawler walked away victorious with a severely torn lip and busted eye, but more importantly, the UFC Welterweight Championship belt and a smile.

T.J. Dillashaw – Bantamweight Championship – Defended: UFC on Fox 16 *Performance of the Night*

  • UFC on Fox 16 – On July 25, at UFC on Fox 16, T.J. Dillashaw squared off against Renan Barao in a rematch to prove whether or not the first result was a fluke. There were some people of the opinion that Barao was just off his game in the first meeting, but the majority of MMA analysts saw the transition of a fighter evolving into something exponentially better after training under the tutelage of Duane Ludwig. Significant improvements in timing, speed, and footwork were made in T.J.’s game, and it showed in this fight, as Dillashaw once again picked apart Barao from opening bell to the TKO stoppage in the fourth round. It was a masterful performance that proved Dillashaw has Barao’s number. T.J. would earn an extra $50,000 bonus as he took home a Performance of the Night award for the finish.

 

All UFC title fights in 2015:

  • January 3 – UFC 192
    • Jon Jones def. Daniel Cormier via Unanimous Decision
  • February 28 – UFC 184
    • Ronda Rousey def. Cat Zingano via Submission (Armbar), Round 1 – 0:14
  • March 14 – UFC 185
    • Rafael dos Anjos def. Anthony Pettis via Unanimous Decision
    • Joanna Jedrzejczyk def. Carla Esparza via KO (Punch), Round 2 – 4:17
  •  April 25 – UFC 186
    • Demetrious Johnson def. Kyoji Horiguchi via Submission (Armbar), Round 5 – 4:59
  • May 23 – UFC 187
    • Daniel Cormier def. Anthony Johnson via Submission (Rear-Naked Choke), Round 3 – 2:39
    • Chris Weidman def. Vitor Belfort via TKO (punches), Round 1 – 2:53
  • June 13 – UFC 188
    • Fabricio Werdum def. Cain Velasquez via Submission (Guillotine Choke), Round 3 – 2:13
  • June 20 – UFC Fight Night : Jedrzejczyk vs. Penne
    • Joanna Jedrzejczyk def. Jessica Penne via TKO (Strikes), Round 3 – 4:22
  • July 11 – UFC 189
    • Conor McGregor def. Chad Mendes via TKO (Strikes), Round 2 – 4:57
    • Robbie Lawler def. Rory MacDonald via TKO (Strikes), Round 5 – 1:00
  • July 25 – UFC on Fox 16
    • TJ Dillashaw def. Renan Barao via TKO (Strikes), Round 4 – 0:35
  • August 1 – UFC 190
    • Ronda Rousey def. Bethe Correia via KO (Punch), Round 1 – 0:34
  •  September 5 – UFC 191
    • Demetrious Johnson def. John Dodson via Unanimous Decision
  • October 3 – UFC 192
    • Daniel Cormier def. Alexander Gustafsson via Split Decision
  • November 14 – UFC 193
    • Holly Holm def. Ronda Rousey via KO (Head Kick), Round 2 – 0:59
    • Joanna Jedrzejczyk def. Valerie Letourneau via Unanimous Decision
  • December 12  – UFC 194
    • Conor McGregor def. Jose Aldo via KO (Punch), Round 1 – 0:13
    • Luke Rockhold def. Chris Weidman via TKO (Punches), Round 4 – 3:12
  • December 19 – UFC on Fox 17
    • Rafael dos Anjos def. Donald Cerrone via TKO (Punches), Round 1 – 1:06

 

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EXCLUSIVE: Jack Shore talks Cage Warriors 87 Opponent Change, Pressure and Being Ready for A Big Opportunity

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Jack Shore, a promising up and coming Welsh Featherweight who will be fighting on his fourth main Cage Warriors card in only his sixth professional fight. Despite his opponent, Federico Mini, dropping out days prior to the event, Shore isn’t concerned ahead of the opponent change. “Just another fight, I’m ready for anything come fight night and I’m looking forward to the challenge”. Cage Warriors have confirmed that Shore will now be fighting Italian, Mattia Galbiati.

Shore last fought at the Newport Centre, Wales at Cage Warriors 83, defeating his opponent Konmon Deh convincingly with a first-round submission. The crowd was electric for both his entrance and when his opponent tapped due to armbar, “I have a massive following and they like to make themselves heard on fight night, it’s getting bigger and bigger every time!”

Whilst using his extensive grappling to win the fight, the Tillery Combat MMA Academy fighter was very aggressive with his strikes on the ground, “I believe my grappling style is very different to what people are used to seeing and that’s why it’s entertaining to watch. I’m always looking to advance and put the pressure on, but I also try to use punches and elbows to set up my transitions.”

Being undefeated throughout his amateur career (including winning the IMMAF European Championships), to then continue being undefeated throughout his early professional career, Shore has a mature mindset for such a young fighter to how the sport works, “Obviously no one wants to lose but you have to be aware that it’s a possibility because anything can happen in this sport. But by being aware it allows me to train and prepare correctly to do everything I can (do) to prevent that from happening.”

Whilst growing up, Shore states that he wasn’t the most confident of people, “As a kid growing up I was never the world’s most confident person.” Cage Warriors being on BT Sport within the UK, being the biggest European MMA promotion, and having the following Shore has, he feels no pressure of fighting, “But as far as MMA is concerned I don’t feel any pressure at all. There’s obviously the fight day nerves but anyone will tell you I deal with them very well and am more than comfortable in that environment.”

With the current revolution of MMA in Wales occurring, former Cage Warriors fighters Brett Johns, Jack Marshman and John Philips all in the UFC, Josh Reed who has just come off a title shot with Cage Warriors Bantamweight champion Nathaniel Wood, Lewis Long being the best Welterweight in the UK. It brings a realistic opportunity of making the UFC, “Definitely. Since the first bunch of Welsh guys have been signed to the UFC it’s shown for guys like me, Lewis Long and Josh Reed that what we are pushing for is no doubt achievable. I believe that if we keep doing what we are doing then that dream won’t be too far away.”

Whilst having such a successful start to his professional career, and with the attention, this young Welshman is bringing, Shore is in no rush for the Cage Warriors belt, but is prepared if the opportunity arises. “I’m just taking one fight at a time. I’m aware that I’m still young in terms of my pro career so I will continue to fight whoever Cage Warriors put in front of me. Should a big opportunity like that present itself I’ll make sure I’m ready.”

Shore seems to be mature for someone of the age of just 22, the future seems bright for the young Welshman. Jack Shore fights on the up and coming Cage Warriors 87 card Saturday, 14th October at the Newport Centre, Newport, Wales. The event will be free-to-air on UK sports channels FreeSports, as well as be on UFC FightPass and via the red button on BT Sport.

Check the main card out for Cage Warriors 87 below:

Lewis Long vs Roberto Soldic (Welterweight)
Craig White vs Matt Inman (Welterweight)
Jack Shore vs Mattia Galbiati (Featherweight)
Aiden Lee vs Ludovit Klein (Featherweight)
Aaron Khalid vs Ross Houston (Welterweight)

By Ieuan Thomas.

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Gokhan Saki vs Khalil Rountree JR Added to UFC 219

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Kickboxing superstar Gokhan Saki will make his return to the octagon just three months after his UFC debut, as he faces Khalil Rountree at UFC 219.

Saki (1-1 ) made a big statement at UFC Japan in September, knocking out Henrique de Silva with a devastating, statement making left hook.

Rountree (6-2) is a TUF-23 alumni. His UFC run started unsuccessfully losing two in a row including his TUF 23 contract fight. However, Rountree is now on a two-fight winning streak after picking up consecutive first round knockout victories against Paul Craig and Daniel Jolly.

After making his MMA debut in 2004, Saki signed a multi-fight deal with the UFC in May and was succesful in his return to the cage. Saki’s first round KO of de Silva earned him a Performance of the Night bonus.

Neither Saki or Rountree are currently ranked in the UFC’s light heavyweight division, so a win at UFC 219 could most certainly push either of the two in the top fifteen at 205-pounds.

With the addition of Saki vs. Rountree, your current line-up for the UFC 219 card on December 30th is as follows:

Dominick Cruz vs. Jimmie Rivera – Bantamweight bout
Cynthia Calvillo vs. Carla Esparza – Women’s strawweight bout
Carlos Condit vs. Neil Magny – Welterweight bout
Louis Smolka vs. Matheus Nicolau – Flyweight bout
* Gokhan Saki vs. Khalil Rountree – Light heavyweight bout

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*Live Updates* UFC 216 Official Results

Harry Davies

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Live from the T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas, the UFC hosted their eighth PPV card of this year as fans were treated to UFC 216.

The card was headlined by a Interim Lightweight title fight between Tony Ferguson (23-3) and Kevin Lee (16-2). Ferguson entered the octagon holding the record for the longest winning streak in UFC lightweight division history (9). Beating top names such as Rafael Dos Anjos and Edson Barboza in the process.

#7 ranked Lee last fought in June of this year, earning the biggest victory of his career when he defeated Michael Cheisa by first round submission (rear-naked choke).

In the co-main event, UFC flyweight champion Demetrious Johnson (26-2-1) was hoping to break the record for most consecutive title defenses as he faced Ray Borg (11-2). The record (10) was held by both Johnson and former middlweight champion, Anderson Silva.

Johnson and Borg were originally scheduled to fight in the main event of UFC 215 last month, but the title fight was cancelled a day before the event was supposed to take place, as Borg pulled out of the fight due to illness.


UFC 216 Official Results:

MAIN CARD – PAY PER VIEW – 10PM/7PM ETPT

  • #2 Tony Ferguson (24-3) vs. #7 Kevin Lee (16-3) – For UFC Interim Lightweight Championship
    • Result: Tony Ferguson def. Kevin Lee via SUB (triangle choke) Round 3 – 4:02
  • (C) Demetrious Johnson (27-2-1) vs. #3 Ray Borg (11-3) – For UFC Flyweight Championship 
    • Result: Demetrious Johnson def. Ray Borg via SUB (armbar) Round 5 – 3:15 
  • #2 Fabricio Werdum (22-7-1) vs. Walt Harris (10-6)
    • Result: Fabricio Werdum def. Walt Harris via SUB (armbar) Round 1 – 1:05
  • Mara Romero Borella (12-4) vs. Kalinda Faria (16-6-1)
    • Result: Mara Romero Barella def. Kalindra Faria via SUB (rear-naked choke) Round 1 – 2:54
  • #12 Beneil Dariush (14-3-1) vs. #14 Evan Dunham (17-6-1)
    • Result: Beneil Dariush vs. Evan Dunham declared a Majority Draw (29-29, 28-28, 28-28)

PRELIMINARY CARD – FS1 – 8PM/5PM ETPT

  • Tom Duquesnoy (15-2) vs Cody Stamman (15-1)
    • Result: Cody Stamann def. Tom Duquesnoy via Split Decision (29-28, 28-29, 30-27)
  • Bobby Green (23-8-1) vs. Lando Vannata (9-2-1)
    • Result: Bobby Green vs. Lando Vannata declared a Draw (split) (29-27, 27-29, 28-28)
  • Marco Beltran (8-6) vs. Matt Schnell (10-4)
    • Result:  Matt Schnell def. Marco Beltrán via Unanimous Decision (30-27, 29-28, 30-27)

EARLY PRELIMINARY CARD – UFC FIGHT PASS – 7PM/4PM ETPT

  • #15 Magomed Bibulatov (14-1) vs. #11 John Moraga (18-6)
    • Result:  John Moraga def. Magomed Bibulatov via KO (punch) – Round 1 – 1:38
  • #13 Thales Leites (27-8) vs. Brad Tavares (16-4)
    • Result: Brad Tavares def. Thales Leites via Unanimous (30-27, 30-26, 30-26)
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