LAS VEGAS — Luke Rockhold‘s debut at light heavyweight was an absolute disaster.
Jan Blachowicz knocked out the popular former middleweight champion with a vicious, right-left punch combination coming out of a clinch. The knockout finish came at 1 minute, 39 seconds of the second round Saturday night at UFC 239 at T-Mobile Arena. With Rockhold dropped, Blachowicz left no doubt with a pair of punches on the ground before referee Herb Dean could jump in to pull him off.
Rockhold started the first round aggressive with striking and then tried for a long time to get Blachowicz down against the cage. By the end of the first round, Blachowicz seemed like the fresher fighter. He landed a hard elbow and left hand in the clinch, perhaps foreshadowing what would happen later. At the end of the first, Blachowicz landed a combination and a head kick right at the bell. It grazed Rockhold’s head and he dropped.
The clinch is what hurt Rockhold again in the second. Rockhold, who was wearing a calf sleeve on his left leg, once again went for a takedown, got stuffed and Blachowicz caught an opening coming out of the tight space.
Blachowicz (24-8), a +200 underdog, has won five of his past six bouts with the only loss in that span coming to Thiago Santos. The 36-year-old Poland native came in ranked No. 8 in ESPN’s light heavyweight rankings. Rockhold (16-5) has lost two straight. The 34-year-old California native had talked about a possible fight with champion Jon Jones in the near future had he defeated Blachowicz, but now his 205-pound future is murky. Rockhold has lost by KO/TKO in three of his past four fights.
Things started off fine for Melendez. He landed some combinations and looked comfortable in the cage. But like in his loss to Jeremy Stephens, leg kicks started adding up.
Allen worked Melendez’s lead leg and it opened up everything else. By the second half of the first round, Allen had his striking groove and he never lost it en route to a complete, unanimous decision (30-27, 30-27, 30-27) victory.
Melendez had some moments early in the first, but the momentum seemed to change when Allen took Melendez off of his feet with a leg kick. Allen was able to open up after that with nice boxing combinations, including some sweet left hands to the body. The leg kicks kept up, too. And Melendez was never himself after the first.
Allen (15-1) has won eight straight and is 6-0 in the UFC. It’s definitely time for major contender fights in the featherweight division for the 25-year-old Englishman. Allen is the fourth featherweight to start his UFC career 6-0, joining Jose Aldo, Conor McGregor and Yair Rodriguez. Melendez (22-8), a former Strikeforce lightweight champion, has lost five in a row. The 37-year-old MMA pioneer has not won since 2013.
Hernandez was having success in top position. He landed a takedown to start the second round and took control of the fight from there.Vera was able to work his way back to his feet. And the next time Hernandez shot in, Vera met him with a knee. Hernandez dropped, Vera took mount, then Hernandez’s back and cinched in a rear-naked choke to win by submission at 3:25 of the second round.
Vera had Hernandez’s back for a good portion of the first round, but Hernandez was able to reverse, get the top and land hard ground-and-pound. He did that as well in the second after taking Vera down. But Vera had the great equalizer — that nasty jumping knee as Hernandez shot in.
Vera (16-5-1) has won four in a row, tied for the second-longest active streak in the bantamweight division with Petr Yan. The 26-year-old Ecuador native is the first UFC bantamweight to win four straight by finish and he has six finishes in the UFC, the second-most ever among bantamweights. Hernandez (10-3) was on a four-fight winning streak coming into his UFC debut. The 25-year-old American Kickboxing Academy product was filling in for Sean O’Malley, who withdrew last month because of a suspension by the Nevada State Athletic Commission stemming from an adverse drug finding.
It wasn’t the most action-packed matchup, but Gadelha did enough to get back on track.
Gadelha beat Markos by unanimous decision (30-27, 30-27, 30-27) in a fairly close fight in which neither did any kind of sustained damage. Gadelha was able to outstrike Markos in every round, landing the heavier punches more consistently throughout. The bout never went to the mat despite both being good grapplers.
Gadelha (17-4) bounced back from a loss to Nina Ansaroff at UFC 231 last December. The 30-year-old Brazilian and perennial strawweight contender has won four of six overall. Gadelha is tied for the third-most wins (six) in UFC strawweight history with Tecia Torres and champion Rose Namajunas. Markos (9-7-1), an Iraq-born Canada resident, had a two-fight unbeaten streak snapped.
Urijah Faber is very high on Yadong, who he believes will be one of Team Alpha Male’s next big stars. Yadong did nothing to quell that enthusiasm Saturday night — in fact, it has probably now only intensified.
Yadong landed a missile of a right hand to knock out Perez at 2:04 of the first round in the opener of the ESPN prelims. Yadong, 21, is the second-youngest fighter in the UFC. He is only the second bantamweight in UFC history with a first-round knockout at age 21 or younger. Michael McDonald did that twice.
Yadong (14-3, 2 NC) has won seven in a row. The China native fighting out of Sacramento, California, is 4-0 in the UFC with three finishes. Perez (21-8-1), a 29-year-old out of Mexico, has lost two straight following a seven-fight unbeaten streak.
Song Yadong says the Chinese are learning the difference between UFC and MMA and it is growing in popularity.
Edmond Tarverdyan’s latest protégé appears to be the real deal.
Shahbazyan ran right through Marshman, taking him down, landing ground-and-pound, and finishing with a rear-naked choke submission at 1:12 of the first round. Shahbazyan has trained with Tarverdyan, the longtime coach of Ronda Rousey, at Glendale Fighting Club in the Los Angeles area since he was a child. Rousey is Shahbazyan’s manager.
Shahbazyan (10-0) has won all three of his fights in the UFC. The 21-year-old looks like a future contender in the middleweight division. Shahbazyan is the third-youngest fighter in the UFC, behind Song Yadong and Maycee Barber, the youngest. Marshman (23-9), a 29-year-old Wales native, has lost three of four.
Early on, it looked as if Rencountre had no chance. Naurdiev was just too dynamic on the feet, striking with too much athleticism and aggression.
That didn’t last all that long. Rencountre was able to secure a single leg takedown off a caught kick and spent the rest of the first round in top position. That was essentially how the duration of the fight went from there, as Rencountre won a unanimous decision (29-27, 29-28, 30-27).
Naurdiev hurt Rencountre with a head kick, a body kick and a big right hand in the opening minutes. But Rencountre’s takedowns and oppressive grappling were the difference.
Rencountre is the biggest underdog (+375) to win in the UFC this year. He joins Blagoy Ivanov, Donald Cerrone and Henry Cejudo as the only fighters with two wins as underdogs this year.
Rencountre (14-3) has now won two in a row. The 32-year-old Oklahoma native trains out of Alliance MMA and is a potentially up-and-coming name in the welterweight division. Naurdiev (18-3) had won three straight coming in and was thought to be a solid prospect out of Austria. He’s just 22 years old.
In her UFC debut, Avila dominated Kianzad in every area of mixed martial arts on the way to a unanimous decision victory (30-27, 30-26, 30-26). Avila, known as “Raging Panda,” rocked Kianzad in every round and did substantial damage in the second and third. She appears to be a bantamweight to keep an eye on.
In the third, Avila dropped Kianzad, took her back and rode out the frame looking for submissions and ground and pound. Kianzad opened up a cut to the side of Avila’s right eye with a punch in the second round, but her significant offense was few and far between.
Avila (7-1) has won three straight bouts. The 31-year-old Oklahoma native was coming over to the UFC from Invicta FC, where she was a top 135-pound contender. Kianzad (11-5), an Iran-born 27-year-old who now fights out of Denmark, returned to the UFC for this bout and has now lost two of three overall.