BOSTON – Every rematch is a little different, but usually they grow from the same seed: a first meeting that leaves some open questions. A longtime champion who seemed invincible goes down to defeat. A well-matched duo leaves us wanting more after they’ve battled it out for 15 back-and-forth minutes.
The latter was the case for Friday’s UFC Fight Night co-main event between Jeremy Stephens and Yair Rodriguez. Instead of being a continuation of 15 contentious minutes, though, it was 15 seconds. There wasn’t time for any back-and-forth in their meeting less than four weeks ago in Mexico City.
Except afterward, when accusations and venom flew in both directions.
Rodriguez, whose eye poke left Stephens unable to continue and whose postfight questioning of Stephens’ manhood breathed fire into this hastily scheduled rematch, went from hero’s welcome in his Mexican homeland to somewhat of a villain. The Boston crowd didn’t exactly treat him like Alex Rodriguez, but the “USA! USA!” chants made it clear whose home game this was.
But once the fight got going, you kind of had to feel for the fans south of the border, because they missed a classic, which in the end went the way of Rodriguez by unanimous decision, with all three judges scoring it 29-28.
The tension was boiling over from the start, and it did not cool off through the whole first round, which ended with Rodriguez (13-2, 1 NC) sticking out his tongue mockingly and Stephens (28-17, 1 NC) grabbing his crotch. Prior to that, each man had shown what he had: Rodriguez his creativity, Stephens his relentlessness. What also shone through, though, was Stephens’s basic approach and Rodriguez’s inaccuracy.
That became most evident in Round 2, when Rodriguez caught up with Stephens’s predictable timing – at one point making a gesture as if he were a matador toying with a bull. Then he hurt Stephens with a body kick and swarmed for a finish. Stephens appeared ready to be had, and Rodriguez threw everything he had at his wilting opponent — and missed with most of it. By the end of the round, Stephens had got the fight back to standing, much to the approval of the “USA! USA!” crowd.
Round 3 was all Stephens. He was the stalker now and when he took Rodriguez to the canvas, his ground-and-pound attack was not missing its mark. Had this fight been contested under Pride rules — accumulated damage the deciding factor — the judges might have scored it differently. Down the stretch, Stephens landed several elbows and punches as Rodriguez held on until the horn.
Then Stephens helped Rodriguez to his feet and they hugged. What an unpredictable plot twist.
Recap to come.
Greg Hardy continues to rack up wins in the UFC’s Octagon — and live at the center of controversy.
Hardy (6-1) picked up his third UFC win on Friday, as he defeated Ben Sosoli (7-3) via unanimous decision at UFC Fight Night in Boston’s TD Garden. All three judges scored the heavyweight contest in favor of Hardy, 29-28.
The bout was not without controversy, however. Between the second and third rounds, UFC cameras picked up Hardy asking his corner whether he was allowed to use an inhaler. Hardy then used the inhaler, which UFC vice president of regulatory affairs Marc Ratner referred to as “completely illegal” on the UFC broadcast.
According to information provided later in the broadcast, however, a representative from the Massachusetts State Athletic Commission told Hardy he could use the inhaler, and the UFC’s anti-doping partner, the United States Anti-Doping Agency (USADA), does allow the use of certain inhalers during competition.
Prior to the inhaler issue, Hardy showed a much more measured pace than his previous heavyweight fights. Going into Friday, all but one of his pro fights had ended inside the first round. The only one not to, a UFC bout against Allen Crowder in January, ended in a loss when Hardy was disqualified for an illegal strike.
The ex-NFL defensive end out-landed Sosoli, who is from Australia, 54-to-26 in total strikes, but looked gassed in the final round. Sosoli turned up his aggression a little late, but it wasn’t enough to come back from a two-round hole. Hardy also threw several head kicks in the contest, which is a new wrinkle in his game.
Hardy’s emergence as a mixed martial arts prospect and UFC fighter has been well documented this year, as he has stepped back into the spotlight for the first time since he was exiled from the NFL. Hardy was convicted of domestic violence in 2014, before charges were later expunged from his record.
Joe Lauzon fires up the Boston crowd by tagging Jonathan Pearce with some early punches before getting a takedown. For more UFC, sign up here for ESPN+ http://plus.espn.com/ufc.
Lauzon, fighting for the third time in the promotion’s six appearances in Boston, got the building loud but only for a brief time, as he made quick work of Pearce.
He hurt Pearce (9-4) with a straight punch that sent him against the cage, then took him down and beat him down for a TKO finish at 1:33 of Round 1.
“This is my house!” said the 35-year-old from nearby Bridgewater, Massachusetts, giving the home fans another chance to roar. Lauzon raised the possibility that this could have been his swan song, though he sounded undecided as he soaked in the crowd’s adulation. “Maybe it’s my last one, maybe it’s not,” he said. “I have no idea.”
From ESPN Stats & Information: It was the ninth career KO/TKO win for Lauzon and snapped a three-fight losing streak. Lauzon scored his 15th lightweight win, fourth most in division history. He also passed Jim Miller for most finishes in UFC lightweight history at 13.
After beating Gillian Robertson, Maycee Barber tells Paige VanZant to answer her call for a fight. For more UFC, sign up here for ESPN+ http://plus.espn.com/ufc.
Barber, the youngest woman on the UFC roster at 21, showed ferociousness and poise beyond her age in remaining unbeaten by finishing Robertson in the first round.
For Barber (8-0), it was her seventh finish, and it was a methodical destruction. She went straight forward from the start, and even when the 24-year-old Robertson (7-4) tied her up against the cage, Barber kept working to inflict damage, landing several elbows to the head.
Before long, Barber was the one in command against the fence, and once she saw that one of her strikes had bothered Robertson, she let go with a relentless but not reckless attack, getting the standing TKO when the referee jumped in at 3:04.
Afterward, Barber called out Paige VanZant.
From ESPN Stats & Information: Barber tied the longest knockout streak in women’s UFC history at three with Amanda Nunes and Cris Cyborg. It’s the fifth career win by KO/TKO for Barber. Barber and Cyborg are the only women’s fighters to start their UFC careers with three consecutive knockout wins.
Darren Stewart gets hyped and takes off his shirt after giving Deron Winn his first pro loss. For more UFC, sign up here for ESPN+ http://plus.espn.com/ufc.
Stewart danced inside the Octagon to Winn’s walkout music. Then, by the third round, Stewart was making Winn dance to his tune in a standup match, in which he picked Winn apart and handed him his first career loss.
Winn (6-1) is short for a middleweight, just 5-foot-6. But that puts him closer to his opponents’ legs, and that is convenient for his relentless pursuit of takedowns. He was scoring them early but not inflicting much damage from top position, while Stewart (11-4) landed some sharp elbows from his back.
As the fight wore on, the takedowns were harder and harder to land, but Stewart’s punches weren’t. He got into a smooth flow with his standup, and despite allowing two third-round takedowns, he did enough to persuade two judges to hand him his fourth win in his past five fights.
It was a catchweight fight, as Winn weighed in on Friday at 188.5 pounds, over the middleweight limit.
“I’m surprised with Deron because this guy said to me that he’s going to throw hands for the first round and then wrestle, he didn’t throw any hands, so I’m not sure what that was about,” Winn said. “But people talk and talk, I’m over it, I want to keep showing what I can do. He reminded me a lot of myself when I first started, rushing out and making silly mistakes, but I’m past that now and ready to make a run. I’d love to fight in London again, let me fight in my hometown, give me a chance to show how much I’ve improved since the last time and put on a show for my fans.”
“Getting back into the win column is the best feeling in the world,” Rosa said. “This is everything I’ve worked for over the last 10 years, especially over the last two years with my (neck) injury. I thought about this every day and this is what kept me going, this exact moment. It was extremely hard. There were days where physical therapists and doctors doubted me, but even if there was a 1 percent chance that I was coming back and make it, even if they told me I couldn’t, I would have, but I did it. I’m back, first-round finish, and I’m coming for the title.
“It means everything to me — this is the city of champions. I’m 3-0 in the Boston Garden now, undefeated in Boston, and I’m going to keep going. Next step hopefully is working up the rankings and fighting for a world title here one day. He was known as the Jiu-Jitsu guy in the division, but I guess we all know now who the Jiu-Jitsu guy in the division is.”
From ESPN Stats & Information: It’s the eighth career submission win for Rosa. This was his first fight in 923 days (April 8, 2017) because of a neck injury. Rosa, who is from Peabody, Massachusetts, is now 3-0 in the UFC at TD Garden in Boston, 0-3 everywhere else. His three wins in Boston are the most of any UFC fighter.
Molly McCann gets into a dominant position and makes Diana Belbita pay in Round 2. For more UFC, sign up here for ESPN+ http://plus.espn.com/ufc.
“I feel like I’m in my groove in the UFC,” McCann said. “Tonight, I felt a little sick. My attributes and game plan require a massive engine and gas tank, and I couldn’t give anything because I felt like I was going to be sick. So, to come away with winning three rounds with an average performance is not good enough for me, but I’m not complaining.
“I’ve won again — I just wish it was more spectacular because I know how good I am. I feel like I’ve earned more than just another debuting prospect, but thank God that’s all I had tonight with the way my body was feeling. I’m so fortunate to be in the position I am and to get another win and keep getting the opportunities with the UFC. I’ll be happy when I look back, but I’m devastated right now. I want to get back in there and do another three rounds to fix it. If they give me another chance before the end of the year, I’ll jump all over it. The cut, the training camp, everything was perfect, so it’s on me. I just felt weird out there with my belly — I couldn’t get going. My lungs weren’t tired, but my body was just shutting down. At least on my worst day, I still produced a performance that got me a win.”
From ESPN Stats & Information: McCann won her third consecutive fight after losing her UFC debut to Gillian Robertson.
In Round 1, Sean Woodson connects on a pair of knees to the head of Kyle Bochniak. For more UFC, sign up here for ESPN+ http://plus.espn.com/ufc.
“I’m ecstatic, super happy I got the win,” Woodson said. “Now that it’s all settling in, I’m a little disappointed I couldn’t get the finish. I felt like it was there multiple times.
“This banged-up hand in the first round put a halt to that, so I’m excited to get back in there and really show what I can do. When he kept walking forward, I just was wishing that my hand was better so that I could hit him with it, but I knew that was his style so I just stayed focused, stuck to my jab and focused on footwork. The Contender Series really helped prepare me for this, this whole setup, and being in the Octagon wasn’t brand new to me. It’s pretty similar and that helped a lot. I don’t think my hand is broken — it’s just a little banged up, so I’ll be out for a few weeks and hopefully I can be back in January and stay active. I want to fight every three to four months if possible.”
Randy Costa and Boston Salmon both let their hands fly early in Round 1. For more UFC, sign up here for ESPN+ http://plus.espn.com/ufc.
“This was just absolutely incredible — I achieved the dream,” Costa said. “There were a lot of naysayers and I think I proved them wrong. I think I showed a lot of composure in that fight. Getting my first UFC win in Boston, in the Garden, in the town that I was raised in, is outrageous. I’m just so happy to be here.
“In my last UFC fight and in all of my local fights, I always get too hyped up in the back and on the way out and then I make stupid mistakes in the fight. For this one, I just slowed everything down and removed myself from the environment. I was able to see everything coming and was able to execute. I’m going on vacation this week and expect to come back at no less than 205 pounds, so unless they want to give me a fight at light heavyweight, then I’m going to have to wait until the start of 2020 to get back in there. When I first stepped in the gym, I never expected to see myself in the UFC, never mind taking amateur fights or training with a legend like Joe Lauzon. This all feels like a dream, but I’m going to keep working to make it more of a reality. “
From ESPN Stats & Information: It’s the fifth career knockout for Costa, all in the first round. Salmon has suffered consecutive first-round knockout losses.
Sean Brady checks Court McGee’s high kick and counters with a powerful left hand in Round 1. For more UFC, sign up here for ESPN+ http://plus.espn.com/ufc.
“To get here and to win just means the world to me — I feel like I could cry talking about it,” Brady said. “It means so much to me and my family, my coaches, just everyone who has sacrificed so much for me to get here. It’s huge. I’m excited to be here. A lot of people doubted me, especially against a tough veteran like Court McGee. I dropped him and he came back. He’s only been finished one time for a reason and I think I came close to doing that again.
“My biggest thing coming into this fight was not trying to force a finish, gas myself out and lose off of that. His pressure is something I’ve never dealt with before. If I had tried to jump on him after I dropped him, I would have probably just gotten myself into trouble. I want to finish people, I want to knock them out, I want to submit them, but winning is the only thing that matters. I want to move myself up, 11-0, 12-0, 13-0, that’s the only thing that matters to me. I’m here to win fights. As long as they say I’m good, I want to fight again this year. I was signed back in March and wanted to fight more this year. Things happened — it is what it is — but I just want to fight and keep getting better. “
From ESPN Stats & Information: It was Brady’s sixth career win by decision, while McGee lost his second consecutive fight and fourth in his past five.
Brendan Allen looks to sink in a submission late in Round 1, but Kevin Holland is able to escape. For more UFC, sign up here for ESPN+ http://plus.espn.com/ufc.
“I feel good, started off a little slow, but we got the finish and that’s all that matters,” Allen said. “It was good to have my fight on the Contender Series before this because it helped teach me to not put any pressure on myself and take everything in after the fight and not before.
“I saw the elbow coming. It was slow … but he’s so long that it still got there and cut me. I felt it and the blurriness, so I knew I had to deal with it and get him back. I think a win over Kevin shows everyone that I’m here for real and that I belong here. Hopefully I get Eryk Anders or Anthony Hernandez next — they’re both respectable guys and I’d love those fights. Kevin is a really respectable guy, too. He’s fought some very tough opponents, so I’m glad to be the first person to finish him since he’s been in the UFC. I want to get home and witness the birth of my baby girl, so end of January or beginning of February, I want to get right back in there.”
From ESPN Stats & Information: It’s the eighth career submission win for Allen, who now has a five-fight win streak. Holland’s three-fight win streak was snapped with the loss. Allen is a former LFA middleweight champion who is the only one to make a successful defense of that belt. Eryk Anders, Markus Perez, Anthony Hernandez and Ian Heinisch all were signed by the UFC before they could make a defense of their title.
From ESPN Stats & Information: Boser won his second straight, this one coming in his UFC debut. It was his seventh career win by decision. Spitz lost his second straight and third of four since making his UFC debut on March 4, 2017.