The UFC has always made a point of bringing an electric collection of fights to Madison Square Garden and Saturday night’s pay-per-view was no different, as the company brought an outstanding 12-fight card to “The Most Famous Arena in the World,” headlined by the highly anticipated showdown to between Jorge Masvidal and Nate Diaz to determine the “BMF” in the UFC.
Featuring a collection of impressive emerging talents, former title challengers and future contenders up and down the card, UFC 244 was the most action-packed lineup of the year on paper and when the action hit the Octagon, the athletes somehow managed to exceed expectations.
Here’s a look at what transpired on Saturday night in New York City.
The evening got underway in the featherweight division as local product Julio Arce squared off with Canadian prospect Hakeem Dawodu in a clash of fighters looking to break into the Top 15 in the packed 145-pound weight class.
These two were highly technical over the first five minutes, with Dawodu largely pressing the action and connecting with the greater volume of strikes, hurting Arce with a heavy low kick early before continuing to get the better of the exchanges throughout the round. While the Canadian led the dance, the New Yorker wasn’t without his own moments, catching Dawodu with a couple clean punches down the pipe as he looked to figure out Dawodu’s timing and approach.
It was more of the same to start the second, as the featherweight hopefuls were content to keep it standing and trade shots, neither man having significant advantage. Midway through the frame, Arce hit a body lock takedown in the center of the cage and briefly moved to Dawodu’s back, only to have the Canadian turn into the body triangle and escape to his feet.
Dawodu began the third by closing the distance and controlling the clinch along the fence, getting the better of things in the few moments the duo were in space as well. While Arce remained game and refused to wilt, he was a half-beat behind down the stretch, coming up short on a late takedown attempt and seemingly running out of time once he started to land in the closing seconds of the contest.
Left to the judges, the final totals landed in favor of Dawodu, who pushes his winning streak to four with the victory, while Arce falls to 3-2 in the UFC and 16-4 overall with the loss.
For the third time in four fights, Chance Rencountre stepped into the cage in New York State, squaring off with Lyman Good, another Team Tiger Schulmann representative, in a crucial bout for both men as they look to climb the welterweight ladder.
Good did an outstanding job of keeping Rencountre outside and off-balance to start, using a steady diet of inside low kicks and straight right hands to keep the southpaw wrestler from being able to close the distance and initiate the clinch. Rencountre was finally able to get inside with two minutes left in the round, but Good stayed upright. As they broke, Good went back on the offensive, connecting with a couple powerful rights that brought the crowd out of their seats before finishing the frame with a high kick that opened a cut under Rencountre’s left eye.
Good continued to be effective on the feet in the early stages of the second, driving home heavy single shots as Rencountre tried to come forward and find his range. Every time the Alliance MMA representative looked to get inside, Good stuck him with a right hand, halting Rencountre’s advances and forcing him to reset. Late in the frame, Rencountre started having a little success with left hands to the body as Good began to tire, only to have the New Yorker respond with another clean right hand right before the horn.
Despite acknowledging a balky right foot between rounds, Good continued to have success and lead the exchanges to start the third, connecting with powerful single shots that left Rencountre busted up. Sensing the opportunity to finish, the veteran pressed forward and pasted Rencountre with a right hand down the pipe that sent him crumbling to the canvas, prompting referee Keith Peterson to step in and halt the proceedings.
This was an impressive statement by the hometown product, who moves to 3-2 in the UFC and picks up his 21st career win with the victory.
Two of the top contenders in the flyweight division, this one became a catchweight affair after Maia missed weight on Friday.
The opening round was largely a textbook showing by the top-ranked Chookagian, who used her length and reach to get her shots off and avoid the majority of the return fire coming her way. While Maia looked to clinch at one point and find a home for the occasional punch, Chookagian did a good job of varying her offense, landing and slipping out before the Brazilian could connect with any real pop.
Chookagian took it up another notch in the second, adding even more variety in her offensive output while mixing in both physical and audible fakes and feints that kept Maia off balance. The Brazilian started to have a little more success over the final two minutes, connecting with a couple right hands over the top, but Chookagian was constantly circling away from the power shots and responding with combinations of her own whenever Maia would land.
Maia looked to make things interesting to start the third, closing the distance and intiating the clinch along the fence, but Chookagian was able to break free, exit into space and get back into her rhythm. Though Maia never stopped coming forward, she simply wasn’t able to pin down Chookagian and connect with anything that shifted the momentum in her favor or gave her a chance to finish, squandering a late takedown by hanging out in half-guard offering little offence.
After going the full 15 minutes, the judges were called upon to declare a winner, with all three officials seeing the fight in favor of Chookagian.
Heavyweights at opposite stages in their respective UFC journeys collided to kick off the televised prelims as the former champ Andrei Arlovski faced off with kickboxer Jairzinho Rozenstruik, who was making just his third career Octagon appearance.
Just as he did in his last outing against Allen Crowder, Rozenstruik backed up Arlovski with the first sharp jab he threw and from there, “Bigi Boy” went hunting. While Arlovski looked to fire back, the unbeaten newcomer connected with a retreating left hand that left the veteran face down on the canvas.
It’s only taken three fights, but Rozenstruick has officially announced his presence as a fighter to watch in the heavyweight division going forward.
Business shifted to the middleweight division as Top 15 fixture Brad Tavares reprised his role as a physical litmus test for the top prospects in the 185-pound ranks as he stepped in against unbeaten 21-year-old Edmen Shahbazyan.
For the third time this year, Shahbazyan needed less than a round to handle his business. Patient out of the chute, “The Golden Boy” waited for an opening to present itself and when it did, he pounced, connecting with a straight right hand that sat Tavares down and sent Shahbazyan in search of the finish.
With the Hawaiian trying to cover up and collect himself, Shahbazyan unleashed a head kick that landed flush and put the Ultimate Fighter alum down for good and brought the crowd at Madison Square Garden out of their seats.
The second set of featherweight hopefuls on the card, Shane Burgos and Makwan Amirkhani entered with matching 4-1 records in the UFC and ambitions of breaking into the Top 10, with their bout on Saturday serving as the opportunity for one of them to take the next step forward in their career.
Amirkhani started quickly, busting open Burgos with a clean right hand as soon as the fight began before dragging the New Yorker to the canvas and controlling him from top position. While Burgos got back to his feet, Amirkhani kept hold if him, repeatedly swinging him to the canvas. A failed arm-in guillotine attempt gave Burgos an opportunity to get to his feet, but even then, Amirkhani continued to get the better of the exchanges over the final minute of the opening frame.
Burgos started the second by pressing forward, but Amirkhani resisted the opportunity to get into a fire fight, opting instead to pick his spots, touch the local fighter and eventually get in deep on a takedown attempt. After fending off the takedown, Burgos went on the offensive, attacking the body, sprawling out as Amirkhani dove in for another takedown and connecting with heavy ground-and-pound after finding himself in top position to close out the round.
After finishing the second by opening up, Burgos came out looking for the finish to start the third, swarming and dropping Amirkhani in the opening minute of the frame. With “Mr. Finland” tired and taking all kind of punishment, Burgos called Amirkhani back to his feet, worked him over a little more and backed off again, hoping to orchestrate a perfect finish.
As Amirkhani crashed forward, desperate for a takedown, Burgos unleashed a series of “Hapa” elbows to the side of his head, forced Amirkhani to his back and went to work on his midsection, calling Amirkhani back to his feet once more. Late in the final round, Burgos connected with a thudding shot to the body that folded Amirkhani over and eventually prompted referee Keith Peterson to step in and stop the fight.
This was an outstanding display of patience, resilience and pressure from Burgos, who moves to 13-1 overall with his third straight UFC victory and second career win at MSG.
Corey Anderson looked to halt the meteoric rise of Brazil’s Johnny Walker as the light heavyweights with championship ambitions and something to prove met in the final preliminary card bout of the evening.
Walker started as he always does, moving awkwardly, faking and feinting in the center of the cage before shaking off Anderson’s first takedown attempt. Back in the middle of the cage, Anderson connected with a right hand that stumbled Walker and sent “Overtime” in search of a finish. He found it moments later, swarming the highly touted Brazilian with a series of heavy shots that brought this one to a sudden, unexpected conclusion.
After feeling overlooked and underappreciated during his current run of success, Anderson silenced his doubters and made it clear that he’s a legitimate contender with his performance on Saturday.
The pay-per-view main card got underway in the lightweight division with an appetizing matchup between former interim title challenger Kevin Lee and Gregor Gillespie, who entered with a perfect 13-0 record, including five finishes in his first six UFC starts.
These two stayed low in their stances, pumping out punches to start, with Gillespie opening up a small cut under the Lee’s left eye. As they continued to trade in the center of the cage, Lee uncorked a left high kick that turned off Gillespie’s lights in a flash, sending the Long Island native falling unconscious into the cage.
After earning just a single victory in his last four fights, this was an incredible comeback performance from the 27-year-old Lee, who makes an impressive statement in his return to lightweight by handing Gillespie the first loss of his career.
Following five straight stoppages, the action shifted back to the heavyweight division, where popular knockout artist Derrick Lewis looked to halt his two-fight skid in a showdown with Buglaria’s Blagoy Ivanov, who rebounded from a loss in his promotional debut with consecutive decision wins.
After a minute of feeling each other out, Ivanov caught a Lewis kick and dragged the former title challenger to the floor, quickly moving into side control. But as he went to attack a keylock submission, Lewis popped to his feet and started firing off wild offense before pressuring Ivanov into the cage and slowing things down. As they separated into space with a minute left in the round, Lewis uncorked his trademark wide hooks, just missing as Ivanov stayed out of range through to the horn.
Ivanov was the aggressor to start the second, backing Lewis into the fence behind a couple left hands that just missed, briefly forcing a clinch. Moments later, the heavy leather started flying, as Lewis caught Ivanov with a big right, only to have the Bulgarian respond in kind. In the midst of the exchange, Ivanov once again got Lewis to the ground and looked for the keylock, but Lewis endured the hold and again exploded to his feet, with the two trading bombs as they returned to space.
A brief clinch served a respite for both men, but when they broke, Lewis connected with a big shot that staggered Ivanov, but the Combat Sambo specialist continued to press forward undeterred. Late in the round, Ivanov again flipped Lewis to the canvas, attacking with a 10-finger guillotine until the horn signaled the end of the round.
The third round started with a touch of gloves and Ivanov pressing forward as Lewis stood on the outside, hunting for a home for his powerful right hand. Ivanov again initiated a clinch and looked for a trip, but Lewis was able to stay upright and eventually break free into space. Late in the round, Lewis shot for a takedown, but was easily stuffed, creating an opportunity for Ivanov to again lock up and grind out the clock.
Lewis got loose and started to throw in the final seconds, but he wasn’t able to connect and secure the finish, leaving the decision in the hands of the judges. When then nines and tens were tallied, Lewis came away on the happy side of a split decision verdict.
Welterweights returned to the cage in the middle fight of the main card as two-time title challenger Stephen “Wonderboy” Thompon squared off with the white-hot Vicente Luque, who arrived on a six-fight winning streak.
Opening up in wide stances to start, both men looked to establish their range early, connecting with low kicks and scattered punches over the first 90 seconds. With Luque commanding the center of the Octagon, Thompson was content to work from the outside, hopping in to land short, quick strikes before exiting. But Luque stayed patient and caught Thompson backing out, chasing him to the fence with punches. Thompson was able to recover and the two spent the final 90 seconds exchanging hard shots, leaving everyone on the edge of their seats, waiting for another explosive finish.
The second round began where the first ended, with both men looking to land, willing to take a shot to score with one of their own, neither man giving an inch. Thompson was the more active of the two, throwing and landing more, including a spinning back kick that caught Luque off balance and send him tumbling backwards, only to have the Brazilian get to his feet and and fire back. As the round continued, Thompson started sitting down on his punches more, landing heavier blows and continuing to bust up the unrelenting Luque.
Luque started the third on the hunt, trying to close the distance and take the fight to Thompson, but “Wonderboy” continued to stick and move, catching Luque with a right hand coming in that sat the surging Brazilian down. After letting Luque back to his feet, Thompson kept the pressure on, continuing to pick the Brazilian apart.
Luque never stopped coming forward, connecting with a couple hard shots that forced Thompson to get back on his bike, which only ended up creating another opening for the karate stylist to open up and put Luque on wobbly legs.
Although the finish didn’t come, the final round was the most decisive of the fight, with Thompson turning in a vintage performance to get back into the win column and secure his second straight victory at Madison Square Garden.
Saturday’s penultimate pairing took place in the middleweight division, as recent interim title challenger Kelvin Gastelum welcomed former welterweight title challenger Darren Till to the 185-pound weight class for the first time.
Gastelum closed the distance right out of the chute, leading to Till initiating the clinch and spending 30 seconds locked up with his back on the cage. After a brief second in space, they went right back into the clinch, with both men battling for control along the fence, with Gastelum doing a little bit of body work inside. Back in the center with two minutes remaining in the round, they traded low kicks and feints, with Till landing a couple good left hands down the stretch of his first five minutes at middleweight.
Although Gastelum started the round with a pair of quick low kicks, Till quickly responded in kind, mixing in a clean left hand, catching Gastelum coming forward. The feints and reach of Till seemed to be frustrating Gastelum, who couldn’t quite find his range.
An inadvertent eye poke paused the action momentarily, but Till opted to return to work quickly, only to eat a heavy low kick and get forced into the clinch by Gastelum. The Liverpool man did a good job shutting down the takedown attempt, circling off the fence and breaking free into space, only for Gastelum to yet again attack the legs Late in the frame, Till shrugged off another takedown attempt and barely got his arms up to block a high kick attempt from Gastelum, sending this one to a third and final round.
With five minutes to work and the scores potentially all over the place, both men came out sharp to start the third, with Till cracking Gastelum with a left hand and Gastelum ducking under for a takedown to no avail. As they started engaging in closer quarters, Gastelum landed a good left hand, while Till countered with a spinning elbow, neither man able to string together combinations and pull away from the other.
With the time ticking off the clock, Gastelum continued to press forward, finally completing a double-leg takedown, only to have Till spring right back to his feet. A minute later, the same sequence occurred again, sending the fight to the judges to figure out.
Although it wasn’t the barnburner many expected, this was a hard-fought, competitive fight that showed Till has a place in the middleweight division going forward. When the scorecards were totaled and the verdict was rendered, the judges awarded the victory to the talented Scouser, who gets back into the win column and continues to have a bright future in this sport.
An outstanding night of action at Madison Square Garden wrapped up in the welterweight division, as Jorge Masvidal and Nate Diaz went toe-to-toe with the “BMF” title hanging in the balance.
Masvidal faked the flying knee to start, getting a nod and a laugh out of Diaz, who responded by slinging his signature long punches. After a brief clinch along the fence, Masvidal split Diaz open with a pair of short elbows and dropped him with a kick, getting off further damage as Diaz looked to recover while on his back. Masvidal finally backed off and forced Diaz back to his feet, greeting him with a kick to the midsection, prompting Diaz to clinch.
Once again, Masvidal circled to the front and connected with an elbow before breaking into space, only for Diaz to return fire, drawing a roar from the crowd and a smile for “Gamebred,” who started yapping at the Stockton, California native while clinched against the fence again. As they broke with 30 seconds remain in the round, Masvidal again connected before sprinting to open space, a smile on his face, even after Diaz finished the round with a clean one-two.
With the crowd in full throat to start the second, Diaz came forward, but Masvidal showcased his counterstriking skills, landing and exiting to space. Diaz continued to move forward, but Masvidal continued to land, staggering Diaz with a straight right hand and knocking him down momentarily before backing off and calling him back to his feet, the blood dripping from the cuts on the right side of his face.
Masvidal continued to pick Diaz apart, sniping home clean shots as the former TUF winner came forward, taking a moment to clinch along the fence before breaking free and ripping off heavy body shots before closing the distance and attacking with knees. With a minute remaining in the round and his hands locked around Diaz’ waist, Masvidal bullied him to the canvas, staying with Diaz as the jiu jitsu black belt looked to scramble and attack a submission late just before the horn.
Sporting a busted mouse under his right eye and a cut above it, Diaz started Round 3 coming forward, landing long punches, only to have Masvidal smile, counter and sting him with a straight hand. Though Diaz continued to engage, it was clear Masvidal’s shots were doing much more damage, as he kept Diaz from setting the pace. Each time Diaz would land a clean shot, Masvidal would respond with one of his own, backing up the long-time cult hero.
Clinched up with two minutes remaining in the round, Diaz looked for subtle trips along the fence, but couldn’t connect, settling for short knees and pitter-pat punches to the side of Masvidal’s head. After defending another trip attempt, Diaz went for an ill-advised roll, landing on his back with Masvidal landing big shots from the top as the two chirped at each other to close out the round.
The fourth round started with Masvidal showing no signs of damage and the doctor in to check on the cut over Diaz’s right eye. Much to the audiences displeasure, the doctor waved off the bout, bringing the wildly entertaining affair to an anti-climactic end.
Though the crowd rained down boos, this was an outstanding fight for 15 minutes, with Masvidal continuing his incredible run of success in 2019 by claiming the BMF title and promising to run it back with Diaz at a later date.