The UFC has arrived at its final event of the year — and despite all the challenges of 2020, the promotion is closing out its schedule on a high note.
UFC Fight Night on Saturday from the Apex facility in Las Vegas will feature 10 fighters ranked inside the top 10 of their respective divisions and two former champions, Jose Aldo and Anthony Pettis. In the main event, two-time welterweight title challenger Stephen Thompson will square off against up-and-comer Geoff Neal.
Saturday will mark Neal’s first UFC main event, and it represents a big opportunity for the 2017 Contender Series alum. Neal is 5-0 in the UFC with four finishes and is looking to build his case for a 170-pound title shot in 2021. Neal, 30, is seven years younger than Thompson and he’s riding a seven-fight win streak. To many, his time has come. Will that translate into a win?
Thompson last fought in November 2019 when he beat Vicente Luque via unanimous decision. But Thompson has lost three of his last five, and he’ll need a win to stay part of the title conversation. Are his best days behind him?
The co-main event features Aldo facing Marlon Vera, and one of the most anticipated fights on the card is a welterweight bout between Michel Pereira and Khaos Williams, who is 2-0 in the UFC with two knockouts within a combined 57 seconds.
All fights will air on ESPN+.
Fight in progress:
Spending an entire fight on the canvas with the only woman with more UFC submissions than Ronda Rousey might not seem like a smart strategy. It works, however, when you’re the stronger and smarter grappler.
Talia Santos had to fend off dangerous submission attempts in both the first and third rounds, but she did so with patience rather than panic, and every single time she ended up in top position, from where she controlled Gillian Robertson and bloodied her with an elbow. Santos even had some tapout tries of her own, and when she didn’t get the finish, she didn’t lose position.
It all added up to two 30-26 scores and, mysteriously, a 29-28.
Santos, 27 and from Brazil, has won two in a row after suffering her only career loss in her UFC debut last year. She is one split decision from being unbeaten.
Robertson, a 25-year-old Canadian who fights out of Coconut Creek, Florida, saw a two-fight winning streak end.
Tafon Nchukwi isn’t the fastest fighter in the middleweight division. In fact, the thickly muscled slugger is almost plodding. But standing in the cage with him for any length of time seems to be a dangerous proposition.
In his UFC debut, Nchukwi beat Jamie Pickett via unanimous decision (30-25, 30-26, 30-26) in a 185-pound bout. Nchukwi’s size, strength and power was just too much. Nchukwi dropped Pickett with a head kick followed by a knee in the third round. Even though Pickett was able to make it to the end of the fight, it was a dominant performance for Nchukwi.
Nchukwi landed hard in every round with punches, knees and kicks. In the second round, he landed a series of hard knees to Pickett’s body in the clinch. Pickett, the faster man, was able to land a nice combo and hurt Nchukwi briefly. But as soon as Nchukwi got close again, he was able to push around and maul Pickett against the fence. That is where Nchukwi caught Pickett in the third round, landing that head kick and knee with Pickett’s back to the cage.
Nchukwi, 26, had finished all four of his previous pro fights. The Cameroon native, who appears to be a real prospect to watch at middleweight, had fought at light heavyweight and heavyweight previously, weighing in as heavy as 235.3 pounds. Pickett, a 32-year-old North Carolina resident, had a two-fight winning streak snapped. Like Nchukwi, this was Pickett’s UFC debut following a TKO victory on Dana White’s Contender Series earlier this year.
Cody Durden drops Jimmy Flick towards the end of Round 1, but Flick pulls a triangle choke out of nowhere and finishes Durden at UFC Fight Night.
Flick (16-5), of Tulsa, Oklahoma, submitted Durden (11-3-1) just 3:18 into the opening round, despite taking some early damage in the flyweight contest. Flick leapt into a flying triangle immediately after throwing a head kick, and finished the fight off his back. It was his 14th career win by submission.
Ninja ish! #UFCVegas17
— Frankie Edgar (@FrankieEdgar) December 19, 2020
It was a quick flip in momentum by Flick, who spent the first minutes of the fight defending bad positions and trying to get out of the way of Durden’s jab. Durden took Flick’s back in the opening minute of the fight, and landed several shots from back mount. After Flick was able to get back to his feet, Durden dictated much of the standup with a crisp jab.
Durden’s one mistake could barely even be called that. He caught a head kick attempt from Flick, which opened the door for Flick to jump into the flying triangle attempt. Durden fought the triangle for several moments, standing over Flick, before eventually submitting.
A former Contender Series alum, Flick has now won his past four fights via submission. It is his eighth career finish in the first round.
Giagos was scheduled for this show-opening fight only on Wednesday, brought in as a replacement after not having competed since the summer of 2019. But he came in prepared.
Giagos took down Minus less than a minute into the fight and dominated him on the ground in a big way throughout the first two rounds. He tired in Round 3, but by then he had such a big lead in the bank that he just had to steer clear of a Minus desperation shot.
Not bad for three days notice! 👏
— UFC (@ufc) December 19, 2020
The domination was enough to give Giagos, a 30-year-old from Hawthorne, California, who was the biggest favorite of Saturday’s card at -360, a decision victory with scores of 30-26, 30-27 and 30-28.
The best that could be said of Minus is that he survived. He was taken down four times, and it might have been more if he’d had the ability to get the fight back to standing. Instead, he repeatedly surrendered dominant positions to Giagos, who threatened finishes throughout — the submission setups and ground-and-pound beatdowns came one after another.
Minus, 27 and from Anchorage, Alaska, has lost both of his UFC bouts. He was originally slated to face Rick Glenn, who had to pull out of the matchup at midweek.
Still to come:
Welterweight: Stephen Thompson (15-4-1, 11-4-1 UFC, -110) vs. Geoff Neal (13-2, 5-0 UFC, -110)
Men’s bantamweight: Jose Aldo (28-7, 10-6 UFC, -150) vs. Marlon Vera (16-6-1, 10-5 UFC, +125)
Welterweight: Michel Pereira (24-11, 2-2 UFC, -125) vs. Khaos Williams (11-1, 2-0 UFC, +105)
Men’s bantamweight: Marlon Moraes (23-7-1, 5-3 UFC, -150) vs. Rob Font (17-4, 7-3 UFC, +125)
Heavyweight: Marcin Tybura (20-6, 7-5 UFC, +105) vs. Greg Hardy (7-2 1 NC, 4-2 1 NC UFC, -125)
Welterweight: Anthony Pettis (23-10, 10-9 UFC, -240) vs. Alex Morono (18-6 1 NC, 7-3 1 NC UFC, +200)
Women’s bantamweight: Sijara Eubanks (7-5, 5-3 UFC, -160) vs. Pannie Kianzad (14-5, 2-2 UFC, +135)