Originally published at UFC Fight Night: Magomed Ankalaev defeats Thiago Santos by unanimous decision
UFC Fight Night Report: Magomed Ankalaev defeats Thiago Santos by unanimous decision
By: Eric Marcotte
On Saturday evening, the UFC held a Fight Night event at the Apex facility in Las Vegas, Nevada. Remarkably, this was the 50th Fight Night card that has taken place at the UFC Apex facility since May of 2020. This particular event was headlined by a bout in the light heavyweight division, as former title challenger, Thiago Santos, faced Magomed Ankalaev. Ankalaev has been skyrocketing up the division, winning seven straight fights since dropping his UFC debut. This marked his first main event in the promotion, and a win against Santos here would likely shoot Ankalaev into title contention. For Santos, injuries and a string of losses prior to his last bout (in which he won) have knocked him out of contendership for the time being. Ankalaev was a sizable betting favorite over Santos here, but Santos has been facing a high level of competition for a very long time, and his power is always an equalizer when at a disadvantage elsewhere. In the co-main event, Marlon Moraes looked to get back on track after suffering a series of stoppage losses, facing Yadong Song.
Brendan Fitzgerald provided commentary for this card alongside Paul Felder. Performance of the Night bonuses were awarded to Khalil Rountree, Cody Brundage, Song Yadong, and Azamat Murzakanov.
*Azamat Murzakanov def. Tafon Nchukwi by KO at 0:44 of Round 3
*Guido Cannetti def. Kris Moutinho by TKO at 2:07 of Round 1
*Cody Brundage def. Dalcha Lungiambula by guillotine choke at 3:41 of Round 1
*Miranda Maverick def. Sabina Mazo by rear-naked choke at 2:15 of Round 2
*Damon Jackson def. Kamuela Kirk by arm triangle at 4:42 of Round 2
*Javid Basharat def. Trevin Jones by unanimous decision (30-27, 30-27, 29-28)
*J.J. Aldrich def. Gillian Robertson by unanimous decision (30-27 all)
*Matthew Semelsberger def. A.J. Fletcher by unanimous decision (29-28 all)
*Alex Pereira def. Bruno Silva by unanimous decision (30-27 all)
*Drew Dober def. Terrance McKinney by TKO at 3:17 of Round 1
*Khalil Rountree def. Karl Roberson by TKO at 0:25 of Round 2
*Sodiq Yusuff def. Alex Caceres by unanimous decision (30-27, 30-27, 29-28)
*Yadong Song def. Marlon Moraes by KO at 2:06 of Round 1
*Magomed Ankalaev def. Thiago Santos by unanimous decision (49-46, 49-46, 48-47)
TAFON NCHUKWI (6-1, 205.5) VS AZAMAT MURZAKANOV (10-0, 205.5) – LIGHT HEAVYWEIGHT
Murzakanov found a home for his left hand early, landing a number of heavy shots in the opening minute. Nchukwi found success with his kicks in response, largely throwing them to the body and lead leg of his opponent. Both fighters slowed down slightly as the round progressed, leading to some grappling exchanges against the cage late in the fight, with neither man seeming to pull ahead. I narrowly scored this round for Murzakanov.
Murzakanov cracked Nchukwi with a hook to begin the second round but ate a hard body kick in the process. Nchukwi was knocked off balance by another hook as he attempted another kick but was able to quickly pick himself up, avoiding giving up top position to Murzakanov in the process. Nchukwi dug into the body with a combination of knees, which got Murzakanov’s attention, prompting him to shoot for a takedown. Nchukwi defended successfully, and partially connected with a head kick after digging another shot into the body. A great round for Nchukwi.
Just moments into the final round, Murzakanov pressed forward and threw up a huge jumping knee that caught Nchukwi clean, knocking him unconscious.
WINNER: Azamat Murzakanov by TKO at 0:44 of Round 3
Just when it felt as though the fight was starting to slip away from Murzakanov, he turned things around by throwing that brutal fight-ending knee. It was a beautiful finish, and one that he was likely in need of as Nchukwi was really starting to pull ahead in the fight. With this win, Murzakanov extended his undefeated record professionally, and this highlight reel finish capped off an excellent UFC debut for Murzakanov.
KRIS MOUTINHO (9-5, 135) VS GUIDO CANNETTI (8-6, 136) – BANTAMWEIGHT
Cannetti was active with kicks in the opening minute, beating up the lead leg of Moutinho. Moutinho’s boxing looked sharp early, but Cannetti caught him with a series of powerful shots that landed flush, and the moment that Cannetti realized Moutinho was rocked, he went on the attack, landing shot after shot until the fight was stopped with Moutinho standing back against the cage, not intelligently defending himself.
WINNER: Guido Cannetti by TKO at 2:07 of Round 1
Moutinho never went down, but I don’t think there are many people who will argue with this stoppage. Moutinho was taking a ton of damage, and Cannetti was not going to tire from his offensive onslaught this early in the bout. I thought that this was probably Cannetti’s best performance in the UFC, and this was exactly what he needed after dropping his last three bouts. Cannetti is now 3-5 in the UFC, and this marked his first stoppage victory since 2013.
DALCHA LUNGIAMBULA (11-3, 186) VS CODY BRUNDAGE (6-2, 185.5) – MIDDLEWEIGHT
Brundage secured a takedown early, but Lungiambula was able to force Brundage to give up his position by throwing some strong right hands. Lungiambula picked himself up against the cage and started throwing uppercut after uppercut, clearly rocking Brundage. There was a prolonged period of Lungiambula just teeing off on Brundage against the fence, and it looked as though the fight was about to be stopped, but he made the mistake of shooting for a takedown, and Brundage locked in a guillotine choke, forcing Lungiambula to submit.
WINNER: Cody Brundage by guillotine choke at 3:41 of Round 1
This is a wild, wild sport. It seemed as though Brundage was mere seconds away from being finished, and a blink of the eye later, he had won the fight. Brundage had that guillotine locked in tight, and I can imagine that Lungiambula exerted so much energy trying to finish Brundage that he was somewhat gassed by the time the submission was applied. In short, this was a tremendous comeback finish and a great way for Brundage to rebound after dropping his UFC debut.
SABINA MAZO (9-3, 125.5) VS MIRANDA MAVERICK (9-4, 125.5) – FLYWEIGHT
Maverick brought Mazo to the ground roughly one minute into the bout. Mazo attempted an armbar off of her back, but Maverick was wise to the attempt, escaped it, and allowed Mazo to return to her feet before promptly taking her right back down. Maverick peppered her with ground and pound for the next few minutes, easily taking this first round on the scorecards.
Two minutes into the second round, Maverick dragged Mazo back to the ground, and instantly took her back in the process. Maverick quickly locked in a rear-naked choke, forcing Mazo to submit.
WINNER: Miranda Maverick by rear-naked choke at 2:15 of Round 2
Maverick dominated the near entirety of this fight. Mazo had that brief moment in the first round where she attempted an armbar, but aside from that, there were not many moments of this bout in which Maverick was not in control. After falling short in her last two octagon appearances, this was a much-needed win for Maverick, who reminded everybody why she was regarded as one of the top prospects in the division not long ago. Maverick improved to 3-2 in the UFC with this win.
DAMON JACKSON (19-4-1, 1 NC, 145.5) VS KAMUELA KIRK (12-4, 145) – FEATHERWEIGHT
Jackson began the fight aggressively, but Kirk was countering well, forcing Jackson to slow his pace. Kirk seemed to be focused on landing knees up the middle as Jackson closed the distance, which were landing with consistency. Jackson threw more combinations as the round progressed, and created some great opportunities for himself with his activity. Jackson secured a takedown late in the round, where he threw down a number of ground and pound shots before time expired.
Jackson took Kirk right back down to begin the second round. While Jackson wasn’t as busy offensively as he was throughout the first round, he racked up a ton of control time here, and eventually, Jackson transitioned into an arm triangle. There was not a ton of time remaining in the round, but the squeeze was tight, and Kirk was forced to submit.
WINNER: Damon Jackson by arm triangle at 4:42 of Round 2
The fight was competitive on the feet, but once Jackson realized he had a considerable advantage on the ground, the bout became far more one-sided. Jackson dominated the grappling exchanges and managed to secure the finish after several minutes of control time. Jackson has quietly had a very solid run since returning to the UFC, compiling a record of 3-1 against some tough competition. Jackson called for a ranked opponent in his post-fight interview, and while I’m not sure he will get that wish immediately, Jackson doesn’t seem far off either.
TREVIN JONES (13-7, 1 NC, 135) VS JAVID BASHARAT (11-0, 136) – BANTAMWEIGHT
Basharat was largely the advancing fighter early in this bout, however, Jones would flurry forward with strong left hands on occasion, forcing Basharat on the retreat. A kick to the body had a clear effect on Jones, and Basharat pressured forward in pursuit of a finish. Jones ate some heavy strikes against the cage but was able to recover, and he connected with a sharp hook before the conclusion of the round. 10-9 Basharat.
Jones seemed to be fighting more aggressively in the second round, likely with the knowledge that he had fallen behind in terms of activity in round one. Basharat was comfortable fighting at this pace, but this was certainly a far more competitive round on the feet than the first was. I thought Basharat really turned it on in the final minute, and he narrowly took this round on my scorecard, but this was a very close five-minute period. 20-18 Basharat.
The third round looked a lot like the first. Basharat pressured forward, and while Jones was never out of the fight, he was certainly having difficulties creating offensive opportunities on the retreat. Basharat caught him clean with a spinning wheel kick late in the round, and this seemed to awaken something in Jones, as he just started brawling, and he caught Basharat repeatedly with some powerful shots. Ultimately, the fight went the distance, and I scored the bout 30-27 in favor of Basharat.
WINNER: Javid Basharat by unanimous decision (30-27, 30-27, 29-28)
Basharat’s pressure was key to him winning this bout, as it became far more competitive whenever Jones stepped forward. Basharat did a fantastic job of controlling the pace of the bout, and he landed his biggest shots whenever Jones seemed content to wait for his opportunities to counter. It was revealed after the bout that Basharat’s brother was fighting at exactly the same time in another promotion, and Paul Felder informed him that his sibling won his bout by submission after the scorecards were read. Basharat called out Guido Cannetti in his post-fight interview.
J.J. ALDRICH (10-4, 125.5) VS GILLIAN ROBERTSON (10-6, 125.5) – FLYWEIGHT
Aldrich defended Robertson’s first takedown attempt of the bout. Both fighters were warned for their outstretched fingers, and an especially nasty eye poke to Aldrich convinced referee Chris Tognoni to bring in a doctor to check on Aldrich. It was quickly determined that she could continue, and the fight resumed. They traded jabs in the pocket, with Aldrich seemingly getting the better of the exchanges. I scored the opening round for Aldrich. 10-9 Aldrich.
The fight continued to play out on the feet throughout the first half of the second round. Aldrich just seemed to be a step ahead on the feet, and when Robertson was finally able to drag her to the ground, Aldrich transitioned into top position, where she began to work from her opponent’s guard. With a minute to go, the fight returned to the feet. Aldrich did good work for the remainder of the round, taking this one on the scorecards as well. 20-18 Aldrich.
Aldrich continued to control the action in round three. After four minutes of striking exchanges, Robertson pulled guard in a last-ditch effort to make something happen, but Aldrich was safe in top position and remained there until time expired in the fight. 30-27 Aldrich.
WINNER: J.J. Aldrich by unanimous decision (30-27 all)
Robertson largely could not get the fight to the ground, and the few times in which she did, it was Aldrich who took control of the action. This wasn’t a blowout by any means, but at the same time, it never felt as though Robertson was entirely in the fight either, as Aldrich was the one dictating where the action took place at all times. Aldrich is now on a three-fight win streak, and her total UFC record has improved to 7-3.
MATTHEW SEMELSBERGER (9-3, 169) VS A.J. FLETCHER (9-0, 170) – WELTERWEIGHT
Fletcher aggressively pursued a takedown to begin this fight, getting Semelsberger down about thirty seconds into the bout. Fletcher attempted a guillotine, and while he was unsuccessful, he transitioned into half guard moments later. Fletcher maintained top position for the near entirety of the round, and Semelsberger appeared to have no answers for him in the grappling department. 10-9 Fletcher.
Fletcher seemed content to stand with Semelsberger throughout the early portion of round two, as the fighters exchanged jabs and leg kicks. Eventually, Fletcher opted to take Semelsberger down, but this time Semelsberger was able to pop right back to his feet, and the fighters traded strong shots before Fletcher shot again. Semelsberger was taken down but transitioned into top position, where he spent the remainder of what was a much closer round. 19-19.
Semelsberger began the third round aggressively, but this allowed Fletcher to change levels and record an early takedown. Semelsberger made it back to his feet though and quickly evened the score with a big takedown of his own. Semelsberger was able to maintain this position until the final thirty seconds when Fletcher scrambled to his feet. Fletcher had taken some damage on the ground, so he needed something big here, and he did his best to make it happen as these fighters just brawled until time expired. 29-28 Semelsberger.
WINNER: Matthew Semelsberger by unanimous decision (29-28 all)
If you put money down on Matthew Semelsberger, you likely would have been worried after the first round. It seemed as though Fletcher was several steps ahead on the ground, and it was easy to imagine the rest of the bout playing out in the same fashion. That was not the case however, as Semelsberger began to take over the grappling exchanges, and did a great deal of damage after taking top position in the second and third rounds. Semelsberger is now 4-1 in the UFC, and he has won his last two bouts.
ALEX PEREIRA (4-1, 186) VS BRUNO SILVA (22-6, 185.5) – MIDDLEWEIGHT
Pereira was very active with his kicks in the opening minute of this fight, chipping away at the body of Silva. Both fighters were throwing some heavy hooks, clearly looking to take end this one quickly. They exchanged knees to the body before Silva threw a head kick that Pereira was just able to avoid. With roughly ninety seconds remaining in the round, Silva opted to take Pereira down, but Pereira quickly made it back to his feet and threw a vicious combination forward just as time expired. 10-9 Pereira.
Pereira was very accurate with his striking, and Silva was eating some big shots, but Silva continued to push forward, making this fight very competitive despite largely standing with the accomplished kickboxer. Silva went for another takedown, and yet again Pereira was able to pop right back up after being taken down. Pereira’s hooks were devastating, doing damage even when Silva had his guard up, but Silva’s chin held up, and he fired back with some bombs as well. 20-18 Pereira, but a competitive round.
Silva quickly shot for another takedown in the third round, but Pereira sprawled and defended the attempt. They spent a significant amount of time grappling against the cage, wrestling to a stalemate before separating. A quick shot from Pereira rocked Silva badly, and Pereira began to tee off on his opponent against the cage. The fight was close to being stopped, but Silva fired back just on time, and was able to wrap Pereira up, buying himself some time. As the clock began to run out in the round, the fighters brawled, with both men looking for the finish, but it didn’t come, and the fight went the distance. 30-27 Pereira.
WINNER: Alex Pereira by unanimous decision (30-27 all)
Pereira was clearly the more skillful striker, but Bruno Silva was a very game opponent. Silva has impressed since debuting in the UFC, and gave the former Glory champion quite the fight here, despite the near entirety of it playing out on the feet. In the end, however, Pereira’s power and precision were too much for Silva to handle, and if there was any more time left in this bout, he likely would have finished Silva, who could barely stand by the end of the fight. Despite his lack of MMA experience, Pereira is going to be fast-tracked to the top considering his accomplishments in the kickboxing world and his history with Israel Adesanya, so I really would not be surprised if he fights a ranked opponent in his next bout. The UFC would be wise to keep him away from wrestlers for the time being, but that will be tough as he works his way up the division.
DREW DOBER (23-11, 1 NC, 155) VS TERRANCE MCKINNEY (12-3, 156) – LIGHTWEIGHT
McKinney came out swinging, and he dropped Dober with a brutal shot just seconds into the bout. Dober showcased some impressive recovery, but McKinney was not letting up on his attack, and he tagged Dober with a knee that practically dropped him again. The action here was about as wild as it gets, and McKinney ultimately decided to take Dober down after Dober started to fire back on the feet. McKinney racked up a bit of control time, but Dober escaped to his feet, and McKinney was starting to look tired. Dober recognized this, and pressed forward in pursuit of a finish. He tagged McKinney with a knee up the middle that dropped him, and Dober followed him to the ground where he finished the fight with ground and pound strikes.
WINNER: Drew Dober by TKO at 3:17 of Round 1
This fight was just complete insanity while it lasted. McKinney took this fight on very short notice, and he must have known that he had a limited amount of time to win this fight cardio-wise, because he just exploded with offense immediately, throwing absolutely everything at Dober in an attempt to put him away. McKinney was close to accomplishing just that, but Dober is no stranger to wild fights, and after weathering the storm, he fired back and finished his exhausted opponent. In his post-fight interview, Dober called out Bobby Green, and Paul Felder immediately suggested making that a five-round bout.
KHALIL ROUNTREE (9-5, 1 NC, 205) VS KARL ROBERSON (9-4, 203) – LIGHT HEAVYWEIGHT
Rountree was fighting with a very unique stance here, practically hunched over. Rountree was throwing some bombs, following Roberson as he circled the octagon looking to counter. Both fighters attacked the lead leg of the other, as Rountree looked to close the distance with his left hand. Roberson was active with kicks to the body a well, but he wasn’t going upstairs very often, and that led to Rountree arguably having the biggest moments of the round whenever he attempted to take Roberson’s head off.
Roundtree knocked Roberson down with a right hand just moments into the second round, and he proceeded to swarm Roberson with one of the wildest and most vicious combinations of strikes I’ve ever seen. He booted Roberson in the chest like he was kicking a football, before attempting a push kick as Roberson picked himself up, and finally finished the fight with a pair of brutal hooks that sent Roberson back to the ground.
WINNER: Khalil Rountree by TKO at 0:25 of Round 2
Paul Felder said that Rountree beat Roberson down like he owed him money in that finishing sequence, and I’m not sure I could think of a better way of putting it than that. This was one of the more brutal finishing sequences in recent memory, and it reminded me a lot of Roundtree’s qualifying bout in his season of the Ultimate Fighter, where he stopped his opponent with soccer kicks to the body. His post-fight interview was emotional, and I really don’t think I could do justice to the power behind his words in this format, so I would suggest seeking this interview out yourself if interested. Rountree is currently on a two-fight win streak, and he has stopped both of those opponents in the second round.
SODIQ YUSUFF (11-2, 145.5) VS ALEX CACERES (19-12, 1 NC, 145) – FEATHERWEIGHT
Caceres nearly took Yusuff’s back in an early scramble, but he was shaken off, and it was Yusuff who began to pursue a takedown as he pressed Caceres against the cage. The fighters broke apart, and Caceres proceeded to land a pair of solid left hands. Yusuff chased after takedowns for the remainder of the round to no success, as the takedown defense of Caceres held up well. 10-9 Caceres.
Yusuff tagged Caceres with a strong shot early in the first round, and he pressured forward. Yusuff was landing some of his best strikes of the fight early in this round, especially his leg kicks, which appeared to be having an effect on the movement of Caceres. As the round progressed, each leg kick seemed to create stronger reactions from Caceres, and I thought that the damage done to his legs earned Yusuff this round. 19-19.
There was no need for Yusuff to deviate from his game plan at this point, as he continued to attack the lead leg of Caceres. Caceres picked up his aggression in order to put Yusuff on the backfoot and deter the leg kicks, and he found success here, catching Yusuff with some lightning-quick kicks and straight left hands. Yusuff defended a takedown attempt, before catching Caceres on his way in with a jab, as well as a counter right hand. The fight went the distance, and I scored it 29-28 in favor of Yusuff.
WINNER: Sodiq Yusuff by unanimous decision (30-27, 30-27, 29-28)
After a competitive opening round, Yusuff took over this fight by beating up the lead leg of Caceres. Each time he connected with a leg kick, Caceres reacted poorly, and it changed the complexion of the bout as Yusuff began to take control of the bout. Yusuff was out of action for nearly a year going into this one, so this was a solid return to form after losing his previous fight to Arnold Allen (his lone UFC loss). Yusuff called out Bryce Mitchell in his post-fight interview.
MARLON MORAES (23-9-1, 136) VS YADONG SONG (18-6-1, 1 NC, 135.5) – BANTAMWEIGHT
Song connected with a huge right hand early, and he was head hunting here, looking to take Moraes out quickly. Moraes responded with quick counters, but they were not having the same effects as Song’s big right hands. Song was backing Moraes up, and eventually, he cracked him with a right uppercut at the end of a short combination that knocked Moraes out.
WINNER: Yadong Song by KO at 2:06 of Round 1
Song was confident and aggressive from the very beginning of this one, and he was right to be. Every right hand he landed was hurting Moraes, and it didn’t take long for him to connect with one that ended the fight. This was Song’s biggest win to date, and he made the most of the moment, calling out Dominick Cruz in his post-fight interview. The story writes itself with that one, with Song training out of Team Alpha Male, meaning that Urijah Faber (Cruz’s career rival) will be in his corner. Cruz seems to be aiming for a higher-ranked opponent, but I would not be opposed to this fight getting put together at all. For Moraes, this was a very tough loss, and now with five stoppage losses throughout his last six bouts, one has to wonder if this is it for the former bantamweight title challenger. Moraes is only 33 years of age, but he has taken a concerning amount of damage throughout these last few years, and it seems his time as a contender in the division has passed.
THIAGO SANTOS (22-9, 205.5) VS MAGOMED ANKALAEV (15-1, 205) – LIGHT HEAVYWEIGHT
The fighters touched gloves to begin this five-round bout. Ankalaev tagged Santos with a pair of heavy counter right hooks early, and he appeared to be the quicker fighter, wobbling Santos slightly with these counters. Santos attacked the body with kicks, but his output was not terribly high after eating those counter hooks early in the bout. This was a fairly slow round. 10-9 Ankalaev.
The second round began at a similar pace, with Santos largely throwing kicks from at range, as Ankalaev pressured forward. Ankalaev caught Santos with a right hook before slapping him with a head kick, which was the most significant sequence of the round for him. Just before time expired in the round, Santos caught Ankalaev with a left hand that wobbled him, and he dropped him moments later with a looping left hook. Santos jumped on him, but there was not enough time left to capitalize on the knockdown. 19-19.
Ankalaev landed a head kick in the opening minute of round three that Santos didn’t give much of a reaction to. Ankalaev closed the distance with a big left hand, which he followed up with a teep kick to the body. Santos continued to attack the lead of Ankalaev, but often ate counters from Ankalaev after committing to the kicks. This was a fairly uneventful round that Ankalaev won based on activity. 29-28 Ankalaev.
Santos pressured forward to begin round four, fighting wildly like the Thiago Santos of five years ago. Ankalaev slowed him down though, and the fighters began to circle the cage as they had done throughout the previous three rounds. Ankalaev landed a left hand that got a strong reaction from Santos, who put his hands down while looking somewhat dejected. If Santos was hurt, Ankalaev did not capitalize on the moment, and Santos recovered. Ankalaev secured a takedown at the end of the round, and I had him up 39-37 going into the final round.
Santos looked exhausted between rounds. This five-minute period of time was very similar to the twenty minutes that preceded it. Santos circled the cage as Ankalaev walked him down, with Ankalaev seemingly landing the better strikes. Ankalaev chased a takedown throughout the final half of this round, and while he didn’t get it, he held Santos against the cage until time expired, winning this round. 49-46 Ankalaev.
WINNER: Magomed Ankalaev by unanimous decision (49-46, 49-46, 48-47)
This was a very dull fight to watch. Both fighters were hesitant to engage, especially Santos, and that led to one sequence repeating itself for twenty-five minutes. Ankalaev pressured forward slowly as Santos circled the cage, with Ankalaev largely finding more success whenever they engaged in the pocket (with the notable exception of the second-round knockdown from Santos). Regardless of the fight’s quality, Ankalaev will move into contendership status following this win, and he is likely one win away from a title shot. Anthony Smith is probably the most logical option, but I could see him facing the loser of Rakic/Błachowicz, assuming that fight gets rescheduled.