The UFC brought the octagon back to its home of Las Vegas on Saturday for UFC on ESPN 9. The event took place at the UFC’s new Apex facility, the same place the Contender Series is hosted. The main event featured a welterweight bout between the former champion Tyron Woodley and rising contender Gilbert Burns. Burns put on a stellar performance, winning every round and grabbing at least one 10-8 round. After twenty five minutes it had been announced that Burns had won by unanimous decision. Since moving to 170 pounds, Burns has gone 4-0 after taking out the former champ. With multiple fighters eyeing a title shot at welterweight, there are plenty of options for Burns next that make sense.
The night’s co-main event featured a couple of heavyweight fighters. Since coming off the Contender Series, Augusto Sakai had put together three straight wins in the octagon. In just his second UFC fight, he defeated former UFC heavyweight champion Andrei Arlovski by split decision. Following that fight, he would finish Marcin Tybura by TKO in about one minute. Standing across the octagon from him on Saturday was former WSOF heavyweight champion Blagoy Ivanov. Entering the fight, Ivanov had won two of his last three. Those wins would come over Tai Tuivasa and Ben Rothwell before he lost to former title challenger Derrick Lewis. The two fought a close fight but the split decision would be awarded to Sakai.
UFC on ESPN 9 Standout Performances
UFC on ESPN 9 delivered on all levels. Right off the bat, the card stared with four quick finishes. Full of action from top to bottom, it is time to determine the five standout performances. In order for a fighter to make this list, their performance must stand out among their peers. This could be quick finishes, flashy knockouts, great submissions, dismantling an opponent, or providing an all-around exciting fight. Along with every performance will be a look at what could potentially come next for each fighter.
#1 Brandon Royval
def. Tim Elliott via Submission (Arm Triangle) at 3:18 of Round Two
Entering UFC on ESPN 9, Tim Elliott had lost his last two straight fights. Since 2017, he has only fought twice, appearing against unofficial flyweight champion Deiveson Figueiredo and Askar Askarov. As stated previously, Elliott would lose both those fights, being submitted by Figueiredo and losing a decision to Askarov. Elliott’s last win came in 2017 at UFC 219 when he faced Mark De La Rosa. He would defeat De La Rosa that night, submitting him in the second round. He looked to pick up a much needed win when he stepped into the octagon on Saturday.
Standing across from Elliott would be UFC newcomer Brandon Royval. Prior to entering the UFC, Royval had put together a two fight win streak under the LFA banner. The first of those wins came against former UFC fighter Joby Sanchez as he defeated him by submission in the first round. He would follow that up with another submission, this time in just 23 seconds, defeating Nate Williams. The win would earn him a contract with the UFC where he would make his debut at UFC on ESPN 9.
The first round began with Royval throwing a knee that was caught by Elliott resulting in a quick takedown. The round saw little action on the feet as every time they stood up, crazy combinations of punches would be thrown before Elliott would rush back in for a takedown. Elliott landed a total of three takedowns in the first round but it was Royval that ended the round in a dominant position as he nearly had Elliott in an armbar.
The first two minutes of the second round were spent mostly on the ground once again as Royval spent some time on top. Once the two stood in the middle again the threw some wild shots before going to the mat again. As Royval worked from the bottom, he was soon able to reverse position and end up on top where he would find himself in top mount soon. As Elliott scrambled to escape, Royval found an opening and locked up and arm triangle, forcing Elliott to tap soon after.
In his UFC debut, Royval picked up a big win over the 11th ranked flyweight. In a shallow 125 pound division, he could move up the ladder quickly with a few more wins. A name that pops out for a possible next opponent could be Kai Kara-France. In his last two fights, Kara-France has gone 1-1. The loss came at UFC 245 when he was defeated by fellow TUF 24 alum Brandon Moreno by unanimous decision. In his most recent outing, he defeated Tyson Nam by unanimous decision at UFC Fight Night 168. Each fighter brings an exciting style to the table and a fight between them would surely be entertaining. With Kara-France sitting at number seven, a win could push Royval into the top ten of the division.
#2 Jamahal Hill
def. Klidson Abreu via TKO (Strikes) at 1:51 of Round One
After putting together an undefeated professional record of 5-0, Jamahal Hill got an opportunity on the Contender Series. He picked up a TKO finish in that fight, defeating Alexander Poppeck and earning a UFC contract. His most recent fight was his debuting fight in the octagon. The fight took place at UFC Fight Night 166 as he took on Darko Stosic, defeating him by unanimous decision. With a record of 7-0 he looked to keep his undefeated status alive entering UFC on ESPN 9 against Klidson Abreu.
Abreu made his UFC debut in 2019 after putting together a six fight win streak between 2016-2018 outside the octagon. He made his debut at UFC Fight Night 145 against Magomed Ankalaev, losing the fight by unanimous decision. His second UFC outing came against Sam Alvey at UFC on ESPN 4 where he won by unanimous decision. After picking up his first UFC win, he would be matched up with Shamil Gamzatov at UFC Fight Night 163. In this, his most recent outing, he would lose to Gamzatov by split decision, dropping his UFC record to 1-2.
Round one kicked off as the two fighters met in the center of the octagon. Just under twenty seconds into the round, Hill landed a combination that dropped Abreu. But Abreu was able to quickly get back to his feet to avoid being finished. As the two stood back up, Abreu landed a big knee to Hill’s body before they broke their clinch and circled the center again. They slowly began finding more and more success with their shots but it was Hill that was landing the heavier blows. Hill was landing some hard rights hands and body kicks before ending it with a right hook and a knee to the body. The series of strikes dropped Abreu to the canvas where Hill landed the fight ending ground and pound to remain undefeated.
With the win over Abreu at UFC on ESPN 9, Hill improved his UFC record to 2-0. Now holding an undefeated record of 8-0, Hill brings an entertaining style to the table. A possible matchup with Khalil Rountree Jr. could be a very good fight. Both guys are fun to watch and good on the feet meaning the fight may not go to the judges.
In his last four, Rountree has alternated wins and losses, going 2-2. He picked up some notable wins during that time however as he defeated former Glory Kickboxing champion Gokhan Saki by first round TKO. The other win came against Eryk Anders as he cruised to a unanimous decision over the former college linebacker. But, as stated, he did suffer losses, both of them coming by KO/TKO. The first of the two came to Johnny Walker who defeated him by knockout in the first round. Most recently, he met Ion Cutelaba at UFC Fight Night 160 as Cutelaba defeated him by first round TKO that night. A fight between Hill and Rountree gives Hill the opportunity to get a win over another notable name. Meanwhile, it will give Rountree the chance to bounce back from his recent loss.
#3 Casey Kenney
def. Louis Smolka via Submission (Guillotine) at 3:03 of Round One
After a four fight losing streak in the UFC from 2016-2017, Louis Smolka was released by the UFC. Following his release, Smolka quickly put together a three fight win streak outside the octagon. All three of those wins came during 2018 and all three came by way of TKO or Submission. The impressive streak would earn him another UFC contract as he made his return against Su Mudaerji. He would return with another submission win, submitting Mudaerji in the second round with an armbar. Since his return, he has gone 1-1, losing by submission to Matt Schnell and most recently defeating Ryan McDonald by TKO. Heading into UFC on ESPN 9, he looked to make it two in a row against Casey Kenney.
Back in 2017, Casey Kenney fought two times on the Contender Series. He appeared twice during the first season, once in episode two, picking up a win over C.J. Hamilton by unanimous decision. Kenney appeared again in episode eight, taking on Adam Antolin, who would defeat Kenney by split decision. Kenney would then go on to fight for LFA where her put together a record of 4-0. The streak earned him a shot in the UFC as he stepped in on six days notice to take on former flyweight title challenger Ray Borg. He would defeat Borg that night by unanimous decision. He would then go 1-1, picking up a unanimous decision win over Manny Bermudez and losing a unanimous decision to Merab Dvalishvili before meeting Smolka.
Early on in the fight, Smolka looked to focus a lot on Kenney’s body as he threw a lot of body shots in the first minute. Meanwhile Kenney was finding success with his counter punches as he land good combinations as Smolka entered the pocket. He also utilized leg kicks as he landed a few hard ones during those first few minutes. After just two and a half minutes, Smolka was already north of twenty body shots landed on his opponent. With just over two minutes left, Smolka closed the distance but Kenney landed a perfect counter right that seemed to stun Smolka. He looked wobbled for a second before he lunged in for a takedown that Kenney was able to reverse and end up on top. Immediately after getting on top Kenney locked in the mounted guillotine and Smolka’s tap quickly followed.
After the big win, Kenney now sits at 3-1 in the UFC. In a stacked bantamweight divison, he could be nearing the top fifteen or an opponent that could get him near it. One interesting matchup could be a fight between Kenney and former Cage Warriors champion Nathaniel Wood. Wood holds an identical record of 3-1 in the octagon as he made his debut in 2018. Since then he has picked up wins over Johnny Eduardo, Andre Ewell and Jose Alberto Quinonez. In his most recent outing, he took on former two time flyweight title challenger John Dodson. Dodson defeated Wood that night as he finished him in the third round by TKO. A matchup with Wood gives Kenney another tough fight as he attempts to crack the top fifteen. And while Wood tries to do the same, he will also be looking to rebound from his first loss in four years.
#4 Mackenzie Dern
def. Hannah Cifers via Submission (Kneebar) at 2:36 of Round One
Beginning her professional MMA career, Mackenzie Dern quickly put together a record of 5-0, earning a UFC contract. She made her debut at UFC 222, defeating Ashley Yoder by split decision. She would then go on to defeat Amanda Cooper by first round submission at UFC 224. Following that fight, she would put her career on hold due to pregnancy, giving birth to her daughter in June 2019. She returned four months later at UFC Fight Night 161 as she took on Amanda Ribas. Unfortunately Dern would suffer her first loss as Ribas defeated her by unanimous decision. Following her first pro loss, she looked to rebound with a win as she met Hannah Cifers at UFC on ESPN 9.
Since making her debut in 2018 against Maycee Barber, Hannah Cifers has gone 2-2. She would lose her debut to Barber before going on a two fight win streak. That win streak included decision wins over Polyana Viana and Jodie Esquibil. In her most recent outing, she was scheduled to face Brianna Van Buren at UFC Fight Night 166. However, Van Buren was pulled from the fight and replaced by Angela Hill. Hill would end up winning the fight, defeating Cifers in the second round by TKO. She would return, looking to rebound from the loss as she took on Dern.
To open up the fight, Cifers quickly made her way to the center of the cage. Just over thirty seconds into the round the two clinched along the fence where Cifers began landing some heavy knees. After they broke apart, Dern began finding some succes with her strikes as she was able to land quick combinations. After landing a nice combo that seemed to daze Cifers a bit, they clinched again and this time Dern was able to throw Cifers to the mat. However Cifers was able to reverse and she would end up being on top. As Cifers stood above Dern, Dern found an opportunity to look for a knee bar as she quickly wrapped up Cifers’ leg. Moments later Cifers had tapped, awarding Dern with the first round submission win.
After successfully rebounding from her first pro loss, Dern could potentially make a run at the top fifteen of the division again. Looking at the rankings there are not many possible matchups that stand out and also make sense. So with that being said, a possible opponent for Dern’s next outing could be Angela Hill. Since June of last year, Hill had appeared in the octagon five times. During that time she holds a record of 3-2. It began with a loss to Yan Xiaonan by unanimous decision at UFC 238. She would then go on a three fight win streak, grabbing wins over Ariane Carnelossi, Hannah Cifers and Loma Lookboonmee. In her most recent outing, she met former strawweight title challenger Claudia Gadelha. In a very close fight, it had been announced that Gadelha had won via split decision.
#5 Chris Gutierrez
def. Vince Morales via TKO (Leg Kicks) at 4:27 of Round Two
In 2018 at the TUF 28 Finale, Chris Gutierrez made his UFC debut against Raoni Barcelos. He would lose his debut by unanimous decision before putting together two straight wins. Both of those wins would come by decision as he defeated Ryan MacDonald and, most recently, Geraldo de Freitas Jr. Entering UFC on ESPN 9 he looked to make it three in a row as he took on Vince Morales.
After an appearance on the Contender Series in 2018 in which he lost, Vince Morales fought at Bellator 205. He would win that night as he defeated Justin Williams-Hugo by unanimous decision. Morales would then get his shot with the UFC as he made his debut against Song Yadong at UFC Fight Night 141. He would lose in his debut as Yadong won by unanimous decision. Following that loss, he picked up his first UFC win as he defeated Alemann Zahabi by unanimous decision. In his most recent outing, he took on Benito Lopez at UFC Fight Night 155, losing by unanimous decision. He looked to avoid dropping two straight as he faced Gutierrez.
Immediately as the fight began, Gutierrez landed what would be the story of the fight; hard leg kicks. Gutierrez put on a great performance in the first round, landing many leg kicks and connecting with some perfect head kicks as well. Just two minutes into the round the swelling on Morales’ leg was already very noticeable. For the last three minutes or so of the round, Gutierrez had Morales’ back up against the cage as he landed hard punches and kicks before the round closed.
Round two was much of the same, Gutierrez walking down Morales and landing heavy shots. Just under two minutes in, Gutierrez landed a hard leg kick that caused Morales to stumble backwards. Gutierrez then backed Morales up all the way to the fence where he started unleashing leg kicks. The first one that landed nearly caused Morales to crumble over but he kept his composure.
As he continued with the hard leg kicks, there were multiple times that Morales almost went down as a result. However the first leg kick knockdown did not happed until there was just under two minutes left in the second. Morales tried to reverse position as Gutierrez got on top but instead Gutierrez just stood back to his feet and landed more leg kicks. With just about thirty seconds left in the round, Gutierrez landed another leg kick that forced Morales to the floor. At this point the ref had seen enough and decided to stop the fight there awarding Gutierrez the TKO win.
Since losing his UFC debut, Chris Gutierrez had looked great, putting together three straight victories. However he is no where near fighting for a ranking, at least not yet as he will need maybe one or two more wins. An interesting idea for his next opponent could be another entertaining striker Hakeen Dawodu. Dawodu also lost his UFC debut and since then has put together a four fight win streak. During that time he holds wins over Austin Arnett, Kyle Bochniak and Yoshinori Hori. His most recent outing occurred at UFC 244 when he took on Julio Arce. He defeated Arce that night, winning by split decision. A win for either Dawodu or Gutierrez could put them right outside the top fifteen.
def. Tyron Woodley via Unanimous Decision (50-45, 50-44, 50-44)
After the fight main event between Tyron Woodley and Leon Roberts fell through, Gilbert Burns made his case to take on the former champ. Both fighter’s teams had been in talks for weeks until it was announced that they would headline UFC on ESPN 9. Burns entered the fight with a lot of momentum as he held a 3-0 record since moving to welterweight last year. Prior to his meeting with Woodley, he had defeated Demian Maia by first round TKO. Maia also faced Woodley during his title reign, as Woodley slowly worked his way to a unanimous decision win.
Since losing his title to Kamaru Usman nearly a year and a half ago, Woodley has been motivated to get back to the top. However, he looked nearly the same as he did against Usman as he faced Burns. He allowed himself to keep his back to the fence and not push the pace very much. This allowed Burns to find a lot of success in his striking while also using his superb jiu jitsu when needed. After a dominant five rounds, Burns had earned a 10-8 round on two of three judges scorecards as he scored a clean sweep over the former champ.
After the win, he called for a title shot against his teammate Kamaru Usman. But with plenty of worthy challengers at 170, he may need one more win before he can fight for the title. Both Jorge Masvidal and Leon Edwards have good cases for a title shot, with that being said, a fight between Burns and either of them would make for a good number one conteder fight. Another possibility could be a fight with Colby Covington who just recently lost to Usman.
def. Antonina Shevchenko via Unanimous Decision (30-25, 30-25, 30-25)
After a two fight win streak with wins over Joanne Calderwood and Jennifer Maia, Katlyn Chookagian would earn a title shot against Valentina Shevchenko. Chookagian would come up short as Shevchenko defeated her by TKO in the third round. Following the loss, Chookagian would return against none other than the champ’s sister Antonina Shevchenko. Shevchenko entered the fight coming off a win over Lucie Pudilova at UFC on ESPN 5.
Entering the fight, Shevchenko was the betting favorite over Chookagian. However, Chookagian quickly proved the doubters wrong. She exposed Shevchenko’s ground game, showing that Valentina was the bigger threat there. Chookagian dominated the fight for fifteen minutes as she scored two 10-8 rounds on all three judge’s scorecards.
After just recently losing to the champion, Chookagian is probably no where close to another title shot yet. Instead she could take on the winner of the upcoming main event between Jessica Eye and Cynthia Calvillo. A win for Eye gives Chookagian the chance to avenge the loss she suffered to Eye in 2018. A win for Calvillo puts her in the position where another win over Chookagian could earn her a title shot.
Following an exciting night of fights at UFC on ESPN 9, the UFC will return to pay-per-view next week for UFC 250. In the main event, the greatest women’s fighter of all time returns as Amanda Nunes looks to defend her featherweight title against Felicia Spencer. A win for Nunes makes her the first simultaneous champion to defend both her titles as she already has done so five times at bantamweight. In the co-main event, former bantamweight champion Cody Garbrandt returns to the octagon to take on Raphael Assuncao. Plus, before that fight, Aljamain Sterling takes on Cory Sandhagen. This means, with a vacant bantamweight title, there are many important matchups at UFC 250. So be sure to be on the lookout next week for UFC 250’s five standout performances.
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