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Tyron Woodley wins bout over Stephen Thompson, but not crowd's favor

The debate wasn't so much about who won the narrow decision that UFC welterweight champion Tyron Woodley claimed over Stephen Thompson on Saturday night.

The more interesting discussion was spawned by asking if this was the worst title fight in UFC history.

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Fraught by major portions of inactivity as Thompson sought to avoid Woodley's takedown tries and Woodley stayed away from Thompson's reach and kicking length, the bout drew boos that grew to roars from the T-Mobile Arena crowd.

Woodley (17-3-1) saved his most productive work for the final seconds of the fifth and final round, dropping Thompson with a punch and seeking to finish him by landing at least three more clean blows before Thompson found his way up from the canvas.

Time expired, and some fans were so unhappy over paying for that limited action that they walked toward the exits even before the judges' scores of 48-47, 47-47, 48-47 for Woodley were announced.

The pair fought to a majority draw in New York in November, and though each fighter vowed to bring increased activity to the rematch, the polar opposite happened.

"When you fight someone for the second time, it's like a chess match," Woodley tried to explain in the octagon afterward. "I knew that his game plan was going to be to keep it on the outside. ... He made it very hard to get it in close. Sometimes, chess is move by move."

A game of checkers between school children might have been more exciting than the bout's first two rounds. More than three minutes passed in the first round with little more than a punch attempt, and Woodley may have won the second round on one punch, which cut Thompson under the left eye.

When it was suggested that there's beauty in such a tactical fight, Thompson said, "Exactly. To fight the best — he's the champion — I had to play it smart."

But both instead made it seem to the masses as if they were playing it safe, protecting the belt in Woodley's case and too reluctant to press the action in that of Thompson, who might have thought he was leading on the scorecards.

Woodley had the defining moment of the third with a takedown, landing some clean punches to the gut and heads while he had Thompson down.

The fourth was another yawner, and a bad look for Woodley's case that he deserves more exposure from the UFC.

Finally, late in the fifth, his belting of Thompson provided a morsel of good action.

"I knew it was close," Woodley said. "I thought I was going to finish him … and that's the round that probably got me the win."

Woodley added that he now was going to "take a break, chill out," but everyone else thought that's what he had just done.

Earlier, third-rated heavyweight Alistair Over-eem answered a title loss to champion Stipe Miocic by delivering two powerful knees to the head of Mark Hunt and winning by third-round knockout.

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"This man is tough," Overeem (42-15) said. "Everyone thought Alistair was done. We're not done yet."

Hunt (12-12-1) sustained a nasty gash on his right shin while kicking Overeem's leg in the first round, but he hurt Overeem with a short punch to the face in the second, then got the better of an inside exchange with an elbow to the head.

Overeem should be back in title-fight talk after Miocic meets former champion Junior Dos Santos in May in Dallas.

Saturday's scheduled co-main event, an interim lightweight title fight, was canceled Friday when Russia's unbeaten Khabib Nurmagomedov fell ill from cutting weight and was hospitalized, scrapping — for a third time — a meeting against Costa Mesa's Tony Ferguson (23-3).

The pay-per-view replacement bout was won by Sacramento women's straw-weight Cynthia Calvillo (4-0), who applied a rear naked chokehold to beat Amanda Cooper by submission 3 minutes 19 seconds into the first round.

Former light-heavyweight champion Rashad Evans remained winless since 2013, dropping a split decision to middleweight Daniel Kelly by scores of 29-28, 28-29, 29-28.

Twitter: @latimespugmire

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