One of the biggest events on the UFC calendar takes place Saturday night when Nate Diaz (20-11) and Jorge Masvidal (34-13) compete for what’s being billed as the “BMF title” at Madison Square Garden. To sell the unique promotional hook, the UFC has made a custom championship belt that will be presented to the winner by Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson. The co-feature is Darren Till (17-2-1) moving to middleweight to battle Kelvin Gastelum (15-4, 1 NC) and a deep card features many other championship contenders. The action is expected to start around 3:30PM Pacific and results will be updated throughout the evening here.
Nate Diaz vs. Jorge Masvidal
A year ago, this would have been an improbable candidate for one of the biggest fights of the year. Yet, that’s exactly what it is. Nate Diaz has always been a popular figure as Nate and his brother Nick are two of the sport’s genuine wildmen with compelling, unapologetic personas. Diaz took his popularity to a different level in his fights with Conor McGregor. Jorge Masvidal was a fighter’s fighter but the veteran was not a star until this year when a pair of spectacular knockouts and in particular a superstar making performance against Ben Askren greatly enhanced his popularity.
Round 1. Diaz presses the action looking to land his punches. Masvidal counters with a few kicks and clinches. Masvidal opens up in the clinch with elbows and then lands a big kick as they break. Masvidal follows with more punches looking to finish the fight. Masvidal attacks from the standing position while Diaz defends on his back and looks to fully regain his senses. Diaz is badly bleeding. Finally, Masvidal lets Diaz up. They end up back in the clinch where Masvidal lands another hard elbow and knee. They break. Diaz lands a couple strong punches but ends up back in the clinch. They separate and Diaz connects with a few more punches. 10-8 Masvidal.
Round 2. Diaz again starts with his boxing, landing a few quality punches in the process. Masvidal answers with a strong left hook. Masvidal dazes Diaz with a right hook and knocks him down with a kick to the body. Diaz is not moving well. Masvidal batters Diaz with another combination and forces Diaz to back up. Masvidal takes Diaz down and lands a couple punches while controlling the back. A scramble ensues with Diaz attacking the ankle before Masvidal escapes at the close. 10-8 Masvidal.
Round 3. Diaz lands a few punches to start the third. He hasn’t been able to get his rhythm with his boxing. Masvidal counters with a stiff kick to the body. They start trading wild punches with both men connecting well. Diaz gets the best punches of the exchange. Masvidal now has a cut by the eye. They end up back in a clinch with Masvidal looking for a takedown. Masvidal gets Diaz down and lands some punches from the top. Diaz responds with some punches from the bottom before Masvidal regains control at the end. Close round. 10-9 Masvidal.
The doctor stops the fight between rounds.
Winner: Jorge Masvidal, doctor stoppage, round 3.
The crowd is exceedingly displeased with the “BMF” fight ending on a doctor stoppage and loudly lets their voice be heard. Still, Diaz’s face was a mess and he took a beating so it’s hard to object too strenuously even if that’s not what the promotion wanted for a finish.
Darren Till vs. Kelvin Gastelum
Darren Till was developing into a star, particularly in his native England, before a pair of major setbacks changed things. Now, Till will look to rebound in a new weight class as he moves up to 185 pounds. Meeting him is a fighter who took the same route. Gastelum was a welterweight before moving up and having marked success as a smaller and faster middleweight.
Round 1. Gastelum throws a couple of punches and Till immediately clinches. They battle for control in the clinch with neither man accomplishing much. Till lands a left hand as they break. That was quite the uneventful round. 10-10.
Round 2. Till lands a couple punches early. He looks more energetic than in the first. Gastelum charges in looking to get one back but doesn’t land anything. Gastelum connects well with a leg kick and Till responds with a knee to the head. The fighters exchange low kicks. The crowd, which has been patient over the course of this fight, finally begins to boo the lack of action. 10-9 Till.
Round 3. Gastelum opens with a couple of leg kicks. Gastelum then looks for a takedown. Till blocks that and lands a nice straight left hand. Gastelum connects with a couple of punches. Till catches a kick and pulls Gastelum down but Gastelum immediately returns to his feet. Till goes for a takedown. Gastelum attempts to take his back in the process but neither succeed and they return to their feet. Gastlum takes Till down but Till pops right back up. 10-9 Gastelum, 29-29 draw.
Winner: Darren Till, split decision (29-28, 27-30, 30-27).
The 30-27 scores in opposite directions speaks to how difficult that fight was to judge. It was an awkward, unappealing bout that isn’t likely to benefit Till as much as he would like.
Stephen Thompson vs. Vicente Luque
Vicente Luque is 10-1 in his last 11 UFC fights with 9 finishes and that incredible run has earned him an opportunity to fight one of the biggest names in the division. Stephen “Wonderboy” Thompson is now 36 but he has defeated some major names over the course of his career.
Round 1. Luque starts off by repeatedly attacking the lead leg of Thompson, which is left out in the open by Thompson’s wide stance. Luque moves in and lands a couple punches. Thompson throws some leg kicks but has been less active early than Luque. Thompson lands a nice straight punch and then Luque answers with one of his own. Thompson catches a kick and follows through with a punch. They’re both landing some hard punches as the round progresses, Thompson in particular. 10-9 Thompson.
Round 2. Thompson is able to connect with punches the first few times Luque comes in. Thompson is starting to time his counters, which is very dangerous for Luque. Thompson lands a big left hand as Luque moves forward. Thompson knocks Luque down with a head kick and then he punishes Luque with some heavy punches as Luque tries to get something back. Luque answers with a couple punches of his own. Luque is doing his best to fire back at Thompson but this has become Thompson’s sort of fight as he is deftly mixing up his kicks and punches whenever Luque attempts to attack. 10-9 Thompson.
Round 3. Thompson knocks Luque down with a big punch right up the middle. He follows with punches on the ground looking to finish but Luque is able to survive. Back on the feet, Thompson is sniping, confidently circling the cage avoiding danger while lunging in with attacks of his own. Thompson lands a head kick late that hurts Luque and he batters him with further attacks against the cage. Luque is in full on defensive mode. 10-8 Thompson, 30-26 Thompson.
Winner: Stephen Thompson, unanimous decision (30-26, 30-26, 29-27).
Thompson has struggled in recent fights but that was a reminder of how dangerous his style can be to compete against. Luque has been finishing opponents left and right but he just couldn’t figure out how to deal with Thompson’s unique kickboxing style.
Derrick Lewis vs. Blagoy Ivanov
Derrick Lewis is one of the sport’s biggest characters, a charismatic and clever personality with impressive knockout power. Blagoy Ivanov is best known for being stabbed and nearly dying before making a successful comeback to MMA.
Round 1. There are loud “USA” chants from the crowd as Lewis moves forward into Ivanov’s range. Ivanov catches a kick and drags Lewis down. Ivanov has side control and looks to set up an Americana. Lewis powers out, stands up, and starts swinging. Ivanov fires back and they’re throwing bombs both ways. Lewis gets a takedown but Ivanov gets back up. They’ve both connected with some solid punches but neither has appeared phased. 10-9 Lewis.
Round 2. The second round starts out with a measured pace. Lewis lands a few solid punches that send Ivanov back and Lewis really opens up with full power but Ivanov has a great chin. Ivanov takes Lewis down and looks for the Americana again. Lewis gives the thumbs up to the referee but Ivanov keeps cranking. Lewis escapes, gets up, and starts throwing huge punches. Ivanov looks like he’s bleeding from around both eyes. Lewis saves up for his big attacks but Ivanov just keeps coming in the interim. Ivanov gets a takedown late and looks for a choke but time runs out. 10-9 Lewis.
Round 3. After all the action in the second, the third is slower. They clinch for an extended period. Ivanov lands a couple nice punches. Lewis looks for a takedown but it is blocked. Lewis charges in looking to land a big punch but Ivanov clinches. Ivanov lands some punches from that position. Lewis then opens up one last time to close the fight and gets through with some big punches. Close round. 10-9 Ivanov, 29-28 Lewis.
Winner: Derrick Lewis, split decision (30-27, 28-29, 29-28).
The crowd gives a big ovation for Lewis upon the announcement of the decision. He’s a very popular figure and that fight showed why. Ivanov has a remarkable chin; Lewis likely would have scored the knockout against most.
Kevin Lee vs. Gregor Gillespie
Kevin Lee was at one time considered a potential championship level fighter but he has lost 3 of 4. Now he finds himself being put in position to be a potential stepping stone for the unbeaten Gregor Gillespie. Gillespie is a ground ace and will be looking to use Lee to prove what he can do at the top level. Of course, Lee has different plans in mind.
Round 1. Gillespie throws some hard punches to start. He looks for a takedown but Lee prevents that without difficulty. Lee answers back with a nice punch of his own. Both men are relying mostly on their boxing, although Lee did attempt one head kick. Lee then knocked Gillespie out cold with a spectacular head kick.
Winner: Kevin Lee, KO, round 1.
It’s hard to overstate how impressive that knockout was. That was one of the most spectacular MMA knockouts I’ve ever seen and over a highly regarded undefeated fighter to boot. This was a crucial victory for Lee in attempting to regain the stature he recently possessed.
Donald Trump made his entrance to Octagonside following the Walker-Anderson bout, drawing a loud mixture of boos and cheers from the live crowd. He waved to the crowd before taking his seat.
Johnny Walker vs. Corey Anderson
Johnny Walker has made a name for himself in the UFC in quick order, finishing three straight opponents in under two minutes and in spectacular fashion. He gets a big step up in competition here against Corey Anderson, a quality contender with three straight wins and a wrestling game that could cause Walker stylistic problems.
Round 1. Walker shows some different looks early but doesn’t let his hands go yet. Anderson looks for a takedown but Walker defends well. Anderson stuns Walker with a right hand and then he follows with some massive punches that badly hurt Walker and drop him to the mat. Walker survives but he is still quite hurt and Anderson pours on the offense. As Walker drops to a knee from a punch the fight is stopped. Anderson then taunts and yells at Walker with the fight already over.
Winner: Corey Anderson, TKO, round 1.
That was a pivotal win for Anderson, who bested an opponent with tremendous buzz and put himself in position for a potential title shot. However, he didn’t cover himself in glory the way he taunted and mocked an opponent he had already knocked out.
Shane Burgos vs. Makwan Amirkhani
Shane Burgos is another New York native and he is coming off a win over longtime contender Cub Swanson. Makwan Amirkhani is 5-1 in the UFC and presents another formidable test for Burgos.
Round 1. Amirkhani looks for a takedown at the start. Burgos blocks it easily so Amirkhani lands a big punch and this time secures the takedown. Amirkhani in the full guard of Burgos up against the cage and Burgos is bleeding around the eye. Burgos stands back up but Amirkhani retains control of the body and pulls him back down. Burgos stands up again. In a scramble Amirkhani grabs a guillotine choke but he does not have control of Burgos’ body. Amirkhani transitions to a D’Arce attempt but loses that too and they return to their feet. Amirkhani lands a punch and goes for another takedown but it is stuffed easily. Amirkhani lands another quality punch and shoots in unsuccessfully for a takedown. Burgos lands a nice body punch late. 10-9 Amirkhani.
Round 2. Amirkhani has another takedown attempt blocked. Amirkhani then lands a series of punches up the middle. This has been a strange fight; usually a fighter that keeps going for takedowns isn’t doing as well on the feet but Amirkhani is largely winning the standup while also constantly pressing to go to the ground. Amirkhani goes for another takedown and has Burgos down momentarily. Amirkhani can’t keep Burgos there and they return to fighting at range before Amirkhani shoots in again for the takedown. Burgos gets top position and lands some big punches from there to close the round. 10-9 Burgos.
Round 3. Amirkhani comes out with a flying knee that misses. Burgos rocks Amirkhani with a big straight punch and opens up with wild punches looking to finish the fight. Lots of punches are getting through and the referee is looking carefully at the action. Burgos lets Amirkhani stand back up and Amirkhani is slow to do so. On the feet, Burgos measures Amirkhani looking for the closing shot. Amirkhani goes for a desperation takedown and not being able to get it, Burgos traps him and lands a series of punches to the body. He then lets Amirkhani up and Amirkhani takes forever to get back up. Amirkhani regains his composure a little but he is exhausted. Burgos drops him one last time and it is stopped.
Winner: Shane Burgos, TKO, round 3.
That was quite the performance by Burgos. Amirkhani kept going for one takedown after another early but Burgos kept his composure and kept defending. By the end, Amirkhani was clearly exhausted and Burgos capitalized to get the finish.
Edmen Shahbazyan vs. Brad Tavares
The unbeaten Edmen Shahbazyan has generated a lot of buzz with his early UFC victories and he gets a big veteran test in Brad Tavares, who has fought in the UFC since 2010 and notched 12 UFC wins.
Round 1. The pace is slow early. Shahbazyan lands a looping left hand and Tavares answers back with a few power punches of his own. Shahbazyan drops Tavares with a straight right hand and really opens up with his offense looking for the finish. He knocks Tavares out with a head kick and adds one punch on the ground for good measure.
Winner: Edmen Shahbazyan, KO, round 1.
That was precisely the sort of performance that was hoped for from Shahbazyan in a high profile spot at Madison Square Garden. Brad Tavares is notoriously durable and Shahbazyan ran through him just like he has run through the others. It would be a surprise if Shahbazyan isn’t getting big fights in the very near future.
Andrei Arlovski vs. Jairzinho Rozenstruik
Former UFC heavyweight champion Andrei Arlovski has been counted out so many times over the course of his career but at 40 years old he is still competing in the UFC and he won his last fight against Ben Rothwell. Jairzinho Rozenstruik is an undefeated competitor from Suriname with notable knockout power.
Round 1. Rozenstruik stuns Arlvoski and lands a few more hard punches to the chin. Arlovski survives that but he does not survive a left hand to the jaw moments later as Arlovski is moving in. Arlvoski goes down and out and that is that.
Winner: Jairzinho Rozenstruik, KO, round 1.
That was pretty much the best case scenario for Rozenstruik, who exhibited his power and put away a fighter with a very impressive career resume.
Katlyn Chookagian vs. Jennifer Maia
These are two of the top contenders in the UFC women’s flyweight division. Chookagian has won four of five inside the Octagon while Maia has two straight wins.
Round 1. They’re throwing a lot early although neither is connecting that much. Both are fighting in a very tight stance with the taller Chookagian connecting a little more in the early going. As the round progresses, it’s mostly fought at range with not much offense getting through. 10-9 Chookagian.
Round 2. Chookagian lands a straight right hand to start. She is having some success taking advantage of her reach. Maia lands a few leg kicks. Chookagian retaliates and both women are throwing plenty of leg kicks. Maia connects with a few solid punches, probably her best offense of the fight. Chookagian looks for a takedown late but has it blocked. 10-9 Maia.
Round 3. Chookagian lands some leg kicks at the start. Maia clinches and looks to set up a takedown. Maia isn’t able to get it but at distance she opens up with her offense and is really throwing a lot more than Chookagian. Maia isn’t letting Chookagian get off just because she’s always throwing something. Maia gets a takedown with less than 75 seconds remaining. Chookagian has half guard while Maia throws some light punches from the top. 10-9 Maia, 29-28 Maia.
Winner: Katlyn Chookagian, unanimous decision (29-28, 29-28, 29-28).
The crowd reacts negatively to the decision but the first two rounds were close and it’s understandable that Chookagian would pull it out. It wasn’t the sort of performance that is likely to generate demand for Chookagian to receive a title shot.
Lyman Good vs. Chance Rencountre
Lyman Good is a former Bellator champion who has fought much of his career in the vicinity of his home in New York City. He has lost two of his last three bouts. Chance Rencountre is proud of his Native American heritage and has won two straight in the UFC.
Round 1. Good nails Rencountre with a sound straight punch right at the start. Good follows with a nice inside leg kick and another quality punch. Good nails Rencountre with a blistering leg kick that makes a loud noise and forces Rencountre to back up. Rencountre looks for a takedown but Good blocks it. Good connects with a heavy head kick and then some additional hard punches. He has Rencountre in big trouble with punches up against the cage, connecting cleanly over and over again. Good lands another head kick. 10-8 Good.
Round 2. A confident Good goes back to work with strong punches. He is really tattooing Rencountre; it’s remarkable Rencountre has stood up to all these shots. The pace slows a little as the round progresses, with Good more measured in his approach. He lands a few more strong punches at the close. 10-9 Good.
Round 3. Good walks Rencountre down. Rencountre fires back with a wild combination but nothing connects solidly. Good, on the other hand, is consistently landing with his shots and Rencountre is badly bleeding from the face. Good finally drops Rencountre with a punch late in the round and the fight is mercifully called off.
Winner: Lyman Good, TKO, round 3.
Chance Rencountre took a savage beating there. He couldn’t get the fight to the ground and Good punished him with accurate and heavy offense.
Hakeem Dawodu vs. Julio Arce
UFC 244 kicks off with a pair of fighters that have thrived early in their UFC careers. Hakeem Dawodu debuted in the UFC after a successful run in the WSOF and has gone 3-1 in the UFC. Julio Arce, meanwhile, is 4-1 and fights out of the New York area.
Round 1. Right out of the gate, Dawodu is throwing lots of kicks, attacking at different levels. Arce seems mostly content to gauge the distance. Dawodu clinches and attacks with some knees to the body before they separate. Arce starts to open up with his boxing and connects with a couple of clean punches. 10-9 Dawodu.
Round 2. The fighters come out swinging wildly, trading hooks from close range. Dawodu then elects to clinch. Upon separation, Dawodu lands a nice straight right hand to the chin. In a clinch, Arce uses a trip takedown to ground Dawodu on the canvas. As Dawodu tries to stand up, Arce swiftly takes his back and looks for a rear naked choke. However, Arce does not control the body sufficiently well and Dawodu rolls around and takes top position. Dawodu then stands up and lands some kicks to the legs from the standing position while Arce retaliates with up kicks. Very close round. 10-9 Arce.
Round 3. Dawodu returns to the clinch up against the cage. They return to distance, with neither man gaining a firm advantage with their boxing. Dawodu lands a nice looping punch in an exchange and then a straight punch up the middle after that. They open up in the final minute and both connect with some solid punches after putting less of an emphasis on defense. 10-9 Dawodu, 29-28 Dawodu.
Winner: Hakeem Dawodu, split decision (29-28, 28-29, 29-28).
That was a very close fight that produced a very close decision. It wasn’t a barnburner as far as action went but it wasn’t an easy challenge for either man.