MMA proved itself again as a sport that can change in a split second in the main event of the UFC’s Saturday night card from Washington. Decorated former champion Alistair Overeem (45-18-1, 1 no contest) was just seconds away from victory against undefeated knockout artist Jairzinho Rozenstruik (10-0). Overeem had carefully avoided Rozenstruik’s offense while mixing wrestling with cautious striking. The crowd was disappointed with what had been a slow and defense-oriented affair, but Overeem was ahead handily on all three judges’ scorecards after four rounds and the scheduled twenty five minutes were nearly complete.
At that moment, it all changed. Rozenstruik landed a lunging punch that connected with full force to the face of Overeem. Overeem’s lip was split open in what made for a gruesome visual. Overeem tumbled to the mat and the fight was called off at 4:56 of the final round, the latest finish in the history of the UFC heavyweight division. After the fight, Rozenstruik called for a fight with fellow knockout artist Francis Ngannou, a bout that would match arguably the two hardest hitters in the sport.
Otherwise, the most notable moment of the event might have come on the undercard as “Thug Nasty” Bryce Mitchell (12-0) pulled off only the second “twister” submission in UFC history on Matt Sayles (8-3). The unique submission is one of the rarest in the sport but Mitchell set it up quickly in the first round and locked it up for the tap. A thrilled Mitchell celebrated the win by continuing to lobby for camouflage shorts to be allowed inside the Octagon.
In other action, Marina Rodriguez and Cynthia Calvillo felt very evenly matched. They were ranked 9th and 10th in the UFC’s women’s strawweight division. Rodriguez was the better striker while Calvillo was the better grappler. After three competitive rounds, it felt appropriate that the bout was ruled a majority draw (29-28 Rodriguez, 28-28, 28-28). All three judges gave Rodriguez (12-0-2) the first two rounds and the difference was that two of the three judges scored the final round 10-8 for Calvillo (8-1-1) while the other gave it to Calvillo 10-9.
Towering Dutch fighter Stefan Struve had a rough night. He received an accidental low blow from Ben Rothwell in the first round that sent Struve to the canvas in tremendous pain. The unsympathetic crowd booed Struve for not continuing soon enough, alternating mock boos and cheers when he seemed closer or further away from continuing. Struve returned to fighting, only to receive another low blow, which led to a repeat of the same scenario. Struve continued again and this time he was caught by punches with Rothwell and lost via TKO in the second round. It was an unjustly cruel evening for Struve, who fell to 29-12 while Rothwell improved to 37-12.
Aspen Ladd was undefeated professionally heading into her last fight with Germaine de Randamie but a 16-second knockout defeat temporarily derailed her title aspirations. She rebounded well against Yana Kunitskaya. The fight was close and competitive in the first and second rounds with Ladd making the most of her takedowns. In the third, Ladd dropped Kunitskaya with a left hook and poured on strikes on the ground for the TKO. The 9-1 Ladd is back in the title hunt while 12-5 (1 no contest) Kunitskaya had a two-fight win streak ended.
The bout between Cody Stamann (18-2-1) and Song Yadong (14-3-1, 2 no contests) ended in controversy as the judges scored the contest a majority draw (29-27 Stamann, 28-28, 28-28). The crowd and most media scores thought Stamann won the fight and Stamann was assisted by a point deduction in the first round for an illegal knee on the ground. However, two judges gave the first two rounds to Yadong and that led to a furious Stamann not getting the nod.
In an action-packed fight, Rob Font improved to 17-4 with a unanimous decision win (29-28, 29-28, 30-27) over Ricky Simon (15-3). Simon was aggressive throughout the bout but Font was effective in keeping the fight in the range he preferred and landing the crisper, harder shots.
In a battle of veteran stars, former UFC welterweight title challenger Thiago Alves had some success early and reddened Tim Means’ ribs with kicks. However, Means dropped Alves with a punch and locked in a guillotine choke to secure the first round submission. Means improved to 29-11-1 (1 no contest) while Alves fell to 23-15. This was the final fight on Alves’ contract and it could be his last bout for the organization he has competed in since 2005.
It was a banner night for Billy Quarantillo (13-2), who labored to make it to the UFC by competing on both the Ultimate Fighter and Dana White’s Contender Series. He made his debut count, dominating Jacob Kilburn (8-3) for the entirety of the fight with furious offense on the ground. Quarantillo locked in a triangle choke for the submission and was awarded his black belt by Matt Arroyo to go along with an impressive Octagon win.
The show opened in spectacular fashion. At the end of a competitive fight between Trevor Smith and Makhmud Muradov, Smith was throwing a punch and didn’t see a right hand from Muradov. Muradov’s punch connected to the jaw, Smith’s mouthpiece flew out of his mouth, and Smith collapsed in a heap. Muradov improved to 24-6 with the highlight reel KO while Smith fell to 15-10.