by Jason Howard Kelly
Despite the last minute cancellation of the much anticipated title fight between Demetrious Johnson and Ray Borg the card for UFC 215 still held a lot of intrigue for fight fans. Amanda Nunes vs. Valentina Shevchenko for the women’s bantamweight championship now takes over as the main event, but the undercard is nothing to sneeze at either. Tonight’s preliminary card was capped off with two title hopefuls in the women’s bantamweight division in Sara McMann and Ketlen Vieira.
Sara McMann vs. Ketlen Vieira
Sara McMann has long been regarded as one of the very best bantamweights in the UFC, having been a former challenger for the championship during Ronda Rousey’s dominant reign. She had a tough challenge in front of her tonight with the undefeated, yet slightly unknown, Ketlen Vieira.
McMann started this fight off strongly, taking down Vieira and commencing her ground-and-pound offense. Although McMann was able to land some convincing strikes from the mount position Vieira did a nice job defending from the bottom. She was able to use her long legs to her advantage, keeping them high towards McMann’s chin to keep her at a distance. This allowed Vieira to survive the round.
Round two started much differently, as Vieira was the one pushing the pace early on, backing McMann up against the fence and engaging her in the clinch. The hard work paid off as Vieira was eventually able to take her down to the ground and establish control. Despite McMann competently defending on the ground Vieira continued to push for a head and arm submission. She was unable to pass McMann’s guard but earned the submission victory regardless.
Ketlen Vieira established herself as a legitimate contender in the women’s bantamweight division tonight with this win. Not only did she submit a world class wrestler but she did it without even passing McMann’s guard, which is extremely difficult to do. Vieira clearly has the poise and fight I.Q. to fight for the title in this division. This upset now clears the way for someone like Raquel Pennington or Cat Zingano to earn the next shot at the women’s bantamweight championship
Winner: Ketlen Vieira by submission (head and arm choke)
Jeremy Stephens vs. Gilbert Melendez
Gilbert Melendez is making his debut at featherweight tonight against the incredibly dangerous Jeremy Stephens. Melendez did not look to be worn out by the extra weight cut, but that would be the least of his problems tonight against Stephens.
Early on in the fight Stephens hammered Melendez with some heavy leg kicks to the left leg of Melendez. It became clear extremely quickly that the left leg of Gilbert Melendez was badly compromised, as he immediately began to limp as his leg swelled up.
Between the first and second rounds Melendez’s coaches called a timeout and had the doctor look at his leg to make sure he could still fight. The doctor cleared Melendez and the second round got under way. In an attempt to counter-act the leg kicks from Stephens Melendez pressed forward and tried to initiate the offense. Jeremy Stephens stayed composed and utilized his counter striking expertly in this round.
The third round is where Stephens put the icing on the cake as, once again, he started slamming away at the left leg of Melendez. At one point Stephens kicked Melendez so hard that he crumpled to the ground. However, Melendez suavely rolled back up to his feet, earning an applause of appreciation not only from the crowd, but also from Jeremy Stephens himself. Regardless, the fight was all but over as Stephens continued to hammer way at Melendez, eventually earning the decision victory.
Had it not been for the leg kicks one might have thought that Jeremy Stephens was a world class boxer. That’s how precise and powerful Stephens’ striking was in this fight. As for Melendez, this is certainly not the last time we will see him at featherweight. He looked much more comfortable at this weight and, once he takes care of his leg, he should return with a vengeance in his next fight.
Winner: Jeremy Stephens by decision.
Ilir Latifi vs. Tyson Pedro
The 6-0 Tyson Pedro represents the great fighting continent of Australia as he takes on one of Sweden’s best fighters, Ilir Latifi.
Latifi showed off his superior wrestling in the first round as he took Pedro down twice and looked for submission. Pedro did a nice job of exploding out of these predicaments, but he was able to do that because it was just the first round. Depending on speed and explosiveness in the later rounds would not work against an experience wrestler such as Latifi.
In the second round Pedro attempted to initiate the offense with his kicks against Latifi. He managed to land a few successful kicking combinations which frustrated Latifi. It wasn’t long before Latifi decided he’d had enough of Pedro’s kicks and whipped him down to the ground with a strong takedown. Latifi then held Pedro the rest of the round, landing a few short strikes along the way until the round ended.
The third and final round was all Ilir Latifi. Not only did he dominate Pedro further with his wrestling but early on in the round he even showed off some impressive striking combinations. Pedro did his best to establish his own offense with some low kicks but he was clearly outclassed by the MMA veteran Latifi.
Winner: Ilir Latifi by decision
Wilson Reis vs. Henry Cejudo
With tonight’s title fight between Demetrious Johnson and Ray Borg cancelled this flyweight bout holds more intrigue than ever. Former title challengers square off with a chance to inject themselves back into the flyweight championship conversation.
Henry Cejudo looked like he was shot out of a cannon to start this fight. He immediately engaged Reis in the stand-up game and peppered him with quick and precise striking. Cejudo mixed in kicks and combinations which set up his takedowns. He showed that he could fight Reis at either level.
Cejudo wasted no time finishing things off in round two. He cracked Reis with a straight right hand which dropped him, and Cejudo instantly pounced on Reis with some strong ground-and-pound to finish him off and secure the win.
Demetrious Johnson was in attendance and was seen applauding the impressive effort from Henry Cejudo. It is not out of the realm of possibility that the constantly improving Henry Cejudo earns another shot at the flyweight champion in the near future. Should Cejudo bring this level of combat against Johnson then he has a legitimate chance of ending the champion’s historic title reign.
Winner: Henry Cejudo by TKO
Rafael Dos Anjos vs. Neil Magny
Neil Magny returns from an extended layoff in the ring to take on one of the most dangerous fighters whom is now fighting at a more comfortable weight at 170 lbs.
Dos Anjos wasted no time proving that he has found a new home in the welterweight division. The master of leg kicks utilized his favorite offense against Magny, hitting him with a strong leg kick and taking him to the ground. Dos Anjos then worked his wrestling and grappling on the ground as he eventually locked in an arm triangle choke on Magny and tapped him out.
Dos Anjos is undoubtedly meant to be in the welterweight division. He is no longer being crippled by a grueling weight cut and he looks poised to take the welterweight division by storm. He is still a few victories away from earning a title shot against welterweight champion Tyron Woodley, but tonight went a long way in legitimizing Dos Anjos as a welterweight contender.
Winner: Rafael Dos Anjos by submission
Amanda Nunes vs. Valentina Shevchenko
Amanda Nunes and Valentina Shevchenko now hold main event honors due to the cancellation of the Demetrious Johnson – Ray Borg fight. Nunes defeated Shevchenko in their last fight, and then withdrew from the rematch due to an illness several months ago. A victory by Nunes would silence any doubt about her championship reign. For Shevchenko this is a chance at redemption. Her previous fight against Nunes was extremely close, and she is looking to prove that she is no fluke in the women’s bantamweight division.
Both fighters started the fight with a bit of a feeling out process, though it was Nunes who landed more significant strikes. Shevchenko showed off her counter-striking, but she allowed Nunes to move forward and dictate the pace too much. It was a solid first round for the champion.
Valentina turned the tables in the second round as she pushed the champion back with her combinations. Nunes looked much more hesitant and unsure of herself in this round, possibly because Shevchenko was giving her looks she was not prepared for.
The third round was almost a stalemate, as neither fighter did much to sway the fight in their favor. Shevchenko landed some more good counter strikes along with a few leg kicks, but Nunes also reestablished her offense and landed some distance strikes of her own.
Valentina managed to crack Nunes a few times in the fourth round, and she also looked to be producing more volume throughout the round. Nunes did a nice job countering but failed to land anything of significance.
The fifth round was when we finally saw the first takedown attempt from Nunes, as she managed to secure two of them against Shevchenko. These were extremely important takedowns for Nunes since the rest of the fight was seemingly impossible to judge. This fight had an underwhelming feeling to it because it was a gridlock between two smart, technical strikers. Neither fighter fell for the other’s traps or feints, thus, causing a stalemate for large portions of this fight.
Nunes would end up winning a razor thin split decision to retain the championship. The takedowns in the fifth round definitely helped her cause, but by no means was this the convincing victory she was looking for. As for Shevchenko, it would not be at all surprising to see her jump down to the newly formed women’s flyweight division. Her smaller stature may preclude her from finding consistent success at bantamweight, whereas flyweight could accentuate her strengths.
Whether or not Nunes and Shevchenko go for the trilogy remains to be seen. However, should the UFC choose to go in that direction they may not have the support of the fans. The crowd was audibly frustrated with the main event tonight, and it might be time to find a fresh challenger that will push Nunes further than Shevchenko could.
Winner: Amanda Nunes by split decision