LAS VEGAS — The UFC’s 2021 will wrap up with a heavyweight main event, as Derrick Lewis will meet Chris Daukaus during UFC Fight Night at the Apex on Saturday.
It’s a redemption spot for Lewis (25-8), who is coming off a knockout loss to Ciryl Gane in August for the interim heavyweight championship. That fight took place in Lewis’ hometown of Houston, and the 36-year-old veteran has admitted the pressure affected his performance. He said he has been eager to get back into the Octagon ever since.
For Daukaus (12-3), it’s an opportunity to catapult into the division’s elite; not bad for a heavyweight who only 16 months ago signed with the UFC. The 32-year-old former Philadelphia police officer is 4-0 inside the Octagon, with four finishes.
In the co-main event, two top welterweights battle, as Stephen Thompson faces Belal Muhammad. And Gerald Meerschaert looks to wrap up a year to remember when he fights Dustin Stoltzfus.
Follow along as Brett Okamoto recaps all the action from Las Vegas, along with live analysis from Jeff Wagenheim. You can also watch the fights on ESPN+.
Fight in progress: Middleweight: Dustin Stoltzfus (13-3, 0-2 UFC, +190) vs. Gerald Meerschaert (33-14, 8-4 UFC, -230)
Heavyweight: Justin Tafa (5-3, 2-3 UFC) def. Harry Hunsucker (7-5, 0-2 UFC) by first-round TKO (head kick)
Tafa made UFC history on Friday by being the first heavyweight ever to miss the 265-pound heavyweight limit. That’s not the kind of mark a fighter wants to leave on the sport. So, on Saturday, he upstaged himself.
Tafa, a 28-year-old Australian, knocked down Hunsucker early in the fight with a punch, and after Hunsucker worked his way back to his feet, Tafa finished him with a head kick just 1:53 into Round 1. All five of Tafa’s wins have come by knockout.
“I knew he was watching for my hands,” Tafa said, “so I showed him my leg.”
Hunsucker actually blocked the kick with both hands, but it finished him nonetheless. The 32-year-old from Lexingrton, Kentucky, has lost two in a row and three out of four.
Women’s flyweight: Melissa Gatto (8-0-2, 2-0 UFC) def. Sijara Eubanks (8-7, 6-5 UFC) by third-round TKO (body kick)
Gatto arrived in the UFC as a submission fighter. Two fights in to her Octagon run, she has remained undefeated — albeit with a pair of TKOs.
This one was set up by Gatto’s grappling. After the 25-year-old Brazilian spent the bulk of Round 1 on her back, fending off Eubanks’ offense, Gatto ended up on bottom early in the second round. But this time she quickly reversed position and spent the rest of the round threatening submissions and sapping her opponent’s energy.
That left Eubanks open to a front kick to the body that sent her collapsing to the canvas, holding her midsection. That brought in referee Mark Smith to wave off the fight at 45 seconds of the round.
Eubanks, who is 36 and from Springfield, Massachusetts, has lost three of four. She missed weight by 2½ pounds.
Men’s featherweight: Charles Jourdain (12-4-1, 3-3-1 UFC) def. Andre Ewell (17-9, 4-5 UFC) by unanimous decision
“C’MON!” Jourdain yelled in the face of his opponent just before unleashing a front kick that sent Ewell stumbling backward to the canvas.
Where, exactly, did Jourdain want from Ewell? There were 2 seconds remaining before the horn that would end the fight, and Jourdain had beaten down Ewell for the latter half of the three-rounder. Perhaps Jourdain was dissatisfied that he was about to go the distance after getting finishes in all 11 of his previous pro bouts.
But the fact that this fight went to the judges was not because of any Jourdain shortcomings. It was a testament to the toughness of Ewell, who absorbed more than 100 significant strikes in an unrelenting beatdown. The judges scored the bout for Jourdain by scores of 30-26, 30-27 and 29-27.
Jourdain, who is 26 and from Quebec, Canada, has won two of his last three. Ewell, a 33-year-old from Riverside, California, has lost three in a row.
Women’s bantamweight: Raquel Pennington (13-9, 10-5 UFC) def. Macy Chiasson (8-2, 5-2 UFC) by second-round submission (guillotine choke)
Not so long ago, Pennington had lost three of four and, even though those defeats had been against the steel of the division — Amanda Nunes, Germaine de Randamie and Holly Holm, who have each held UFC gold — Pennington’s run as a top contender was in question. But now she has won three fights in a row, and is showing new additions to her skill set.
Fighting a short-notice opponent who was a stylistic challenge, Pennington, 33, scored her first submission victory since 2015 by locking up a front choke and eliciting the tapout at 3:07 of Round 2. That finish ended a fight that featured strong standup exchanges.
Chiasson was in the biggest fight of her career and fared well until getting stuck in the choke. The 30-year-old from New Orleans, who missed weight by 3½ pounds, saw a two-fight winning streak end in the first stoppage defeat of her career.
Heavyweight: Don’Tale Mayes (9-4, 2-2 UFC) def. Josh Parisian (14-5, 1-2 UFC) by third-round TKO (grounded strikes)
It went into the record as the sixth knockout victory in Mayes’ nine-win career. But this was far from a slug-it-out performance.
Mayes scored takedowns in each round — six in all, in eight attempts — and beat up Parisian on the canvas for extended periods before immobilizing him in a crucifix position and dropping elbows to his head until referee Herb Dean jumped in to end the carnage at 3:26 of Round 3.
Mayes, who is 29 and from Louisville, Kentucky, has won two in a row.
Parisian, a 32-year-old from Escanaba, Michigan, defended himself well at times but had ability to play offense. He has lost two of his last three.
Lightweight: Jordan Leavitt (9-1, 2-1 UFC) def. Matt Sayles (8-4, 1-3 UFC) by second-round submission (inverted triangle choke)
Sayles was successful in Step 1 of how to deal with a grappler, as he fended off a takedown attempt from Leavitt. But there’s a Step 2, which is to disengage from any scrambles on the mat and get the fight back to standing. Sayles failed at that, and he paid the price.
After spending much of Round 1 defending submission attempt after submission attempt, Sayles came out for Round 2, stopped a takedown and moved away. But the next time the fighters engaged in grappling, he slammed Leavitt to the mat, but immediately got drawn into Leavitt’s world and ended up getting submitted by the rarely seen inverted triangle choke at 2:05.
It was just the third inverted triangle submission in UFC history, according to ESPN Stats & Information. For Leavitt, it was his sixth career submission win.
Still to come:
Heavyweight: Derrick Lewis (25-8 1 NC, 16-6 UFC, +115) vs. Chris Daukaus (12-3, 4-0 UFC, -135)
Welterweight: Stephen Thompson (16-5-1, 11-5-1 UFC, -220) vs. Belal Muhammad (19-3 1 NC, 10-3 1 NC UFC +180)
Strawweight: Amanda Lemos (10-1-1, 4-1 UFC, -330) vs. Angela Hill (13-10, 8-10 UFC, +260)
Men’s bantamweight: Raphael Assunção (27-8, 11-5 UFC, +230) vs. Ricky Simón (18-3, 6-2 UFC, -280)
Lightweight: Diego Ferreira (17-4, 8-4 UFC, +160) vs. Mateusz Gamrot (19-1, 2-1 UFC, -190)
Men’s featherweight: Cub Swanson (27-12, 12-8 UFC, -190) vs. Darren Elkins (27-9, 16-8 UFC, +160)