There's aggressiveness, and then there's Aspen Ladd.
Ladd's coach Jim West found the right motivational tactic Saturday night and spurred his fighter to a third-round TKO win over Yana Kunitskaya on the undercard of UFC Fight Night: Overeem vs. Rozenstruik.
To start the third round, Ladd dropped Kunitskaya with a left hook and then swarmed with ferocity. She never let Kunitskaya recover, taking her back and landing big ground-and-pound shots. Referee Keith Peterson had no choice but to step in.
In the corner between the second and third, West lit into Ladd, telling her she needed to go out and turn it on after what had been somewhat of a lackluster performance to that point.
"I better frickin' listen," Ladd said afterward. "If he's saying this, he's saying this. And I need to go. I did."
Ladd had Kunitskaya's back in the first round and was throwing huge blows. But Kunitskaya was able to block most and Ladd slid off her back because she was too aggressive. In the second, Ladd took down Kunitskaya but didn't do much with it. Kunitskaya was able to impose her will in the first with clinches against the cage, landing big knees to the body. But Ladd finished strong, just as West had told her to.
Ladd bounced back from a knockout loss to Germaine de Randamie in July. The 24-year-old blue-chip prospect has won five of her past six. Ladd, a California native, came in ranked No. 4 by ESPN among women's bantamweight fighters.
Kunitskaya had her two-fight winning streak snapped. The 30-year-old Russian came in ranked No. 9 at women's bantamweight by ESPN.
"It feels good to get a win again," Ladd said. "It's all about getting back on track to my original goal, which was get in, make a name for myself, become better.
"After the loss, I basically revamped everything as far as desire to get back in, the urge and fire after a loss is so much more. You learn a lot from wins, but you learn so much more from losses and you come back hungry. You always want it, but there's a definitely a different level after something like that. I knew Yana would be tough. "
Rodriguez escapes bad position with Calvillo
Cynthia Calvillo levels Marina Rodriguez in a dominant position, but Rodriguez is able to escape. For more UFC, sign up here for ESPN+ http://plus.espn.com/ufc.
Calvillo needed a finish in the third round to win. She didn't get it but did enough to eek out a draw.
Calvillo got into dominant position on the ground several times in the final round and landed big punches from the top. After Rodriguez won the first two rounds, two judges scored the third 10-8 for Calvillo and the bout was ruled a majority draw (29-28, 28-28, 28-28).
Earlier on the card, a bout between Song Yadong and Cody Stamann was also scored a majority draw. This is the third event in UFC history with two draws.
Rodriguez clearly won the first two rounds with her striking. She wobbled Calvillo in the first round with a head kick and hard knee from the clinch. She landed several knees in the first and another hard one in the second.
Calvillo continuously tried to take the bout to the ground, where she was the superior fighter, and finally did so with consistency in the third. In that round, Calvillo came close to getting a stoppage with punches and elbows from top position. She had mount, Rodriguez's back and was working on a kimura submission at one point, too. It was a dominant round and clearly a 10-8.
Calvillo (8-1-1) is unbeaten in her past three fights and she is 5-1-1 in the UFC. The 32-year-old California native missed weight by 4.5 pounds Friday. Rodriguez (12-0-2) remains undefeated despite the draw. The 32-year-old Brazil native is still considered a rising up-and-comer in the UFC women's strawweight division.
Rothwell loses point after second low kick
Stefan Struve gets hit with a pair of illegal low kicks from Ben Rothwell, with the second kick making the ref take a point away. For more UFC, sign up here for ESPN+ http://plus.espn.com/ufc.
Up until the finishing sequence, Rothwell's most impactful offense was a pair of groin kicks. In a victory marred by two hard shots below the belt, Rothwell defeated Struve by TKO at 4:57 of the second round.
The end came soon after Struve recovered from the second low blow. Referee Dan Miragliotta took a point from Rothwell, which spurred Rothwell to come forward with aggression. Rothwell checked a big Struve right kick, which appeared to do damage. With Struve less mobile, Rothwell pounced, landing combinations until Struve dropped and Miragliotta pulled him off.
"I had to turn it up and gave the crowd show," Rothwell said. After the result was read, Struve appeared to express his displeasure about what happened to Rothwell. In his postfight interview, Rothwell acknowledged the "very hard" low kicks. He said he paints his toenails and one of them is chipped due to the strikes that landed to Struve's groin.
"He's a man for stepping up and continuing to fight me," Rothwell said. "He could have taken the easy way out, but he didn't."
The first groin kick happened in the first round. Struve was writhing around on the ground in pain. He took the full five minutes to recover. After the second below-the-belt kick, Struve came back earlier than the full five minutes following a conversation with Miragliotta, who told Struve that Rothwell would have a point deducted. Miragliotta also seemed to oddly encourage Struve to continue, telling him he was probably winning the bout up until that point.
Rothwell snapped his three-fight losing streak with the win. The 38-year-old Wisconsin native earned his first victory since 2016. Rothwell was suspended two years by USADA for failing a drug test in 2017. Struve seemed to retire after his last fight, a win over Marcos Rogerio de Lima in February. But the 7-foot Dutchmen returned. Struve, 31, has lost four of his last five.
Stamann finishes strong vs. Yadong
Cody Stamann locks up Song Yadong on the mat in the final seconds of the fight and throws multiple heavy punches. For more UFC, sign up here for ESPN+ http://plus.espn.com/ufc.
Things started off oddly for Yadong, the blue-chip prospect, and only got more strange. Yadong was docked a point for an illegal knee in the first round and then was mauled by Stamann on the ground in the third. In between, Yadong fared very well on the feet.
The majority draw had scores of 29-27, 28-28 and 28-28. The first round was 9-9 after the point deduction. Round 2 to Yadong 10-9 and Round 3 to Stamann 10-9 to get the 28-28 draw on two of the three cards.
In the first, Yadong landed a knee while Stamann had a knee down on the mat. Referee Kevin Mulhall deducted a point from Yadong's score. When the action resumed, Yadong was the aggressor on the feet and ended the round well.
Stamann was able to take Yadong down effectively in the second and third rounds. In the third, Stamann dominated the final two-plus minutes on the ground, getting into mount and landing ground and pound. It seemed as if Stamann would take the decision, but it ended up being a draw.
Stamann now owns a 4-1-1 record in the UFC. The 30-year-old Michigan native has only one loss, to top bantamweight Aljamain Sterling, in the past five years. Yadong is unbeaten in his past eight fights. At just 22 years old, the China native is considered one of the best young up-and-coming fighters in all of the UFC.
"To be honest, I thought I had won every round," Stamann said. "My coaches at most told me that the second round was close, so let's go out and seal the deal in this third round. So in my head, I had won two rounds and I had the point, so I was technically three rounds ahead and then went out and won the last round, which would had put me at 30-26, so for them to call a draw is crazy. In my head, I thought they had screwed up and read it wrong or something, maybe they gave the point to the wrong guy. I feel like a kid ready to throw a temper tantrum here."
Yadong said he was distracted by the point deduction.
"I was not surprised with the draw," Yadong said. "I'm really disappointed in myself for losing the point in the first. It distracted me for the rest of the fight and I lost my flow and rhythm and the fight was difficult to get back under control. I just want to go back to the gym, figure out where I went wrong in this fight, and go back to improving. I won't make a mistake like this again."
Font, Simon exchange blows
Rob Font and Ricky Simon fire up the crowd with action on the feet early on. For more UFC, sign up here for ESPN+ http://plus.espn.com/ufc.
It took Font nearly a year to get back into the Octagon -- he had not fought since Dec. 15, 2018, a unanimous win over Sergio Pettis -- but there was no ring rust to speak of. Font won by the scores of 29-28, 29-28, 30-27 to open the UFC D.C. main card.
Font really took over in the second and third rounds with his boxing. He was able to stop Simon's takedown attempts for the most part with a snapping jab and a follow-up right hand.
In the third, he landed a nice right cross followed by an uppercut to do damage. Minutes later, Font hit a double jab followed by that straight right again.
Font said afterward that he "sucks" in the first round, but he won the first on the scorecard of one of the judges and more than made up for it in the second and third. Simon fought well, too. It was a close fight throughout. Simon nearly took control in the third with a big slam from the high crotch. But Font was able to scramble to the feet and get back into his boxing.
Font has won three of his past four fights. The 32-year-old Massachusetts native has won two straight now, his first winning streak since he won two in a row in 2016 and 2017. Simon has dropped two straight. The 27-year-old Washington native was coming off a loss to Urijah Faber at UFC Sacramento in July.
Means drops Alves with straight left
Tim Means catches Thiago Alves with a straight left hand, sending "The Pitbull" down to the canvas. For more UFC, sign up here for ESPN+ http://plus.espn.com/ufc.
"Even in my close loses, I was right in those fights, they've been fun fights," Means said. "I'm happy to get my hand raised and get the W, especially against a tough guy like Alves. I wanted to get a fight in before the end of the year and just put it into my head mentally that I deserve to be here and belong here. Even in my last loss when I broke my leg, I was in that fight, it was very competitive, so getting a win is icing on the cake heading into the holidays.
"Knowing how heavy a kicker Thiago is, I was expecting him to come in and chop my legs and I wanted to put my injury to the test right away to get that confidence back. With this sport, you have to either be all in or get out, so I wanted to prove to myself I was still all in there. He hit me with those body kicks and I had to take a second to breathe and refocus and let the fight carry on. The further a fight goes, the better I get generally, so stay calm and rely on what you learn in practice. This sport is a chess match, it can go either way and you have to crush someone's dreams or get yours crushed, that's why we love it."
From ESPN Stats & Information: Means had won only two of his past seven fights and made his return from a serious leg injury suffered in his last fight in March. He picks up his first submission win since April 2015. It's his first submission win in the first-round since Aug. 2011.
Quarantillo dominates Kilburn in Round 1
Billy Quarantillo takes a dominant position and makes Jacob Kilburn pay with several strong punches. For more UFC, sign up here for ESPN+ http://plus.espn.com/ufc.
"It's amazing to get my first UFC win, I've been dreaming of this moment since I was 16 or 17 years old watching The Ultimate Fighter," Quarantillo said. "I always imagined the walk-out, how it would feel to get in there and luckily I came away with a pretty decisive victory. I couldn't dream it up any better. I had a feeling I would be able to go out and do that. I didn't know if I would stand with him a bit longer because I thought he would try to disengage and strike with me, because that's where he's stronger.
"My conditioning is always on point and I've worn out people who had full training camps, so I knew coming in on short notice that I was going to go 100 miles an hour and he would break eventually. I had so much experience coming into this with Contender Series and The Ultimate Fighter. I always tell people being locked in that house for seven weeks is way harder than anything else in this sport. I'm not like your average guy on his first fight, I've basically been here before. The next few weeks, I'm just going to go home and back to the gym, work with my coaches to see where I can get better and then just see what's out there. I'm not injured, so I want to fight again in the first quarter, something like March or April would be perfect. I just want to keep climbing up the ladder."
From ESPN Stats & Information: Quarantillo wins his UFC debut by submission, his first win via submission since September 2014. Quarantillo has won six straight fights with the past five coming by finish (four by KO/TKO, one by submission).
Mitchell describes what coaches told him before Twister
After winning with the second Twister submission in UFC history, Bryce Mitchell tells Megan Olivi what his coaches told him before the fight. For more UFC, sign up here for ESPN+ http://plus.espn.com/ufc.
"You know what my favorite board game is? Twister," Mitchell said. "I'm a huge Eddie Bravo fan and I got that from YouTube.
"I worked so hard for this fight, I almost knew for sure that I was going to get him out of there. In my last two fights, I've given up 11 pounds and 15 pounds, so I hired a nutritionist, I put weight on and I knew I could go out there and put on a performance like that. When I fought those other guys, it was a huge deal how much stronger and bigger they felt. When I got a hold of Matt, I knew he was working every time he moved. I just had to be patient, you can't go too early before they're ready. Coach calls it cooking it, you gotta cook them to the bone, you don't put meat on the grill and take it off right away, so I knew I had to take my time. I'm going to rest up and keep training my skills and continue bettering myself."
From ESPN Stats & Information: That's the second twister in UFC history, joining Chan Sung Jung on Leonard Garcia on March 26, 2011.
Solecki levels Wiman with ground-and-pound
Joe Solecki takes Matt Wiman's back, then unleashes a flurry of ground-and-pound in Round 1. For more UFC, sign up here for ESPN+ http://plus.espn.com/ufc.
"First UFC win feels amazing," Solecki said. "I was a little worried about UFC jitters and all that, especially fighting a vet like Matt, but I honestly never felt better.
"Fighting on Dana White's Contender Series absolutely helped prepare me for this. If you're going to have an adrenaline dump, it's when you're fighting in front of the three most important people in this business. Dana wasn't even at this one and I had a ton of supporters here, so I was set. I lost sleep over this, I've only been to two decisions and lost one of them, tonight I dominated. Had a 10-8 round in the beginning, pushed through adversity in the second and never really got tired. This was the best thing for me, fighting a vet, going three rounds, even the trash talk, I felt like a seasoned vet in there and I will only take confidence from that. I think the future is bright, I want to make it through this first contract, get to the next and treat my wife to all of the things she's earned in this life. I do this for sure and to provide for our family, so whoever is next, bring them on."
"I wasn't really surprised that she wanted to take me down so much, if you watch her fights that's pretty much what she does all the time, so it was expected," Jandiroba said. "I thought she might try to stand to change things up a bit, but she did as she normally does. The chokes were a good try on her part, but I was in a good position and none of them were really that dangerous.
"Right now, in the short term, I want to go back home and enjoy the win with my friends. Long term, I'm here to be a champion, that's what I came over from Invicta for, that's what I train for, so I will go up the rankings one step at a time and hopefully I will get there."
Muradov clips Smith with flying kick
Late in Round 1, Makhmud Muradov leaves the mat and hits Trevor Smith with a flying kick to the face. For more UFC, sign up here for ESPN+ http://plus.espn.com/ufc.
"This was my first fight in the United States, but not my last fight," Muradov said. "I'm happy I'm here and opening this card. I'm happy I got my first KO in the UFC, I'm happy.
"If you give me three months, I can show the UFC and fans my big power. Before, it was always two weeks or three weeks, now I have two months with a full camp and I show everyone what happens. Maybe I fight six times again next year, who knows. I'm waiting for my contract, maybe I'll have my next fight in March or April and whoever the UFC wants that is near my rank, but I'm open to everything."
From ESPN Stats & Information: Muradov picks up his first UFC stoppage victory. Muradov has now won 13 straight fights with 10 of those coming via KO/TKO.