Michael Chiesa had competed twice before at welterweight. But consider this one his true arrival.
Chiesa used a strong grappling game to defeat Rafael Dos Anjos by unanimous decision Saturday night in the co-main event of UFC Fight Night in Raleigh, North Carolina.
Chiesa (17-4), who moved up from lightweight in December 2018 and had beaten aging veterans Carlos Condit and Diego Sanchez, took the fight to RDA from the start, getting the Brazilian to the canvas a little over a minute in and securing back control with a body triangle. He was trying to set up a rear-naked choke, but Dos Anjos defended well.
For Dos Anjos (29-13), a former UFC lightweight champion who came in at No. 9 in the ESPN welterweight rankings, it was the fourth loss in his past five fights. But the previous three defeats had come against the stoutest competition at 170 pounds: Kamaru Usman, who now wears the championship belt; Colby Covington, who challenged for the belt last month; and Leon Edwards, who has won eight in a row and soon could be going for the title.
One of those names came up right after the fight, when Chiesa was interviewed inside the cage.
"I'd like to cut this interview short and announce my next opponent," Chiesa said. "Colby Covington, I'll see you in July." Then he walked out of the cage.
Covington, No. 2 in the ESPN rankings at 170 pounds, is a high-level wrestler. Chiesa showed himself to be a strong grappler as well on this night, getting multiple takedowns in each of the first two rounds and adding one in Round 3, for a total of six on eight attempts.
Covington hasn't fought since injuring his jaw in a loss to Usman on Dec. 14.
"This is amazing, I work to be a world champion," Chiesa said. "There is no doubt in my mind that I can crack the top five and beat these guys. I have the belief in my work ethic and I know that these guys aren't grinding as hard as I am.
"I don't classify myself as a wrestler, I'm a grappler. I don't take a guy down just to hold him, I look for damage and submissions. He's strong. I was able to get some good positions, but he's got some crafty jiu-jitsu, he was able to work and keep me on my toes, he's tough, he's Rafael Dos Anjos.
"No disrespect to Colby Covington, I just know how tough he is and I want to be where he is. He just fought for a title and I know he will bring out the best in me. I want to fight him in July during International Fight Week and then fight for a title by the end of the year."
Perez had been out of the Octagon since last March because of injury. He didn't spend much time in there upon his return, sinking in an unorthodox setup of an arm triangle choke into a technical submission at 2:33 of Round 1.
"I felt amazing getting back in here," said Perez, who has won 10 of his past 11 fights. "This is what I do for a living, and it sucks when you can't do it."
Perez is 5-1 in the UFC, his only loss coming against Joseph Benavidez, who competes next month for the men's flyweight title.
Espinosa has lost two in a row.
Perez took the fight to the canvas early on and, after working into half guard, immediately began setting up the arm triangle choke. His body was on the opposite side of where one typically needs to be for that submission to be effective. But before Perez could advance his position, Espinosa went unconscious and the referee jumped in to end it.
"The position I got him with was a little unorthodox, but I just felt that it was tight enough, so I kept my squeeze going and put him out," Perez said. "I practice my squeeze all the time. I burn my arms out and then go through those sequences. I was ready if he survived, I was ready for war, but I'll take this for sure.
"I'd like Askar Askarov next, he's a wrestler, I'm a wrestler and we both like to stand, so why not? I'd love to get on that Khabib vs. Tony Ferguson card (on April 18), that'd give me a little break and then come back ready to work."
-- Jeff Wagenheim
Hill levels Cifers with elbows
Angela Hill gets into a dominant position and makes Hannah Cifers pay by landing several stiff elbows. For more UFC, sign up here for ESPN+ http://plus.espn.com/ufc.
The Raleigh crowd had begun Round 2 with a chant of "Hannah! Hannah!" in support of Cifers, who trains just 18 miles away in Wake Forest, North Carolina. But within four minutes Hill had silenced the fans. Sort of.
"They're booing," Hill said after finishing Cifers with a barrage of ground-and-pound elbows at 4:26 of the round. "They're not silent at all."
Hill's performance warranted applause, especially in that second round. She scored a trip takedown a minute and a half in, going right into side control. From there she efficiently worked her way into full mount, where she immobilized Cifers and began dropping elbows until referee Kevin MacDonald had seen enough.
For Hill, who used her size and reach advantage to keep the fight in the range where she could limit Cifers' effectiveness, it was her 13th UFC fight, tying her for third most among female fighters.
Cifers had won seven of her past eight.
"I feel reborn, I feel like a different fighter going in there ready to kill instead of worrying about losing or if my reputation is going to get worse," Hill said. "I always say the mental battle is the hardest for me. I can work hard all day, I'm not a slacker, I've never missed a wrestling class. The problem with me is that if I mess up, I begin doubting myself and hesitate."
Hill was as loose as could be for his UFC debut, dancing out to the cage. And then the alum of Dana White's Contender Series led the dance for three rounds with a sharp, fluid performance to remain unbeaten.
Hill attacked Stosic from the start with a crowd-pleasing array of punches, kicks and knees that made good use of his height and wingspan. The 28-year-old from Michigan had the crowd chanting "USA! USA!" several times as he peppered his Serbian opponent, never putting him in jeopardy of a stoppage but slowing him down, mainly with body strikes.
Stosic, who lost his third in a row, did land some looping left hooks that put Hill on his heels, and he put Hill on his back three times in the final round with explosive takedowns. But he was unable to inflict any significant damage in a fight that turned into an impressive showcase for Hill. All three judges scored the fight 29-27 for the American.
"I'm happy that I got the win, but I feel like I should have performed a lot better, I expect a lot more from myself," Hill said. "I should have finished him and should have put on a much better show for these fans. My game plan was to just beat him down and break him. He didn't break though; he's a tough dude, he was fighting for a lot out there, he was fighting for his UFC life.
"I'm not a really nervous fighter, but the experience from the Contender Series definitely helped a lot with preparing me for this week. I take something from every fight and just keep building towards the champion I want to be. You never know with the judges, so I wasn't happy I left it in their hands. I'm frustrated with myself, but I'm just going to come back better."
Lewis controlled the action but was left hobbling after the fight as he injured his left leg, but Townsend couldn't take advantage during the action.
Lewis notched his first UFC win with his fourth career win by decision.
Townsend fell to 0-2 in the UFC after entering the promotion in 2019 on a two-fight win streak.
"Feels very good to get that first UFC win," Lewis said. "My injury happened in the first round, I felt myself buckle. I hoped no one saw it, I buckled a few times coming out of the clinch going to my left, but it was what it is and I did what I had to do to get the win."
Allen tags Lentz with nice combo
Arnold Allen hits Nik Lentz with a beautiful combo during Round 2 of their featherweight bout. For more UFC, sign up here for ESPN+ http://plus.espn.com/ufc.
It was an effective if not dominant performance by Allen, who stunned Lentz with a couple of shots and bloodied his face, but never came close to putting him away.
Allen has a nine-fight win streak overall dating to August 2014.
"I feel great, they took me out of the rankings, but as I always say, keep winning and everything will take care of itself," Allen said. "The first round I felt like it could have gone either way, but the second and third rounds I felt confident were mine. I knew I had done enough to get the decision.
"I'm on the longest win streak in the featherweight division and I'm not even on the final prelim fight of the night and I didn't even get an interview in the Octagon, so it's not really up to me. Like I said, I'll keep winning and eventually they won't have a choice."
All three judges had it 30-27 for Kish, who was the busier fighter. Kish scored a takedown with 30 seconds left in the third to seal the win.
Kish snapped a two-fight losing streak with the fifth decision win of her career. Each of Kish's last five wins have been via unanimous decision.
Pudilova lost her fourth consecutive UFC fight, tying the UFC record for the longest losing streak among female fighters.
"I was able to show what I learned from training around the world in China and Thailand, I'm really happy with my performance tonight," Kish said. "We thought she would be a little more aggressive, so my game plan was built around that, but we adjusted and did what we had to do."
Jackson lands flurry of punches on Colares
Montel Jackson tees off on Felipe Colares with a barrage of punches as the horn sounds to end Round 1. For more UFC, sign up here for ESPN+ http://plus.espn.com/ufc.
Jackson appeared on the verge of having the fight stopped several times with solid flurries to Colares' head, but Colares hung tough while Jackson seemed to tire.
WHAT. A. FIGHT!!!!— Megan Anderson (@MeganA_mma) January 25, 2020
Jackson just outworked everywhere but Corales is one tough SOB haha give them both that bonus money 💰💰💰 #UFCRaleigh
But Jackson had enough left in the tank to withstand Colares' comeback attempts, including a choke in the final seconds.
It was Jackson's third straight win.
"I've got a little bit more to do, but I think I'm starting to establish myself and become a little more recognizable in the division," Jackson said. "I knew he was going to be tough to put away. I just had some small adjustments I should have made to get him out of there.
"None of the submissions he had were that close, I just used those moments to try and rest, take him to my corner and get ready for another burst of punches."
McMann punishes Lansberg with body punches
Sara McMann dominates the fight on the mat and levels Lina Lansberg with multiple punches to the body. For more UFC, sign up here for ESPN+ http://plus.espn.com/ufc.
McMann snapped a two-fight losing streak, winning by decision for the sixth time in her career.
The former Olympic silver-medalist wrestler dominated every round, taking Lansberg down several times and inflicting damage.
With three takedowns, McMann passed Amanda Nunes for the most takedowns in UFC women's bantamweight history with 20, according to ESPN Stats & Info.
"I wondered if I would feel a little bit more tired out there than I did," McCann said. "It doesn't matter how hard you train, when you are out there and the adrenaline is going with the importance and urgency of it all, you end up more fatigued than you would be in practice. I've been training really well, very hard and I've been focusing on my recovery a lot. I did a lot of running and swimming for this, which is great conditioning for my legs especially.
"I'm working on my composure and setting things up, but she hit a good liver shot at one point and I knew I didn't want any more of that. She's a Muay Thai fighter, she's good and she's fast, so I didn't want to deal with that. I want to savor tonight, but I know how the UFC works, they don't want to give me an easy fight and I'm on the same page as them. I'd like a top 5 opponent, bring them on and I'll knock them down."
Johns takes dominant position against Gravely
Brett Johns locks in a body triangle on Tony Gravely and lands some ground-and-pound in the third round. For more UFC, sign up here for ESPN+ http://plus.espn.com/ufc.
It was a back-and-forth fight until Johns secured a body triangle in the third round. Gravely was able to roll over but Johns stayed on his back and landed several blows from behind, softening Gravely up before cinching in the rear-naked choke.
Big finish for Brett Johns! Gravely is one tough dude to keep an eye on tho! #UFCRaleigh— Aljamain Sterling (@funkmasterMMA) January 25, 2020
Johns scored his sixth career submission win and snapped a two-fight losing streak. It was his third win by rear-naked choke.
Gravely's seven-fight win streak was snapped in the loss. He was making his UFC debut after earning a contract on Dana White's Contender Series.
"My last win was at the end of 2017, haven't won a fight since then," Johns said. "Before that, everyone was calling me the future champ, which I loved, but 700 odd days later, I hadn't had a win. It was difficult, very, very difficult. It's nice to be back in the win column, and not just a win, but to beat a really good guy.
"Yes he's new to the UFC, but the guy is an absolute stud. There were plenty of times that he was throwing me around and I was on my back. I think he's a future champion, but I knew how important this fight was in my career. I love being in there, I missed it so much. I'm a strong wrestler myself, I know he's excellent and you can argue he won the exchanges, but I just wanted to prove that I'm no slouch in the wrestling department either."
Burns scored a takedown early and nearly finished the fight with a choke. But Landwehr was able to get to his feet and escape before falling victim to a vicious knee.
It was Burns' first career KO/TKO and he is now on a four-fight win streak.
The loss snapped Landwehr's seven-fight win streak.
Both fighters were making their UFC debuts.
"I came to make a statement to the rest of the division and make a lot of noise and that was the first step today," Burns said. "I've been in UFC corners before and I've fought in big events with 25,000 people watching, so coming here was no pressure at all. I knew the job and work was done in the gym, the training was good, and I was ready to come here and show my skills."
How about that to start the card!!#UFCRaleigh— The Diamond (@DustinPoirier) January 25, 2020