Alex Perez Scores Knockout of Matheus Nicolau 

Alex Perez remains in the title hunt…

The 32-year-old Mexican American mixed martial artist scored a scintillating second-round knockout of Matheus Nicolau in a battle of flyweights jockeying for title contention on Saturday in the main event of UFC Fight Night at the UFC Apex.

Alex Perez Ranked No. 8 by the UFC, Perez (25-8 MMA, 7-4 UFC) stepped into the main event picture after Manel Kape had to pull out of the bout with a rib injury.

Perez put a dramatic halt to a three-fight skid, using a high-volume approach to eventually break through Nicolau’s guard and sink him with a thudding right hand at the 2:16 mark in the second round.

Perez was the busier fighter early on with constant movement and feints. Nicolau, the UFC’s No. 5-ranked flyweight entering the night, remained composed in the opening frame and defended well as Perez routinely launched into multi-punch combinations.

Perez managed to get through with a few body shots and a leg kick before Nicolau got his attention with a counter left hand.

But the sheer amount of activity kept Nicolau on his back foot and without an answer to Perez’s salvos.

Perez kept the volume going in the second round as Nicolau attempted to counter and close the distance. A short right hand clipped the Brazilian and sent him stumbling backward. Perez immediately went for the finish as he rushed forward and launched into another violent barrage of punches as Nicolau’s back was up against the fence. A right hand slipped through and caught the Brazilian flush, immediately crumpling him along the cage wall.

“It feels amazing,” Perez said following the victory. “Everyone counted me out after three losses.”

Perez, who was coming off a loss to Muhammad Mokaev in March, was originally slated to face Tagir Ulanbekov on June 15 but took the opportunity to climb back into the top of the division with a higher-ranked opponent. It was a significant risk, but Perez was up for the challenge and cashed out in a major way.

“I tell people I don’t get paid to sit on the couch, I get paid to fight and this is the reason why,” he said about taking the fight on three weeks’ notice. “Tough times don’t last, but tough people do.”

Nicolau (19-5-1, 7-3 UFC) has dropped two in a row, both by knockout, after going on a four-fight winning streak. Saturday marked his first fight since a knockout loss to Brandon Royval last April.

With the win, Perez will keep a close eye on next week’s flyweight bout between Alexandre Pantoja and Steve Erceg at UFC 301. While a title fight might not be next, a victory of this magnitude will almost certainly land him a fight with title implications in the near future.

Marina Rodriguez Defeats Michelle Waterson By Unanimous Decision

And the wins keep on coming for Marina Rodriguez.

The 34-year-old Brazilian mixed martial artist defeated Michelle Waterson, using her Muay Thai striking effectively en route to a unanimous decision (48-47, 49-46, 49-46) win in the UFC Fight Night main event on Saturday in Las Vegas.

Marina Rodriguez

It was one of the best career performances for Rodriguez, who didn’t arrive in Las Vegas until Thursday, two days later than every other fighter on the card.

Rodriguez had struggles getting a visa into the United States because of COVID-19 and spent 20 hours in travel over Wednesday and Thursday morning.

But in the end, none of that ended up mattering.

“There were so many challenges, but the big thing was just armoring my mind,” Rodriguez said after the fight through a translator. “The whole team put our shields up. We knew it would be different and we couldn’t be shaken by it.”

The initially scheduled main event Saturday was former bantamweight champion TJ Dillashaw taking on top contender Cory Sandhagen. But Dillashaw withdrew last week because of injury. That bout will be rebooked.

Rodriguez and Waterson didn’t agree to this bout — up a division at flyweight because of the timing — until April 27, and the UFC didn’t make it official until this past Tuesday.

The first three rounds featured Rodriguez chewing Waterson up with big right hands, knees out of a Thai clinch and elbows with Waterson against the cage. As hard as Rodriguez tried, though, she could not get the durable Waterson out of there. And Waterson mounted a huge comeback in the fourth round.

Waterson took Rodriguez down in the fourth and landed big elbows from half guard. In the fifth round, Waterson landed a head kick that wobbled Rodriguez and caused bad swelling on the left of her jaw. Waterson followed that up with a side kick to the body that clearly hurt Rodriguez. In that final, eventful round, Rodriguez was able to score a head kick late that did damage to Waterson.

Coming in, ESPN had Rodriguez ranked No. 6 in the world at strawweight and Waterson ranked No. 9. Rodriguez said the key factor about overcoming her prefight travel chaos “was we were able to come in, show the work we did and get the victory even with everything going against us.”

Rodriguez added that she aims to target a top-three opponent — maybe Joanna Jedrzejczyk — for her next fight and said she feels like she is close to a title shot.

The bout took place with COVID-19 protocols in effect at the UFC Apex, the facility across the street from the promotion’s corporate campus.

Rodriguez (14-1-2) has just one loss in seven UFC outings and now has two straight wins.

The Muay Thai specialist was coming off a second-round TKO win over prospect Amanda Ribas in January. Rodriguez, 34, has lost only to former champion Carla Esparza in the UFC, but she has a pair of draws against Cynthia Calvillo and Randa Markos.

Waterson (18-9) is the former Invicta FC atomweight champion and one of the most popular women’s fighters on the UFC roster. Fighting out of New Mexico, Waterson was coming off a split decision win over Angela Hill last September, which snapped a two-fight losing skid. Waterson has won four of six fights overall.

“[Waterson is] so experienced,” Rodriguez said. “That’s the thing I knew going into it. When she was Invicta champion, that was [around the same time as] my first Muay Thai class. I looked up to her, too. I knew she was very tough. To go five rounds with her and win, it’s an amazing feat for my career.”

Gilbert Burns Defeats Tyron Woodley by Unanimous Decision in UFC Fight Night Event

Gilbert Burns is officially a UFC welterweight contender…

The 33-year-old mixed martial artist, a former multiple-time jiu-jitsu champion, beat former champion Tyron Woodley by unanimous decision (50-45, 50-44, 50-44) in Saturday’s main UFC Fight Night event in Las Vegas. 

Gilbert Burns

Burns nearly finished Woodley in the opening minutes and never let his foot off the gas pedal, winning every single round.

“That was a former champion right there — you saw,” Burns said. “And I had a dominant performance.”

ESPN had Woodley ranked No. 5 among MMA welterweights coming in, while Burns was No. 9. Woodley had not fought since dropping the welterweight title to Kamaru Usman via unanimous decision at UFC 235 on March 2, 2019.

Burns trains at Sanford MMA in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, with Usman, the current UFC welterweight champion. Despite that relationship, Burns called for a title shot after his win.

“I want to fight for the title,” Burns said. “Lot of respect, a lot of love for [Usman]. But I think I’m next. I’m next. I’m right there.”

Woodley, who finished with 28 significant strikes to 83 for Burns, said it simply wasn’t his night.

“To be honest, I feel crappy that I lost,” he said. “I didn’t imagine losing to Gilbert Burns. But at the end of the day, I’m really proud of myself because mentally, I knew what I was going through in the Octagon. He gave me some hard shots, and I just kept saying, ‘I’m not fixing to give up. I’m not feeling that this dude beat me. I’m coming back. I’m gonna win this fight.’

The card was the UFC‘s first back in its hometown since March due to the coronavirus pandemic. It took place at the UFC Apex, a facility across from the promotion’s campus, in front of no fans. 

Burns (19-3) has won six in a row and four straight since moving up from lightweight to welterweight. He has just one loss going back to 2016. He has made huge strides in the striking department under coach Henri Hooft.

Said Burns after Saturday’s victory, “Not bad for a jiu-jitsu guy, right?”