The UFC returned to its traditional Saturday night timeslot this weekend with its first pay-per-view event of 2021, UFC 257—but not without a pre-fight controversy.
As was reported on the eve of UFC 257, Ottman Azaitar saw his bout vs. Matt Frevola canceled due to Dana White’s security team flagging an unauthorized guest of Azaitar’s entering the hotel in Abu Dhabi—resulting in Azaitar and his team being removed from the Fight Island buffer zone immediately.
Nonetheless, this did not derail the card as a whole.
UFC 257 proceeded on schedule with an 11-fight card.
Of those 11 fights, five ended in stoppages, resulting in a stoppage rate of 45.4 percent on the evening.
Since last Saturday afternoon, the UFC has held 35 fights, and of those 35, 14 ended in stoppages, resulting in a stoppage rate of 40 percent for the promotion.
So far this year, we’ve already seen 44 MMA fights.
Of those 44 fights, 20 have ended in stoppages, resulting in a stoppage rate of 45.4 percent all told for the sport so far in 2021.
The Fights Themselves:
Fight Pass Prelims:
No. 15 contender Amir Albazi vs. Zhalgas Zhumagulov:
The night at UFC 257 began in the Flyweight division with this battle between No. 15 contender Amir Albazi (14-1) and Zhalgas Zhumagulov (13-5).
There was a slight graphical gaffe in the lower-third of the referee’s name in this fight.
Although Bruce Buffer did announce Jason Herzog as the arbiter of the fight, the onscreen graphic displayed Marc Goddard’s name.
Albazi proved to be the aggressor during the opening round, landing a takedown of Zhumagulov, before Zhumagulov landed a takedown of Albazi later in the round—stealing the period in the process.
Round two saw Albazi fighting off Zhumagulov’s attacks and switching up his own offensive prowess in an attempt to catch Zhumagulov napping.
In round three, Albazi scored his second takedown of the fight, advancing to the closed guard on Zhumagulov before transitioning to side control.
From there, he exhibited his grappling prowess and spent more than half the period accumulating ride time.
After 15 minutes, the judges went to work for the first time on the evening.
Their scorecards returned a unanimous 29-28 decision for Albazi.
Featured Fight Pass Prelim: Nik Lentz vs Movsar Evloev:
A 150-lb. catchweight affair between Nik Lentz (30-12-2) and Movsar Evloev (14-0) served as the featured Fight Pass prelim at UFC 257 on Saturday evening.
Not long into the first round, Nik Lentz tried to secure a guillotine choke submission, but Evloev was able to fight out of it and reverse to top position.
Evloev poured it on with strikes, and coupled with the submission defense, won the round.
Nik Lentz again tried to score a guillotine submission on two occasions in the second round, but both times, Evloev was able to defend his opponent’s attacks.
Less than halfway through the third and final round, the action was paused for a few seconds due to an eye poke sustained by Nik Lentz, who confirmed that he was fit enough to progress in the fight.
Evloev continued to land strikes on Lentz as the third round concluded.
The judges returned a split decision for Evloev after 15 minutes.
Khalil Rountree vs. Marcin Prachino:
The TV prelims of UFC 257 began with a Light Heavyweight tussle between Khalil Rountree (8-5) and Marcin Prachino (14-5).
Prachino opened up the first round by scoring with leg kicks to Rountree, who returned fire by landing punches, combining straight left-hands with straight right-hands.
All told, Prachino landed 30 strikes in round one, compared to Rountree’s 16 strikes.
The two men kept it a stand-up fight in round two, before Rountree stunned Prachino with a punch, giving him the period.
Rountree and Prachino continued to trade strikes throughout the third and final round.
In an early contender for Fight of the Night on Saturday night, the judges scored this bout 29-28 across the board for Prachino, who took the fight on the strength of his performance in the third and final round.
No. 7 contender Julianna Pena vs. No. 9 contender Sara McMann:
The first all-ranked matchup of UFC 257 took place here in the last undercard bout before the co-featured prelim in this Women’s Bantamweight contest between No. 7 contender Julianna Pena (10-4) and No. 9 contender Sara McMann (12-6).
McMann landed a pair of takedowns on Pena in the opening round, whereas Pena outpaced McMann with strikes throughout the first period.
Round two saw McMann land her third takedown, accumulating some ground control time in the process.
In the third round, Pena scored her first takedown of the fight, which she was able to advance on—attempting a guillotine choke submission but McMann was able to fight that hold off before Pena went to back mount and secured a submission via rear-naked choke for the first stoppage of UFC 257.
Co-Featured Prelim: No. 14 contender Brad Tavares vs. Antonio Carlos Junior:
UFC 257’s co-featured undercard bout saw Middleweight action as No. 14 Brad Tavares (16-2) fought Antonio Carlos Junior (10-5).
Unlike the first prelim, Marc Goddard was the correctly-listed referee for the bout.
Carlos Junior proved to be the aggressor in the early going of this fight in terms of strikes, but Tavares stuffed his three takedown attempts.
Tavares was the victim of a low blow, and as MMA fans now know, he had up to five minutes to recover from the groin shot.
He took a short breather and the fight continued.
Carlos Junior took the first round with his striking prowess.
In the second round, Carlos Junior scored his first successful takedown on his fourth attempt—but late in the round, Tavares knocked Carlos Junior down right before he connected on a low blow.
Tavares landed 75 total strikes to Carlos Junior’s 58 throughout the fight—and in a recurring theme on Saturday night, the fight went to the judges after 15 minutes of action—with Tavares winning by unanimous decision.
Featured Prelim: Arman Tsarukyan vs. Matt Frevola:
Heading into UFC 257, Arman Tsarukyan (16-2) and Matt Frevola (8-2-1) weren’t supposed to have fought each other, but each man’s originally-scheduled opponent withdrew prior to fight night—thus they were booked to meet head-to-head.
Tsarukyan landed three takedowns in the early portion of the first round, but he was unable to advance on these takedowns.
It mattered very little, as Tsarukyan landed 33 strikes to Frevola’s 24.
By the second round, Tsarukyan had completed seven takedowns, with Matt Frevola having no answer.
He scored three more takedowns in the final round and eclipsed the 100-strike plateau in the process—doing everything but scoring the knockout in the fight.
It was only a formality for Arman Tsarukyan, but it was a very fine one, as he won by unanimous decision.
No. 8 contender Marina Rodriguez vs. No. 10 contender Amanda Ribas:
UFC 257’s main card began with this Strawweight fixture between No. 8 contender Marina Rodriguez (13-1) and No. 10 contender Amanda Ribas (10-2).
Unfortunately, it was at this point in the evening where ESPN+’s servers became overwhelmed for viewers who attempted to watch.
The trusty fight stats at ufc.com were there to bail us out, however.
Ribas landed a takedown of Rodriguez in the first round and became the aggressor, outpacing Rodriguez with strikes by a 9-7 clip.
This fight went to the second round, when Rodriguez stopped Ribas by knockout (punches) for the second stoppage of the night.
Andrew Stevens vs. Makhmud Muradov:
The Middleweights took to the cage in UFC 257’s second main card fight between Andrew Stevens (12-6) and Makhmud Muradov (25-8).
Muradov outpaced Stevens in strikes by an 18-7 clip in the early going of the fight.
This advantage swelled to 35-17 at one point.
The fight advanced to a third round, where Muradov scored the knockout due to a flying knee and punches for the third stoppage on the night and second of the main card.
No. 6 contender Jessica Eye vs. No. 7 contender Joanne Calderwood:
In the last fight prior to UFC 257’s co-main event, Women’s Flyweight action was the focus as No. 6 contender Jessica Eye (15-9) battled No. 7 contender Joanne Calderwood (15-5).
Happily, at this point of the card, after ESPN+ was swarmed on DownDetector, the official live feeds (in both English and Spanish) returned in time for this fight.
By 11:30 p.m. ET, the official streams were live, this after ESPN+ pushed a fix to correct the outage.
The Athletic’s Richard Deitch put out the following tweet regarding the ESPN+ outage that hampered the viewing of the first half of the card:
Regarding the ESPN+ issues tonight for UFC 257. I emailed ESPN PR. Here is what I just got back.
"We are aware of an issue impacting some fans’ ability to access to tonight’s PPV event and are working to resolve it as quickly as possible."
— Richard Deitsch (@richarddeitsch) January 24, 2021
Calderwood was far and away the aggressor in the opening round, landing 61 strikes, compared to Eye’s 31.
Through the second round, Calderwood continued to double up on Eye with strikes.
Although both women landed takedowns throughout the fight, it was all Joanne Calderwood, all the time in this contest—with the fight going to the scorecards.
After 15 minutes, the judges ruled in favor of Calderwood (unanimous decision.)
Although UFC 257’s official live streams were eventually restored, you can’t deny the fact that ESPN+ very nearly flirted with disaster on Saturday night.
A UFC pay-per-view is always an anticipated event for fans of the event—but fans throughout the country were left in the dark for more than an hour.
It goes without saying that ESPN+ dodged a big bullet here.
MMA fans all over America were most grateful that the stream came back when it did.
UFC 260 announcement:
Between fights, it was announced that the UFC Heavyweight championship will be at stake during UFC 260 on March 27 at a to-be-determined location between incumbent champion Stipe Miocic (20-3) and challenger Francis Ngannou (15-3).
Co-Main Event: No. 6 contender Dan Hooker vs. Michael Chandler:
UFC 257’s co-headliner took place in the Lightweight ranks as No. 6 contender Dan Hooker (20-10) battled Michael Chandler(22-5) in the latter’s UFC debut.
Folks, it didn’t last long—as the former Bellator MMA stalwart scored the knockout (left hook followed by ground and pound strikes) halfway through the opening round for the fourth stoppage of the evening.
During his post-fight interview with Jon Anik, Chandler called out the UFC’s best at 155 lbs. to fight him in his next appearance.
At the end of the fight, a frustrated Dan Hooker removed his gloves and placed them in the center of the Octagon.
Usually, when a fighter removes his or her gloves and puts them on the cage mat, that means a retirement—but we’ll see.
Main Event: No. 2 contender Dustin Poirier vs. No. 4 contender Conor McGregor:
UFC 257’s final act was the anticipated Lightweight headliner between No. 2 contender Dustin Poirier (27-6) and No. 4 contender Conor McGregor (22-5).
As far as the walkouts go, McGregor entered to The Notorious B.I.G.’s Hypnotize (feat. Pam Long) (1997), with Poirier countering with James Brown’s The Boss (1973).
The bout lasted longer than McGregor’s win against Donald Cerrone last year.
About 40 seconds into the fight, the same length of time it took McGregor to knock Cerrone out, Poirier scored a takedown.
McGregor was able to defend Poirier’s ground game and doubled up against Poirier on strikes during the period.
In the second round, Poirier stunned McGregor with a calf kick and scored the knockout (punches).
Now, the question is who does Poirier challenge next?
In his post-fight interview, McGregor made it clear that he has no intentions to retire for a fourth time and wants to fight again later this year.