If you were hoping to see some new blood at the top of the UFC’s welterweight division, well, sorry about that, but Stephen Thompson prevented that from happening with his master class performance against Geoff Neal in the main event of Saturday’s UFC Vegas 17.
Thompson was 2-3-1 entering this contest. He was also an underdog to Neal, who was on a seven-fight winning streak dating back to his pre-UFC days. The former two-time UFC title challenger ended Neal’s winning streak with a clean sweep on the scorecards.
In the co-main event, ex-UFC featherweight champion Jose Aldo ended a three-fight losing skid with a decision win over Marlon Vera that was reminiscent of vintage Aldo.
Also on the main card, Rob Font scored a nasty knockout win over Marlon Moraes. In the main card opener, Marcin Tybura used ground strikes to end Greg Hardy’s night early.
UFC VEGAS 17: ‘THOMPSON VS NEAL’ was a solid ending to the UFC’s 2020 schedule of events and it will give us something to discuss while we wait for the promotion to return in January. Below are the winners and losers from Saturday’s fight card, which took place at UFC Apex in Las Vegas.
Stephen Thompson: The 37-year-old Thompson taught Geoff Neal a lesson on Saturday night. Actually, he taught him a couple of lessons. The first lesson the 30-year-old learned was power doesn’t always carry the day. The second lesson for Neal was that fighters who face Thompson need a multi-pronged attack or at least a few levels of backup plans to get the win.
Whenever Neal started to close distance, Thompson would use a kick to prevent him from getting within range. If things got too close for a kick, Thompson fired out a one-two to stop Neal. The end result was that Thompson set a personal record for significant strikes landed with 171 while holding Neal to 85 significant strikes landed.
Even when a knee injury slowed him in the fifth round, Thompson threw and landed more strikes than his opponent.
Thompson looked excellent on Saturday and along with fellow “old dudes” Jose Aldo and Anthony Pettis, he showed that it’s not yet time for some veterans to head out to pasture.
Jose Aldo: Well, barring some kind of insane decision, Jose Aldo is not going anywhere after his impressive showing against Marlon Vera. After a three-fight losing skid, Aldo got back into the win column with an impressive win over Vera.
His movement, striking, power and ground control were all exemplary against Vera. With his performance on Saturday, the 34-year-old could get the fight he called for against T.J. Dillashaw.
Michel Pereira: Pereira has calmed down his theatrics from his early UFC fights. Some fans don’t like that, but if Pereira wants to move up the rankings, he needs to continue what he did against Khaos Williams.
Pereira’s movement made him an elusive target, while his height and reach allowed him to strike from distance. Pereira needs to focus more on offense than elusive defense if he wants to avoid nervousness when the scores get read.
This was a smart performance from Pereira
Rob Font: Font had been off for a year before he faced Marlon Moraes on Saturday and he didn’t look any worse for wear in defeating Marlon Moraes in impressive fashion. He scored a nasty first-round knockout over the former UFC title challenger.
Font is a powerful and dangerous striker and he is going to get a chance to prove just how good he is in 2021. Moraes was the No. 3 ranked 135-pounder heading into this bout while Font was No. 11. Expect Font to make a big jump when the rankings get updated.
Marcin Tybura: Tybura spent the first five minutes of his bout against Greg Hardy getting tuned up. He showed a strong chin, but with the way Hardy was landing, it seemed as if the knockout blow could have landed at any moment. Tybura made it through the first stanza. He took control in the second round.
Tybura did better striking in the second stanza and he got a takedown against the cage. That takedown turned the tide in a big way. Hardy had zero to offer on the ground and that cost him the fight as Tybura teed off with strikes to earn the TKO. The win put Tybura at 4-0 for 2020. The Hardy bout was his first finish of the year.
Anthony Pettis: Pettis fought out his UFC contract on Saturday and he was very close to closing out that deal with a “Showtime 2” head kick. This one didn’t come off the cage, but he set up the kick well. Pettis used low kicks throughout the fight and then as time clicked off the clock, Pettis unloaded a spinning kick that rocked Alex Morono, but the clock expired before he could finish the fight.
The win gives Pettis his first winning streak since he won five straight between 2011 and 2014 and sends the message he’s not done as a legit competitor.
Pannie Kianzad: Kianzad looked good in her bout opposite Sijara Eubanks. Her striking technique from distance and in close was the difference maker in this fight. Kianzad’s striking technique was impressive, especially when she was at distance and unloading combinations. Kianzad won this contest by decision and she is now on a three-fight winning streak. Look for Kianzad to possibly get a top-10 opponent in her next outing.
Taila Santos: Santos and Gillian Robertson spent most of their fight on the mat. Santos was in control for almost the entire time the women’s flyweight bout spent on the ground. That was a big statement against Robertson, who entered the contest with six career submission wins. The 27-year-old Brazilian took a one-sided decision in this scrap to move her record to 17-1.
Tafon Nchukwi: In the opening moments of his fight against Jamie Pickett, Nchukwi threw everything with incredible power, including his kicks. Nchukwi also did well when he was in close. He peppered Pickett’s body with knees, which took a lot out of Pickett. Nchukwi scored a knockdown in the third and might have earned a finish had his coaches told him to allow Pickett to get back to his feet. Instead, they urged Nchukwi to stay on the mat.
Nchukwi won the fight, which was his UFC debut and fifth pro bout, by decision. He has power and developing skills, which makes him a fighter to watch.
Jimmy Flick: Flick was getting pieced up on the feet by Cody Durden throughout most of the first round. However, Flick did not lose confidence in his skills and when Durden reached down to catch a kick from his opponent, Flick jumped into a triangle and quickly secured a submission win. The first-round tap gave Flick 14 submission wins in 16 career victories. This was a solid UFC debut from. The 30-year-old flyweight.
Christos Giagos: Giagos accepted his bout against Carlton Minus on Wednesday. He was the far superior fighter through the first two rounds of the contest. Giagos took down Minus multiple times and controlled the action on the ground. He faded in the third round, but that was not a shock when considering he had no camp. One knock against Giagos is that his ground game was a little lacking. He seemed to only go for the rear-naked choke and ignore other finishing techniques.
Geoff Neal: Neal fell behind Stephen Thompson early in their welterweight scrap and he never caught up. Thompson controlled where the fight took place and Neal struggled to close distance without eating some strikes for his troubles. If Neal had a backup plan for dealing with Thompson’s control of range, he did not or could not implement it. The fight should be a learning lesson for Neal and his camp.
I think Neal is a talented and powerful striker and this is his first UFC loss. I expect his camp at Fortis MMA will come out of this setback stronger for the experience.
Marlon Vera: Vera had success when he pushed Jose Aldo. The problem with that was that Aldo did not allow Vera to put him on his back foot for all that long. If Vera had a chance in this fight, it evaporated in the third round when Aldo took him to the mat early and kept him there. It was a rough night for Vera, who should have been very confident as he headed into this scrap on a 6-1 run.
Khaos Williams: Williams had a good first round against Michel Pereira. He landed some heavy blows, especially after he caught a couple front kicks from his opponent. However, he missed more than he landed in the last 10 minutes of the fight, which was mainly because of the distance Pereira maintained most of that time. This was a bit of a frustrating fight as fans — and maybe Williams as well — expected much more action.
Marlon Moraes: Former WSOF bantamweight champ and ex-UFC title challenger, Moraes had a solid start against Rob Font. He did not want to mix it up on the feet and he did not have to in the early going thanks to two takedowns.
However, when Font found the opportunity to strike, he took it and starched Moraes.
Moraes is now in an interesting spot. He is 1-3 in his past four fights and he has been finished in each of those contests. With this setback, Moraes falls under the “high-priced talent with no real path back to a title fight,” and that could cost him his UFC job. At the very least, Moraes should take a long break to give himself some time to heal.
Greg Hardy: It was a tale of two rounds for Greg Hardy. For the first five minutes of his bout against Marcin Tybura, Hardy never looked better. He landed powerful punches and threw counters. His striking had developed significantly since he joined the UFC.
The second round showed that Hardy had not made a single improvement on the ground. Tybura put him on his back and Hardy did not have a clue as to what to do. Tybura did and what he did was unload 18 ground strikes to finish the fight.
Alex Morono: Morono’s best opportunity to beat Anthony Pettis came in the opening seconds of their welterweight scrap. He was aggressive in closing distance and a missed kick, but Pettis on the mat. Morono rushed in, took Pettis’ back and worked in his hooks. Pettis held off any submission attempt by using hand control.
Morono struggled for the rest of the fight. Pettis forced him to follow him around the octagon and whenever Morono moved in, Pettis would pop him with strikes. He struggled to get Pettis in front of him and that limited his offense. Morono’s striking percentage in the second round was 36 percent in the second stanza and 37 percent in the third, while Pettis landed 62 percent and 80 percent.
Antonio Arroyo: Arroyo offered little takedown defense in his bout with Derron Winn and that cost him the win. What made Arroyo’s performance look even worse was that he ran out of gas and offered no offense from his back. This was a disappointing fight from both men, but with Arroyo on the losing end, he might pay the bigger price for how this fight looked.
Gillian Robertson: As noted by the UFC commentary team, Robertson did not have a backup plan for her bout opposite Taila Santos. It was submission or bust for Robertson and she failed to earn the tap and with that she was on the wrong side of the decision. The loss ended a two-fight winning streak for Robertson.
Jamie Pickett: Tafon Nchukwi put Jamie Pickett on his back foot from the start of this fight and never allowed him to control time, space or location. Pickett struggled with the power of Nchukwi and his inability to work well from the outside cost him any hope of a win in this battle.
Cody Durden: Durden had a fast start against Jimmy Flick. His striking was much better and he landed at a good clip. However, he made a mistake. That mistake was that he reached for Flick’s leg after Flick threw a head kick. That opening allowed Flick to jump into a triangle that forced Durden to tap. I’m not sure if Durden’s loss was because of overconfidence, reflex, Flick’s skills or some combination of the three, but the loss stemmed from grabbing that leg.
Carlton Minus: Minus had a rough night. He offered no takedown defense during the first two rounds of his bout opposite Christos Giagos. When the fight hit the mat, Minus struggled even more. In the third round Minus could have turned up the heat on his winded opponent, but he failed in that respect as well. This was not a good showing by Carlton Minus.
Sijara Eubanks: Eubanks spent most of the first round in control of this fight on the mat. While in control on top, Eubanks looked to improve position and find an opening for a submission. Her opponent, Pannie Kianzad, never gave Eubanks the chance to lock up any of her ground techniques.
What probably cost Eubanks the win in this contest was her lack of striking volume. Eubanks might have landed the heavier strikes in this contest, but the judges seemed to favor the volume and technique of Kianzad.
Eubanks did not look bad in this matchup and it would not have been a surprise to see the fight go her way.
Derron Winn: Winn earned a decision victory over Antonio Arroyo, but he did not have a good performance. Yes, he scored 12 of 16 takedowns and had 9:29 of control time, but in all that time on the mat, Winn did not seem to work for or earn a single pass. Winn is a good wrestler, but he really needs to be at welterweight.