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UFC on ESPN: Whittaker vs. Till - Winners and Losers

Here are the real winners and losers of the 15-fight UFC Fight Island 3: ‘Whittaker vs. Till’ card

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Photo by Jeff Bottari/Zuffa LLC via Getty Images

If there was a fighter who had to answer some questions heading into Saturday’s UFC Fight Island 3: ‘Whittaker vs. Till’ event it was former UFC middleweight champion Robert Whittaker who had not fought since he lost his title to Israel Adesanya in October 2019.

Whittaker did a good job reminding everyone that his rise to the top of the 185-pound division was not a fluke. Yes, he had some problems on his way to a victory over Darren Till, but he did not falter or seem to doubt himself one bit. Whittaker also seemed to be pleased with his performance over the 25-minute fight as he smiled, laughed and light-heartedly talked his way through his post-fight interview even as blood dripped from his head during that entire conversation.

If there is one person who will have to answer questions in the aftermath of Saturday’s event it will be referee Herb Dean, who had an off night in Abu Dhabi.


Robert Whittaker: The former UFC middleweight champion answered any questions about his return to action in the first round of his matchup against Darren Till when Till dropped him with an elbow. An unsure or less than confident Whittaker could have taken that opportunity to fold. He didn’t. He reset and worked his way back into the fight and earn the win. There were times that Whittaker got a bit reckless and that’s something that needs to be addressed, but it was a good return to action for the ex-champ.

Mauricio Rua and Antonio Rogerio Nogueira: Well, the third fight between these two MMA legends ended with Rua walking away with another win. It was a little sad that Nogueira did not get the victory in what could be his last MMA fight, but the matchup was a fun one even if the expectations weren’t all that high between two men whose combined age on fight night was 82.

Fabricio Werdum: If tonight was the last UFC fight of Werdum’s career, the former UFC heavyweight champ will leave the promotion on a high note as he showed just how good he is on the mat. Werdum made his submission win over Alexander Gustafsson look fairly easy.

Paul Craig: Craig earned his sixth career triangle choke win on Saturday with a first round stoppage win over Gadzhimurad Antigulov. Craig more or less allowed Antigulov to take him to the mat early in their light heavyweight scrap and then worked for the submission, which he made look easy. The submission loss was the first for Antigulov since 2013.

Alex Oliveira: In what was one of his better UFC performances, Oliveira earned a unanimous decision win over Peter Sobotta. Oliveira scored early with a body kick. He then fixated on that technique for the rest of the fight. Perhaps Oliveira could have mixed things up a bit more, but he didn’t need to do so.

Khamzat Chimaev: Chimaev scored his second win in 10 days with a one-sided smashing of Rhys McKee on Saturday. Here are Chimaev’s offensive stats in his two UFC wins: 83 significant strikes landed, three successful takedowns, two submission attempts and five guard passes. His two opponents have landed a combined one significant strike. It might be a bit early, but Chimaev looks like a real threat in the 170-pound division.

Francisco Trinaldo: In what might be his last fight at lightweight, Trinaldo, who came in overweight for his matchup opposite Jai Herbert, had a rollercoaster ride of a scrap. Trinaldo owned the first round, got owned in the second round and then scored a knockout in the third. What really stood out about Trinaldo was how he waited as long as he could before dropping the strikes that ended the fight on an opponent who clearly wanted to be anywhere but inside the octagon. Alas, referee Herb Dean gave Trinaldo no choice but to land those blows.

Jesse Ronson: Ronson’s first run with the UFC started in September 2013 and ended in July 2014. During that stretch he lost split decisions to Michel Prazeres, Francisco Trinaldo and Kevin Lee. Ronson, who usually competes at lightweight, faced Nicolas Dalby at welterweight on Saturday. Ronson was the smaller fighter, but that didn’t seem to bother him as he made short work of an aggressive Dalby, dropping him to the mat with punches and then wrapping things up with a rear-naked choke submission in the first round. Ronson’s win was a nice way to get back into the UFC.

Tom Aspinall: Aspinall wasted little time in ending his UFC debut. The heavyweight looked very good for as long as his fight opposite Jake Collier lasted. He showed good movement and the sequence he used to wrap things up inside the first minute of the bout, a knee to the body and a one-two, was a thing of beauty.

Movsar Evloev: Evloev is a fighter to watch in the featherweight division. Mike Grundy had him in some bad spots early in their prelim matchup, but Evloev remained calm and simply fought out of those positions without raising his pulse. Evloev took advantage of the fight with his striking near the end of the first round and never looked back. Evloev was poised throughout the fight and showed an excellent skill set.

Tanner Boser: I don’t know how high the ceiling is for Tanner Boser, but I’m enjoying the ride for now. Boser is an active heavyweight with good striking, good footwork and finishing ability. He’s not the biggest heavyweight, but he has a good game plan that works very well. He slows his opponents with leg kicks and then works his punches. As a bonus, Boser has a low key, but appealing ability on the mic.

Pannie Kianzad: Kianzad’s striking advantage over Bethe Correia was evident early in their women’s bantamweight scrap. She was quicker and delivered her combinations before Correia could respond with a counter. She also did a nice job of delivering strikes in the clinch. Kianzad’s decision win over Correia should be a good confidence builder heading into her next outing.

Nathaniel Wood: Wood was on a good run before he faced John Dodson in February. He was 8-0 during that stretch with eight finishes. Those three years included a run as Cage Warriors bantamweight champ. Dodson ended that unbeaten streak with a third round TKO. Wood bounced back with a good performance against John Castaneda. He fought smart, mixed up his striking targets and looked comfortable on his way to a unanimous decision win. This was a good reset performance for Wood.

John Castaneda: Castaneda showed no octagon jitters in his UFC debut opposite Nathaniel Wood. Castaneda was a game opponent, but he was just outmatched by Wood, who won the fight by unanimous decision. With that being said, Castaneda could be a headache for a lot of fighters in the bantamweight division.

UFC: Saturday’s card featured 15 fights. The event could have been a long slog, but the UFC staged this event with no long breaks between fights. The number of bouts on this card had me dreading the event, but the UFC did not mess around one bit and that was a blessing for everyone who tuned in.


Alexander Gustafsson: The former UFC light heavyweight title challenger did everything he could to stay off the mat with Fabricio Werdum, but he could not do so and with that Gustafsson’s heavyweight debut ended quickly and painfully via armbar.

Marina Rodriguez: Simply put, Rodriguez needs to work on her takedown defense.

Gadzhimurad Antigulov: Antigulov scored an early takedown against Paul Craig, but it cost him as Craig used that takedown to lock up a triangle choke, which forced Antigulov to tap at the 2:06 mark of the first stanza.

Peter Sobotta: Sobotta ate some kicks to the body early in his matchup opposite Alex Oliveira. He did his best to avoid more of those kicks, but he could not keep Oliveira from scoring from distance. That inability to close distance or keep Oliveira in the clinch cost Sobotta.

Nicolas Dalby: Dalby started his welterweight fight against Jesse Ronson like he had a flight to catch off Fight Island. That fast pace cost him as he Ronson found an opening and dropped Dalby to the mat and secured a rear-naked choke to finish Dalby at the 2:48 mark of the first round.

Jake Collier: Collier was out of action for more than two years thanks to injury and a USADA suspension. Collier, who fought at light heavyweight in 2017, returned at heavyweight. He only lasted 45 seconds before Tom Aspinall knocked him out. The former RFA middleweight champ has alternated wins and losses throughout his seven-fight UFC career.

Mike Grundy: Grundy got the first advantage of the his fight opposite Movsar Evloev with a nice takedown, a second takedown followed via an excellent level change and a deep double, but Evloev worked his way back to his feet after both of those early takedowns. Evloev then touched up Grundy with his striking. After that, Grundy’s cardio seemed to fail him a bit. He also seemed a bit too desperate to get back into the fight, which left openings that Evloev was able to find.

Raphael Pessoa: Pessoa was outmatched by Tanner Boser. He was the bigger fighter, but he couldn’t deal with the speed and striking of his opponent.

Bethe Correia: By now we know what to expect from Correia and that’s what we got. She was slower than Pannie Kianzad, but she did throw harder punches. The problem with Correia is that her lack of speed on her counters had her looking the worse for wear by the time the fight ended.

Herb Dean: The veteran referee had a rough night, Dean allowed two fights to go on far longer than they should have. Dean received an earful from UFC commentator Dan Hardy for his troubles along with a fair share of grief on social media.


Darren Till: Till fought well. He used feints and defensive striking throughout his bout against Robert Whittaker and had he been a bit more aggressive and ramped up his offensive output there was a chance that he could have walked away from the contest with a win. Till’s record does not represent the talent he has. Yes, he is 1-3 in his past four outings, but those three losses are against three extremely talented scrappers in Whittaker, Jorge Masvidal and Tyron Woodley. Till will be a problem for anyone in the middleweight division for a long time.

Carla Esparza: Esparza earned her fourth straight victory on Saturday night with a split decision win over Marina Rodriguez. On her way to handing Rodriguez the first loss of her career, Esparza used her wrestling to neutralize Rodriguez. However, Esparza did make some mistakes, such as going for ill advised submissions and taking unnecessary damage i the process. Esparza’s suspect fight IQ is the reason she did not land among the winners of this fight card.

Rhys McKee: It seems unfair to label McKee a loser. After all, he stepped up to face an absolute animal in Khamzat Chimaev. Sure he got smashed, but let’s wait until his next fight to judge him because this matchup was just not fair.

Jai Herbert: Herbert had a rough go in the first round of his fight against Francisco Trinaldo, but he stormed back and took control of the fight in the second stanza. However, Trinaldo used his veteran savvy to finish the scrap in the third stanza. Herbert had his moments in this contest, so it will be interesting to see what he does in his second UFC scrap.

Ramazan Emeev: Emeev has good takedown skills and he landed some solid ground strikes when he had the opportunity. His grinding style gives opponents fits, but he was not particularly active with that approach late in the fight. That lack of activity could cost him in close fights, but that was not the case against Nicklas Stolze, who he defeated by decision.

Niklas Stolze: Stolze, who made his UFC debut on Saturday, did a nice job with his calf kicks early. He showed a willingness to take chances with his striking in the open, but he didn’t have much of an answer for Ramazan Emeev when Emeev used his grinding style against the fence.