Tuesday July 19th, 2016

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The UFC returned to Chicago for its second annual spectacle in the Windy City at the United Center. Unfortunately, the native CM Punk did not make his debut, something that would have drummed up even more excitement for this event, but it was still headlined by a bout with a star in Holly Holm.

After a rather mundane round of fights in the “Preliminary Card” on FOX, the “Main Card” on FOX raised the bar. Chicago native Felice Herrig came back from a layoff of over a year to get a first-round submission win. Heavyweight Francis Ngannou won his third fight in the UFC by mauling Bojan Mihajlovic until the referee stepped in to stop the barrage of hammer fists.

But the event kicked into another gear when Gilbert Melendez made his own return to the Octagon after a year out of the action to fight Edson Barboza. The two put on a thoroughly entertaining two rounds that highlighted dazzling and vicious leg kicks, grit and determination. Barboza was a surgeon with his leg kicks and wore Melendez down to ultimately win the fight. In the second round, Melendez nearly took out Barboza but couldn’t get the finish. In the third round, it looked like Melendez was standing on one leg and able to track down Barboza to finish the fight.

“Physically, I’m a bit banged up. My leg took a beating. In the third I was really trying to apply pressure and that left me open to that leg kick. It made it hard to pressure him because my leg got chopped in the third," Melendez said. “But I had a hell of a good time. It was fun being out there again and against such a good guy. I just couldn’t close the distance as well as I wanted to.

“It’s a tough situation now,” Melendez continued. “I love to fight, but obviously I’m far from the title. I’m fighting for respect nowadays and I feel like I still get that respect.”

In the main event of the evening, Holm made her return after a heartbreaking defeat to Miesha Tate at UFC 196 to lose the bantamweight title. A win would’ve likely earned her the shot against Amanda Nunes, or put her in line for a title shot after Ronda Rousey if she were to return and get the next shot at Nunes.

Holm was clearly the star and the fan favorite, coming out to a raucous uproar from the crowd that audibly supported her. Holm came out and dominated Shevchenko from the jump, knocking her down and making it look like it could potentially be a quick fight.

But Shevchenko rallied and won every round on the score cards afterward, using the counter and taking Holm to the ground. In the third round, Shevchenko outstruck Holm to begin the round, got Holm on her back and held her there to grind out that round’s win. Holm never seemed to make any adjustments in the later rounds, and in the fifth round didn’t seem to be looking for a finish, perhaps unaware of where she stood in the score card.

“We knew she was a counter puncher and we were ready for that. She is tough and I knew that. I knew I had my hands full in this fight. I knew it was a really big challenge,” Holm said. “What can you do? I know it was a competitive fight and I could have done more. I’m disappointed in myself and take nothing away from her. She was a very tough opponent.

“I have no excuses,” Holm added. “My performance was not where it needed to be tonight.”

Shevchenko ascended the rankings and put her in the title shot, which she called for after the fight.

“Amanda Nunes is a good fighter. She is good striker and has a good ground game. I want to fight Amanda Nunes for the belt,” Shevchenko said.

Stars Of The Night

1. Felice Herrig: The strawweight, who entered UFC through the Ultimate Fighter, has been absent since her loss to Paige Van Zant in April 2015. She made her return in front of her home crowd after speaking openly about issues she was battling with outside of the cage. With friends and family in the crowd, Herrig got a rear naked choke in the first round to submit Kailin Curran for the victory. The crowd was enthusiastic with support as she first went for the choke before erupting when Curran tapped. During her post-fight interview with Joe Rogan, she was difficult to hear over fans’ applause.

“I have suffered with a lot of anxiety lately. I had acupuncture during fight week to calm me down. Everything was about just being relaxed,” Herrig said. “I was scared about how I would be able to fight at the best of my abilities feeling this anxious. I will for sure continue fighting. I thought if I couldn’t get my nerves under control that maybe it wasn’t for me, but today I won. People say you have the pressure of fighting in your hometown and I definitely had a little of that, but at the end of they day I fed off the Chicago energy and it was great.”

2. Eddie Wineland: The veteran bantamweight contender earned a big win over Frankie Saenz in front of the home crowd. He knocked down Saenz in the first round and couldn’t capitalize, but in the third round a right hook dropped Saenz, who to his credit got back to his feet, but Wineland unleashed a flurry of punches and the referee stopped the fight.

“This victory is awesome. He is a tough striker that wasn’t ready to go down yet, but I capitalized on that in the third round. The division has always respected my power, but you have to chance it and go for the win,” Wineland said. “My wife, little boy and family are all in the stands today and I hope they are proud. I am going to now enjoy some much needed family time and see what comes next.”

3. Francis Ngannou: The French heavyweight won his third UFC fight in three attempts in impressive fashion by annihilating Mihajlovic with hammer fists on the ground in the first round.

Takeaways

1. The UFC either mishandled the women’s bantamweight division or handled it perfectly depending on your point of view. It seemed simple, book Holm and Tate for UFC 200 and the title bout rematch and then the winner gets Rousey when (and if) she returns at the end of 2016. Holm and Tate have history with Rousey. Instead, the UFC kept the ball moving giving Nunes a shot at the title and Tate at UFC 200, and she finished the fight in the first round to win the strap. Then a couple of weeks later, Shevchenko knocks off Holm and earns a shot at a title or a place in line right behind Rousey. So the mishandling is the wasted opportunities, and dollars, by not setting up Rousey’s rematch in the eyes of a marketer. On the other hand, talent outside of Rousey, Tate, and Holm has risen, which has allowed the division to shine.

2. The division is rapidly improving. Who would’ve thought Shevchenko would have more success taking down Holm than Rousey or Tate? Who would’ve thought Nunes would mow through Tate en route to the title? This division is becoming more intriguing each event.

3. Barboza is a legit, entertaining fighter to watch and a technician in the ring with a dazzling style. He has defeated some staunch contenders in the lightweight division like Melendez and Anthony Pettis. If it weren’t for his training partner Eddie Alvarez being champ, he could be thrust into that spotlight. Either way, when Barboza fights it is a must-watch.

Highlights

One of the craziest sequences of the night came between Godofredo Pepey and Darren Elkins in the featherweight division, when a missed leg kick somehow ended in a submission attempt on the ground.

Wineland tagged Saenz in the first round of their fight, but wasn’t able to capitalize and get the finish.

Wineland eventually got the finish in the third round after a huge right hook that dropped Saenz. Wineland had to follow with a flurry of shots to finish Saenz off for the TKO win.

Ngannou mauled his opponent to get the first-round stoppage.

Holm knocked Shevchenko down, but not out, in the first round.

Shevchenko with the always entertaining spinning back fist.

Finish Of The Night

Herrig got a huge comeback win with a rear naked choke in the first round. That is the finish of the night, not only because it was technical and beautiful to watch, but the meaning behind it and that it occurred in front of her hometown was a movie-like finish. The pure elation from Herrig was echoed by the crowd, including supporters like former strawweight champion Carla Esparza in the front row.

Smack Talk

“I will be the first UFC female fighter to hold two belts in two divisions,” UFC strawweight Joanna Jedrzejczyk told media backstage at UFC on FOX 20. Jedrzejczyk is one of the many campaigning for the UFC to add a 125-pound division for women in the UFC and has routinely made it clear she’d like a shot at that title when it comes to existence.

“I thought I did enough to win the fight. I just felt it should have went my way. I don’t know what else to say.” — Jim Alers said after losing the decision to Jason Knight in a hard-fought fight.

“I want to go back and fight in the next Brazilian event. I have fought away now for my last three fights, I feel it’s time to go back to my fans.” — Michel Prazeres

Matchmaker

- Ngannou has three finishes in three fights in the UFC. It’d be interesting to see him get a ranked opponent now and see him against the best. Could you picture him fighting Derrick Lewis? Talk about fireworks.

-Barboza added another big win to his resume by defeating Melendez. He called out everyone but Alvarez, his teammate and the current lightweight champion. Barboza listed Khabib Nurmagomedov, Tony Ferguson and Rafael Dos Anjos as potential opponents and any of those fights would certainly entertain. But why not keep the Scrap Pack angle going and fight Nate Diaz? It’d feature devastating leg kicks against a fighter who always pushes forward and taunts his opponent. Barboza might have intentionally left Diaz’s name out because Alvarez already said he’d like the winner of Diaz’s bout against Conor McGregor at UFC 202.

- Holm lost her second straight and now a rematch with Tate doesn’t make sense after Tate lost to Nunes at UFC 200. The fight to make with Holm is Cat Zingano, who is on her own losing streak. One of these two women would be guaranteed to get back to her winning ways, while the other’s career would be spiraling out of control.

- Shevchenko needs another big bout. She called for the title fight, but it likely won’t happen. If Rousey comes back, she gets Nunes. If Rousey isn’t quite ready, that means Julianna Pena likely gets the shot. If Rousey comes back, Shevchenko and Pena would be intriguing. If Rousey doesn’t come back and Pena gets the title shot, perhaps Shevchenko fights Tate next.

What’s Next

The next event is UFC 201, which takes place Saturday, July 30, at the Philips Arena in Atlanta, Georgia. The main event of this card is a welterweight title fight bout between champion Robbie Lawler and challenger Tyrone Woodley. In the co-main event, strawweights Rose Namajunas and Karolina Kowalkiewicz square off in what could be a de facto No. 1 contender bout.

This event is broken into three parts. The first preliminary card airs exclusively on UFC Fight Pass. The middle portion of the event will air on Fox Sports 1. The main card and event will finish on pay-per-view.

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