If you were waiting for a changing of the guard in the welterweight division, look no further than Gilbert Burns.
In his first UFC main event, Burns (19-3) was spectacular. He defeated Tyron Woodley (19-5-1) in a unanimous decision victory, dictating the pace of the entire five-round fight.
Burns’ striking was crisp from the start. He dropped Woodley with a right hand and right upper cut in the opening round, busting open a cut above Woodley’s left eye. Burns followed that up with heavy ground pressure, and Woodley looked overmatched after not fighting for the past 15 months.
The victory extends Burns’ win streak to six. Following the one-sided affair against Woodley, who was the top-ranked contender in the division entering the fight, Burns wants a shot at Kamaru Usman’s Welterweight Championship.
“I love the champ, my training partner Kamaru Usman, but I want to fight for the title,” said the 33-year-old Burns. “And I think I’m next.”
Taking place from the UFC APEX in Las Vegas, Nevada, the UFC on ESPN: Woodley vs. Burns card predominantly stands out for its shakeup in the welterweight division. It also signals the end of Woodley’s dominant run in UFC, as the 38-year-old is now out of title contention.
Woodley was fighting for his future in the UFC, but he simply could not sustain any offense. Following Burns’ explosive opening minute, the fight was never in doubt. The Brazilian-born Burns fits perfectly into the company’s future plans, as Brazil is a massive market for the UFC.
The opening bout pitted Mackenzie Dern against Hannah Cifers in a women’s strawweight fight. Dern (8-1) emerged victorious after locking on a tight knee bar in the first round, and Cifers (10-5) could not compete on the ground against such an elite jiu jitsu artist. Cifers is an incredible talented fighter, particularly in the standup, but as soon as the fight went to the ground, that marked a quick end to the contest.
“I saw her weakness was the ground, so that was a perfect opportunity for my jiu jitsu,” said Dern. “That’s always my goal.”
Though Dern is still inexperienced in striking and overall MMA, the victory positions her right back where she was when left the Octagon to have a child. The UFC stands to gain a lot with Dern winning, and she has the potential to be the face of the division. Her victory was the first leg lock submission in UFC women’s history.
“That was always my specialty in the jiu jitsu world,” said Dern. “I’m happy I’m able to bring my jiu jitsu talent to the Octagon.”
The middle of the card featured two catchweight fights. The first was Roosevelt Roberts defeating Brok Weaver, who weighed in a pound-and-a-half over the lightweight limit. Roberts (10-1) dominated and earned a second-round submission with the rear naked choke, thoroughly outclassing Weaver (14-5).
“I just want a knockout,” said a smiling Roberts. “I knew a finish was going to happen, but everybody’s got at least one knockout, and I just want one. But don’t get me wrong, I’m very satisfied with this finish.”
At only 26 years old, Roberts should emerge as a significant player in the lightweight division.
“I was supposed to be a statistic,” said Roberts, who called out Matt Frevola following the victory. “People were telling me I was going to be dead or in jail by now. I feel very blessed to be on the biggest stage in MMA, doing this in front of thousands of people, making this happen.”
The second catchweight fight saw Billy Quarantillo defeat Spike Carlyle via unanimous decision. Quarantillo (14-2) struggled early, then narrowly edged out Carlyle (9-2) in an extremely close second round before dominating the third. Carlyle showed off his wrestling, but Quarantillo’s cardio played a deciding factor in the final round.
“We knew he was going to be super explosive, especially in the first round,” said Quarantillo, who now has a seven-fight win streak. “I could have done a better job weathering the storm, but I think it made it more exciting. He’s very dangerous, he’s got a lot of knockouts, and when he was on top, I was just making sure he didn’t land anything clean. I’ve weathered the storm before, and I was able to come back.
“Spike’s a tough guy and he was talking a lot of smack going into this fight. He told people it was going to be a massacre. Maybe he’ll learn from that.”
The lone heavyweight fight on the card pitted former World Series of Fighting champion Blagoy Ivanov against Augusto Sakai, a bout Sakai claimed by split decision.
The first two rounds belonged to Sakai (15-1-1) and his impressive array of leg kicks, but he committed an egregious fence grab in the third round while Ivanov (18-4, 1 NC) appeared to gaining control. That should have cost him a penalty, but incredibly, Sakai only received a warning for the infraction.
Even with the victory, Sakai still needs more quality wins to be propped up in the heavyweight division.
The fight world now turns its attention to next weekend’s UFC 250, which features a main event with Amanda Nunes putting her Women’s Featherweight title on the line against Felicia Spencer. But Saturday’s fights will have serious implications moving forward. Dern reintroduced herself to the women’s strawweight division, and Burns backed up all of his trash talk with a convincing victory against the former standard-setter of the entire welterweight division.