Edwards has not fought since July 20, 2019, more than 19 months ago. The layoff has been due to myriad reasons, including COVID-19 lockdowns, canceled events and testing positive for coronavirus.
ESPN ranks Edwards No. 4 in the world at welterweight. UFC president Dana White said this week that if Edwards beats Muhammad he would be “100%” in line for a title shot.
Edwards (18-3) has won eight straight fights. His only loss in the past seven years came against current welterweight champion Kamaru Usman in 2015. Edwards, a 29-year-old Jamaica native who fights out of Birmingham, owns victories over former lightweight champion Rafael dos Anjos, Donald “Cowboy” Cerrone and Vicente Luque.
Muhammad (18-3) is on a four-fight winning streak. The Chicago native is coming off a unanimous decision win over Dhiego Lima last month and took this bout on three weeks’ notice after Khamzat Chimaev, Edwards’ original opponent, withdrew due to lingering COVID health complications. Muhammad, 32, has won eight of nine overall and sports a 9-3 UFC record.
In the co-main event, Misha Cirkunov takes on Ryan Spann in a light heavyweight contender battle. The exciting Cirkunov (15-5) has never been to decision in his six-year UFC career. Spann (18-6) had an eight-fight winning streak snapped in his last bout, a loss to Johnny Walker in September.
Marc Raimondi, Brett Okamoto and Jeff Wagenheim recap all the action in Las Vegas. You can also watch UFC Fight Night on ESPN+.
Fight in progress:
— Paul Felder (@felderpaul) March 14, 2021
Recap to come.
Grant doesn’t fight all that frequently. But lately, when he does get in there, he leaves his mark.
The Ultimate Fighter veteran crushed Martinez with a combination, finishing him via knockout at 3:03 of the second round in a bantamweight bout. Grant ripped a right hook to the body and then followed up with a left hook to the head that connected flush. Martinez fell to the ground and that was it. Referee Chris Tognoni stepped in and Grant had picked up a stoppage victory.
— ESPN MMA (@espnmma) March 14, 2021
Martinez actually looked very good on the feet in the first round. He was peppering Grant with low kicks — hard ones. Grant actually left the Octagon limping from those kicks. But Grant came out extremely aggressive in the second round, not letting Martinez get back into that kicking rhythm. While pushing forward, Grant let loose with that two-punch combination and put Martinez down for good.
“I think my foot is definitely broke, but it’s totally worth it,” Grant said.
Grant, 35, has won three straight, including two straight knockout victories. The England native’s issue has been activity. Due to injury, he has fought just three times since 2018 and just six times since 2013. Martinez, a 26-year-old Texas native, had a two-fight winning streak snapped.
A fun flyweight matchup on paper delivered as promised.
The bout was close, and that was reflected on the scorecards. Two judges awarded the fight to Nicolau, 29-28. The third judge scored it 29-28 in favor of Kape. It all came down to the third round, as Kape got off to a slow start in the opening frame, and then dominated the second on the feet.
Kape was getting caught early and offend in the round can’t win just the last min and expect to win the whole round
— Jamahal “Sweet Dreams” Hill (@JamahalH) March 14, 2021
Early in the third, Kape defended a Nicolau takedown and ended up in a standing position over his guard. Kape considered going into top position, but ultimately allowed Nicolau to stand up. It was a critical decision, as Nicolau landed some good punches after getting back to his feet, but then Kape answered with two heavy knee strikes in the final 30 seconds.
Nicolau, of Brazil, took advantage of Kape’s inactivity at times, and stayed busy with takedown attempts. Kape, who was born in Angola, showed devastating speed and power when we let his hands go. He rocked Nicolau with uppercuts and short left hooks in the second round, but probably could have been a little more aggressive — particularly early in the fight.
Kape falls to a surprising 0-2 start in the UFC. The 27-year-old joined the promotion in 2020 under some fanfare as a high quality prospect. Nicolau picks up his first win in over a year, as he was inactive in 2020.
Déjà vu, anyone?
For the second straight week, a UFC fight was ended by an illegal knee. However, unlike last Saturday’s bout, in which Petr Yan was disqualified and lost the fight and his bantamweight championship to Aljamain Sterling, this time the offender paid a lesser price.
Anders was on his way to a finish — a legitimate finish — late in the first round as he mauled a severely compromised Stewart against the cage. Stewart was on one knee and barely defending the punches coming his way when Anders inexplicably threw a knee that landed on the right side of the head, prompting referee Herb Dean to jump in, pause the action and call in the cage-side doctor.
As long as ppl with a brain of reason can see the difference https://t.co/D56C1Pra42
— Aljamain Sterling (@funkmasterMMA) March 14, 2021
The doctor recommended that the fight be ended, and Dean waved it off at 4:37 of Round 1. But rather than awarding a DQ win to Stewart, a 30-year-old from Great Britain, the ref ruled the fight a no-decision.
It was a puzzling ending, by both Anders and Dean.
Anders, a 33-year-old from Birmingham, Alabama, was well on his way to what would have been his third win in his last four bouts. All he had to do was continue pummeling Stewart, whom Dean was imploring to fight back, lest he stop it.
Once Anders landed the knee, it’s curious why the ref did not disqualify him. It was an intentional blow. So in the end Anders did not get the victory he was close to securing, but he could have paid a more severe price.
Hill was only 1-0 as a pro MMA fighter when she debuted in the UFC back in 2014. Seven years later, “Overkill” might have just put in the best performance of her run in the world’s largest MMA promotion.
In a critical women’s strawweight matchup, Hill bested Yoder via unanimous decision (30-27, 30-27, 30-27) in the UFC Fight Night: Edwards vs. Muhammad featured prelim. Hill outstruck Yoder throughout and had some of her best success going to Yoder’s body. This was a rematch of a 2017 fight that Hill also won.
In the first round, Hill took the fight right to Yoder with her muay thai striking. She found a home with her right hand over and over, adding in some elbows and knees to the body in the clinch. At one point, Hill snapped Yoder’s head back with three straight right hands. Hill backed Yoder up with punches to the body in the second round. Yoder landed a late takedown, but Hill was the aggressor, landing elbows from the bottom.
— Julia Avila (@RagingPandaMMA) March 14, 2021
Hill slammed Yoder with five straight hard left knees to the body in the third round, but then Yoder landed a takedown. That was Yoder’s chance, but Hill hung on and Yoder couldn’t do much damage on the ground. It was a clear decision win for Hill.
Hill, 36, snapped a two-fight losing streak. Both of those losses were very close split decisions that many thought Hill actually won. Hill, a San Diego resident, said she wanted to make sure it was clear to the judges that she was the victor.
“I felt like it was dominant,” Hill said in her postfight interview. “I felt like there was no question who the winner was in this fight.”
Yoder, a 33-year-old Indiana native who fights out of California, has dropped three of four.
A closely contested bout turned into a runaway victory for Jourdain, as he secured a TKO finish at 4:31 of the third round.
Rojo, of Argentina, proved to be a tough out in his UFC debut, and he certainly had his moments — but it was Jourdain who took over in a violent way late in the fight. He dropped Rojo with punches twice, and scored some vicious ground and pound from top position. At one point, he allowed the battered Rojo to get back to his feet, only to drop him again with a left hand up top and a right hand body shot, which brought in referee Mark Smith.
Man what a fight !! Jordain turned it up huge in the 3rd round!
— Chris Weidman (@chrisweidman) March 14, 2021
Rojo took the fight on short notice, after Jourdain’s original opponent withdrew. He held his own with Jourdain on the feet for the first 10 minutes, scoring with knees and punches in the clinch and walking Jourdain down along the fence. Jourdain seemed to find his rhythm and distance in the third, though, and added the late exclamation point before time ran out.
Jourdain, of Quebec, has had an up-and-down career in the UFC thus far. He has had spectacular wins now against Rojo and Dooho Choi, but has also dropped two decisions and fought Josh Culibao to a draw in 2020.
Rani Yahya submits Ray Rodriguez via head and arm choke for the 21st submission of his career at UFC Fight Night.
Yahya is good, and he is smart. He is good at submitting his opponents, and he is smart enough to persist in that game plan.
The 36-year-old Brazilian fighter got his first victory since 2018 by sticking to a tried-and-true formula. He took Rodriguez down a minute into their fight, immediately gained half-guard position and worked for a head-and-arm choke. He nearly finished the fight with that maneuver late in the first round, but Rodriguez survived.
Yahya was very patient setting up a nice arm triangle!#UFCVegas21
— Herbert Burns (@HerbertBurnsMMA) March 13, 2021
Not for long. Yahya did the very same thing in Round 2 — early takedown, half guard, head-and-arm choke. And this time he got his opponent to tap out 3:09 into the round for his 21st submission in his 27th career victory. He has finished a fight no other way.
Yahya competed only once in 2020 and once in 2019, losing one and fighting to a draw in the other. Prior to that, he had won three in a row — all submissions.
Rodriguez, who is 33 and from San Antonio, Texas, defended the submission try well in the early going, but with him unable to get out from underneath his opponent, it was just a matter of time. He has lost both of his UFC fights.
Haqparast is considered one of the top prospects in the UFC and did nothing to dispel that notion Saturday.
The southpaw slugger put in a very solid striking performance, beating the previously undefeated Garcia via unanimous decision (30-27, 29-28, 29-28).
Easy mistake to make 😅 #UFCVegas21
— ESPN MMA (@espnmma) March 13, 2021
Garcia showed a tremendous amount of toughness and durability. He had a strong start, landing a hard right hand in the first round that briefly wobbled Haqparast. But from there, Haqparast was the more effective fighter. Even with Garcia putting on the pressure, Haqparast was able to rip combination after combination, landing at will with his straight left hand and mixing in hard elbows and front kicks to the body.
By the third round, Garcia was bleeding from a cut near his right eye. Haqparast attempted two hard head kicks in the third that Garcia blocked, but they still did damage. There was no doubt when the bell rang to end the bout who had come away as the winner.
Haqparast, 25, has won two straight and five of his past six. The Germany native of Afghani descent is a legitimate up-and-comer in the UFC’s stacked lightweight division. Garcia, a 26-year-old Mexico native, is the former Combate Americas lightweight champion, going 8-0 in that promotion.
It was a disappointing result for Casey, who looked outstanding in the opening round. She hurt Aldrich with elbows in the clinch, found a home for the right hand and mixed in effective leg kicks. She also defended Aldrich’s attempts to get her to the floor, which was obviously a big part of Aldrich’s game plan. The one takedown she did give up came near the end of the round, and she attacked Aldrich with an armbar attempt from the bottom.
Aldrich, from Denver, started to find success with grappling in the second and third rounds. She took Casey down early in the fourth and spent nearly the entire round on top, landing offense. The third round was close, but it was Aldrich’s wrestling again that might have been the difference.
Fighting out of Phoenix, Casey falls to 3-6 in her past nine contests. Three of those losses have come via split decision.
Each woman showed off what she does best. Frey won the fight by doing it for two rounds and limiting de Paula to just one.
Frey, a 35-year-old former Invicta FC atomweight champion from Arlington, Texas, spent nearly the entirety of Rounds 1 and 3 in controlling positions on the canvas, enabling her to secure her first UFC victory and end a two-fight losing streak.
If round 5 last week was 10-8 , then Jihn Yu Frey should have 2 10-8 rounds
— Daniel Cormier (@dc_mma) March 13, 2021
Frey got a takedown a minute into the fight, taking advantage of a muay thai clinch by de Paula to take the Brazilian fighter to the canvas. Frey then used a veteran’s savvy to remain in control until the horn.
But de Paula, a 25-year-old making her UFC debut, took control in the second round, using crisp, straight punches and deft footwork to keep the fight standing.
It was anyone’s fight going into the final round, and Frey seized it 30 seconds in, getting the takedown and threatening submissions for the rest of the fight.
All three judges scored the fight 29-28 for Frey, ending de Paula’s two-fight winning streak.
Matthew Semelsberger knocks out Jason Witt with a heavy punch 16 seconds into their fight.
Semelsberger’s nickname is “Semi the Jedi” because of his last name. Maybe it should just be “Semi,” because he hits like a truck.
Semelsberger blasted Witt with a monstrous right hand in the opening seconds, countering a Witt leg kick. The punch landed to Witt’s jaw, and Witt went down in a heap. Referee Chris Tognoni came in to stop the bout, giving Semelsberger a knockout victory at just 16 seconds of the first round.
— Julia Avila (@RagingPandaMMA) March 13, 2021
“I have a lot of thunder in my hands,” Semelsberger said in his postfight interview.
Semelsberger’s quick knockout was the fastest in the UFC since Walt Harris knocked out Aleksei Oleinik in 15 seconds in July 2019. The 16-second KO was the seventh-fastest finish in UFC welterweight history.
Semelsberger, 28, has won both of his UFC fights now and sports a five-fight winning streak overall. The Maryland native beat Carlton Minus via unanimous decision last August in his UFC debut. He seems like someone to watch out for in the welterweight division. Witt, a 34-year-old Missouri native, has dropped two of three in the UFC.
Still to come: