Paul Felder has said over and over again that he'll retire from mixed martial arts if he believes he can't compete with the best lightweights in the world. After Saturday, he figures to be around a bit longer.
Felder defeated Edson Barboza in a close, bloody battle by split decision (27-30, 29-28, 30-27) in the co-main event of UFC 242 in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates. Barboza started off strong, but Felder was the fresher fighter late in the 90-degree heat inside Yas Arena.
"All you top five guys, you can't run anymore," Felder said after the win.
Barboza busted Felder's nose with a jab less than two minutes into the fight. Things got worse quickly for Felder, who sustained a cut on his hairline due to a clash of heads against the cage. Barboza looked good in the first round with hard kicks to the body and a left hook that landed several times.
With blood streaming down his face, Felder kept trucking. He put the pressure on Barboza in the second round, so much so that Barboza shot for a takedown -- his first one landed in more than three years. On the bottom, Felder did some of his best work, slicing Barboza open with elbows. The two eventually got back up to the feet and Barboza continued to land left hooks and body shots. But Felder had the momentum after bloodying Barboza with the elbows.
In the third, Felder was on the chase. Barboza was backing away and still landing shots, including a beautiful knee to the body. Felder just continued moving forward and landing. Two jabs sent Barboza's head snapping back. Barboza landed another takedown toward the end of the round, though it was too late. Felder earned enough on the judges' scorecards.
Afterward, Felder said he had the worst weight cut of his life during the week leading up to the fight. He also called out the likes of Conor McGregor and Tony Ferguson. Barboza came in at No. 9 in ESPN's lightweight rankings, while Felder was unranked.
Felder (17-4) has won two in a row and five of six. That lone loss by the Philadelphia native was a weight class up at welterweight against Mike Perry. Felder, 35, fell to Barboza by unanimous decision in 2015.
Barboza (20-8) has dropped two straight and four of his last five, though he has been fighting the division's best. The 33-year-old Brazilian, who trains in Florida at American Top Team, is known to be one of the division's best and most entertaining strikers.
Islam Makhachev def. Davi Ramos by unanimous decision
Khabib Nurmagomedov draws all the headlines, and for good reason, but his longtime teammate Makhachev is not far behind him in terms of MMA ability.
Makhachev beat Ramos, a Brazilian jiu-jitsu standout, by unanimous decision (29-27, 30-26, 30-26) with a comprehensive performance Saturday. Makhachev nearly finished Ramos in the third with a knee and flurry on the ground. Ramos survived, though, and Makhachev rode out the final four minutes of the bout in top position.
Makhachev performed in front of a partisan crowd in Abu Dhabi, since most of the fans were there to see Nurmagomedov.
"This is crazy," Makhachev said. "I like this."
The first round was very close and the well-muscled Ramos landed a nice jab that wobbled Makhachev in the second. But Makhachev had his straight left hand working and it set up that knee in the third.
Makhachev (18-1) has won six straight and continues to climb the ladder at lightweight. The 27-year-old Dagestan native now has the third-longest active winning streak in the division, behind only Tony Ferguson (102 and Nurmagomedov (10). Ramos (10-3), a 32-year-old Brazilian, had his four-fight winning streak snapped.
Curtis Blaydes def. Shamil Abdurakhimov by second-round TKO
There are few worse places in MMA than being on the bottom against Blaydes. That's where Abdurakhimov found himself Saturday several times -- and that's not a good recipe for one's health.
Blaydes landed a massive elbow from top position that crushed Abdurakhimov's nose. Blood started pouring immediately, Abdurakhimov grabbed his face and referee Marc Goddard stepped in to stop the fight. The TKO win for Blaydes came at 2:22 of the second round.
It was Blaydes' seventh UFC heavyweight win since 2016, the third-best total behind Derrick Lewis and Francis Ngannou, who have eight each. Blaydes landed five takedowns, extending his UFC record for heavyweights to 45.
Blaydes took Abdurakhimov down three times in the first round. Near the end of the first, Blaydes got into mount and was pummeling his foe with punches and elbows, but Abdurakhimov was saved by the bell. The second round was more of the same until the stoppage.
"I knew I could that whenever I wanted," Blaydes said of taking Abdurakhimov down.
Blaydes (13-2, 1 NC) has won two in a row and is unbeaten in nine of his last 10. The 28-year-old Illinois native is ranked No. 4 among heavyweights in ESPN's rankings and is on a short list of top future contenders. Abdurakhimov (20-5), a 38-year-old Dagestan native, had his three-fight winning streak snapped.
Diego Ferreira def. Mairbek Taisumov by unanimous decision
Ferreira has been in the UFC for five years and this might have been his best victory.
After an aggressive Taisumov landed hard shots in the first round, Ferreira took over. He walked Taisumov down, landed beautiful combinations and left Taisumov's face covered in blood. The victory came via unanimous decision (29-28, 29-27, 29-27).
Taisumov won the first round, helped by a big uppercut that wobbled Ferreira briefly. But after that, it was mostly all Ferreira. He landed a nice right hand, working off his jabs repeatedly. The secret was really his pressure. Taisumov couldn't stop Ferreira from coming forward. In the third round, Ferreira landed a head kick and continued to land jabs that busted up Taisumov's nose and opened a cut on the left side of his head.
Ferreira (16-2) has quietly won five in a row and seems to be a looming threat in the stacked lightweight division. The 34-year-old Brazilian, who lives and trains in Texas, was a +230 underdog according to Caesars. Taisumov (27-6), a 31-year-old Chechnya native, had his six-fight winning streak snapped.
Joanne Calderwood def. Andrea Lee by split decision
Calderwood lands nasty right elbow
Joanne Calderwood lands a speedy right elbow to the head of Andrea Lee in the first round of their featured prelim bout at UFC 242. For more UFC, sign up here for ESPN+ http://plus.espn.com/ufc.
Calderwood did not mind the oppressive heat inside the arena in Abu Dhabi. In fact, she believes it worked to her favor.
"I actually like my body sweating," Calderwood said. "I'm grateful for it."
Calderwood got better as the fight went on, as it became a grind. She was able to use her great clinch game late, landing sharp elbows and knees to the body in a split-decision win (28-29, 30-27, 29-28) over Lee. The bout was a technical Muay Thai fight -- both women have that as their base style -- with some wrestling mixed in.
"I left it up to the judges yet again," Calderwood said. "I'm a bit hard on myself on that. I thought it was a good performance. I enjoy Andrea Lee's style. She brings a great style to the Octagon. I had great fun in there."
Calderwood dropped Lee with an elbow in the first round, but Lee rallied to take Calderwood down and land ground-and-pound from side control. Lee got a takedown in the second again, but Calderwood got up, landed those elbows and even a takedown of her own. In the third, the grind continued with Calderwood getting into the clinch and landing punches and knees to the body.
Afterward, Calderwood said she'd like a title eliminator or title fight next. She's ranked No. 4 in ESPN's women's flyweight rankings. Lee is No. 8.
Calderwood (14-4) has won three of her last four fights. The 32-year-old Scotland native sports a 4-1 record in the UFC flyweight division. Those four wins are tied for the most ever in the UFC weight class. Champion Valentina Shevchenko and Montana De La Rosa both have four, as well.
Lee (11-3), a 30-year-old from Louisiana, had a seven-fight winning streak snapped.
Zubaira Tukhugov vs. Lerone Murphy ends in split draw
Tukhugov dominates Murphy in first round
Zubaira Tukhugov lands a flurry of punches and takes down Lerone Murphy in the first round of their bout at UFC 242. For more UFC, sign up here for ESPN+ http://plus.espn.com/ufc.
Things looked dire early for Murphy. Tukhugov landed a big left hand, closed in with a barrage against the cage and came close to finishing.
The rest of the way, though, Murphy corrected his course and the bout ended up being a split draw (29-28, 28-29, 28-28). One judge had the bout a draw with Tukhugov winning the first round 10-8. Among the two other judges, one had Tukhugov winning and the other had it for Murphy.
After Tukhugov couldn't get the stoppage in the first, he seemed to tire and Murphy remained fresh. In the second round, Murphy took Tukhugov's back and nearly had a rear-naked choke. He then attempted a power guillotine standing up, but Tukhugov slipped out again. The 90-degree-plus heat in the arena probably didn't help Murphy's submission attempts, with both men sweating profusely.
Standing up, Murphy was able to land nice right hands. In the third, Tukhugov landed a big takedown to switch momentum. It was a very close five minutes and a draw seemed to be a suitable score.
Tukhugov (18-4-1) had not fought since May 2016 following a USADA drug-test failure and his role in the UFC 229 postfight brawl between his teammate Nurmagomedov and Conor McGregor. Tukhugov, 28, is unbeaten in 10 of his last 11 fights.
Murphy (8-0-1), a 28-year-old English prospect, was making his UFC debut and seems to have a bright future.
Sarah Moras def. Liana Jojua by third-round TKO
Moras might have saved her UFC job with a dominant win.
"Cheesecake" bottled up Jojua in the clinch and then on the ground, culminating in a TKO victory at 2:26 of the third round. Moras got into mount after a third-round takedown and rained down hard elbows until referee Marc Goddard pulled her off.
Moras earned the best positions in the clinch and on the ground in the first and second rounds. Even in the second, when Jojua landed a takedown, Moras was able to keep her at bay with an active guard.
Moras (6-5) had lost three straight fights coming in and now has a 3-4 UFC record. Canada's Moras, 31, missed weight Friday, coming in two pounds over the bantamweight limit (138). Jojua (7-3), a 24-year-old native of the Republic of Georgia, had her five-fight winning streak snapped. This was Jojua's UFC debut.
Ottman Azaitar def. Teemu Packalen by first-round knockout
It's hard to have a more violent UFC knockout than this.
Azaitar crushed Packalen with a right hand to the left ear. Packalen was out on impact and was twitching on the ground afterward. The knockout finish came at 3:33 of the first round. On commentary, UFC play-by-play man Jon Anik called it "one of the scariest knockouts you'll ever see."
Azaitar already looked great in the first before the stoppage. He was landing big combinations in the clinch and had Packalen moving backward. The right hand was one heck of an exclamation point. In the postfight interview with Anik, Azaitar himself seemed dumbstruck while looking at the replay of the wicked KO.
Azaitar (12-0) has won four in a row by finish and remains undefeated. The 29-year-old Morocco native via Germany is the former Brave CF lightweight champion. He has nine career first-round finishes and 11 of his 12 wins have come via stoppage. Packalen (8-3), a 32-year-old Finland native, has lost two straight.
Belal Muhammad def. Takashi Sato by third-round submission
Muhammad got his first finish in three years in front of a partisan crowd.
"Remember the Name" picked up a rear-naked choke submission victory over Sato at 1:55 of the third round of a welterweight contest. Muhammad, a practicing Muslim from Chicago with a Palestinian background, got big cheers from the Abu Dhabi crowd. It was Muhammad's first submission win of his career.
"It's been an amazing time here," Muhammad said. "I knew I had to come out and put on a show for my fans. ... This is the closest thing I've got to Chicago or Palestine."
Muhammad dictated the action from the start of the first round. He landed a big combination and a slam in the first round, won the striking in the second and got the takedown and took Sato's back in the third.
Muhammad (16-3) has won two in a row and six of his last seven. The 31-year-old Roufusport product has a 7-3 record in the UFC. Sato (15-3), a 29-year-old Japanese fighter, had a two-fight winning streak snapped.
Muslim Salikhov def. Nordine Taleb by TKO
Salikhov woke up a sweaty crowd by essentially putting Taleb to sleep.
After a pair of slow-paced fights to begin UFC 242 in hot Abu Dhabi, Salikhov put a charge into the card with a TKO of Taleb at 4:26 of the first round. Salikhov landed a massive overhand right and Taleb was out on the way down. The round was relatively uneventful until Salikhov lit the spark.
Salikhov (15-2) has won two in a row, both by impressive knockout. He has finished 13 of his 15 wins in the first round and has only been to decision once.
The Dagestan native was coming off a 17-month layoff due to an issue with UFC anti-doping partner USADA, which flagged him for a positive steroid test. Salikhov, 35, was later cleared, because USADA determined he had only trace amounts of a long-term metabolite in his system, much like a situation involving UFC light heavyweight champion Jon Jones, and it would be impossible to tell when he ingested the substance.
Taleb (15-7), a 38-year-old Montreal native, has lost three of four.
Omari Akhmedov defeated Zak Cummings (unanimous decision)
Cummings, Akhmedov go back and forth in 1st round
Zak Cummings and Omari Akhmedov go back and forth with a stunning left hand and a takedown, respectively, in the first round of their bout. Order UFC 242 here https://plus.espn.com/ufc/ppv.
Akhmedov defeated Cummings by unanimous decision and now has put together a bit of a run at middleweight.
The Dagestan native pulled out a unanimous decision (30-27, 30-27, 29-28) win over Cummings with key takedowns and timely striking. It wasn't an action-packed bout, but Akhmedov landed a nice slam in the first round and opened up a cut on Cummings' nose with a right hand in the second. Cummings dropped Akhmedov with a left hand in the first, but that was his most significant offense.
Akhmedov (19-4-1) is unbeaten in five straight fights, including his last three at middleweight after moving up from welterweight. The 31-year-old is 7-3-1 in the UFC going back to 2013. Cummings (23-7), a 35-year-old Texan, had won two in a row coming in after moving up from welterweight to middleweight.
Don Madge def. Fares Ziam (unanimous decision)
Madge lands big takedown in 2nd round
Don Madge lands a big takedown and a shot to the face on Fares Ziam at the UFC 242 early prelims. Order UFC 242 here https://plus.espn.com/ufc/ppv.
Madge defeated Ziam by unanimous decision. It wasn't nearly as spectacular as his UFC debut, but Madge got the job done.
Using clinches against the cage and takedowns, Madge grinded out a unanimous decision (30-27, 30-27, 29-28) victory in the UFC 242 opener. Ziam had moments in the clinch in the first round with his length and had a solid Kimura attempt in the third. But Madge retained control most of the way.
Madge (9-3-1) has won six straight fights. The 28-year-old South Africa native was coming off a second-round TKO over Te Edwards in his UFC debut in October 2018. Ziam (10-3) had a five-fight winning streak snapped in his UFC debut here.