Sterling defeats Munhoz by decision, calls for bantamweight title shot

CHICAGO — If someone had said beforehand that the fight between Pedro Munhoz and Aljamain Sterling would remain standing throughout, Munhoz and his heavy hands would have been the odds-on favorite. That’s not how it went down. Sterling, showing improving striking and movement, defeated his fellow bantamweight contender by unanimous decision (30-27, 30-27, 30-27) in what very well could be a title eliminator.

“You can’t keep a star from shining, and I’m gonna shine,” Sterling said.

Sterling won every round, using his angles, head movement and unorthodox striking to befuddle Munhoz throughout. Sterling mixed in punching combinations with standing elbows, body kicks and knees. Munhoz had his moments, especially in the second round as his dozens of body kicks added up and started to sap Sterling of his energy. But Sterling did more than enough in the second and again in the third to win the decision comfortably.

Sterling (17-3) has now won four in a row. The New York native now moves into fourth all time in UFC bantamweight wins with nine. Sterling, 29, hasn’t lost since getting knocked out by Moraes in 2017. Munhoz (18-4, 1 NC), the 32-year-old Brazilian, had won three straight coming in.

Petr Yan defeated Jimmie Rivera by unanimous decision

Rivera did extremely well most of the way — until the closing seconds of each of the first two rounds. In the first, Yan dropped Rivera with a big left hook right before the bell. In the second, Yan landed a devastating combination that put Rivera down and almost took him out.

Those flurries were enough to lead Yan to a unanimous decision (29-28, 29-28, 30-27) victory Saturday night in a key bantamweight clash. Rivera did damage to Yan’s lead leg with kicks throughout and landed a big uppercut in the third. But the damage Yan did in those tight windows got the job done.

Yan (13-1) has won eight in a row, five of those coming in the UFC. The Russian fighter’s five-fight winning streak in the UFC is the longest active one in the promotion. Yan, 26, is no longer a prospect now, he’s looking like a full-fledged contender. He joins Dominick Cruz, Renan Barao and Rivera as the only fighters to start their UFC careers 5-0 at bantamweight.

Rivera (22-4) has lost two in a row and three of four. The 29-year-old New Jersey native was on a 20-fight winning streak before the past four bouts.

Blagoy Ivanov defeated Tai Tuivasa by unanimous decision

Ivanov was excited to fight in Chicago, a town with a large population of Bulgarian immigrants, like he is. “Bagata” ended up getting the job done in front of a crowd with quite a few Bulgarian flags.

Ivanov beat Tuivasa by unanimous decision (29-28, 30-27, 29-28) in a hard-hitting, back-and-forth affair. Ivanov dropped Tuivasa in the first round and had him in big trouble at the end of the second. Tuivasa actually tapped out to a guillotine choke — but after the second-round bell. In the third, both men were visibly tired, but Ivanov continued to land one-two combinations.

Ivanov (18-2, 1 NC) was a plus-115 underdog coming in. The Bulgarian former combat sambo champion has won two straight and seven of his past eight fights. Ivanov, 32, has lost in his career only to Junior dos Santos and Alexander Volkov. Tuivasa (10-2), a 26-year-old Aussie, has lost two in a row after starting his UFC career 2-0.

Tatiana Suarez defeated Nina Ansaroff by unanimous decision

Ansaroff had Suarez on the run in the third round. She landed combinations and kicks. Suarez was in trouble for the first time in her UFC career.

However, it was too little, too late. Suarez had already dominated the first two rounds with her wrestling en route to a unanimous decision (29-28, 29-28, 29-28) victory. It was the first time in her career that Suarez had ever lost a round. This is five straight wins for her, the longest active streak in the UFC’s strawweight division. Suarez could be next for a title shot against champion Jessica Andrade.

“I think you know who I want to fight next and it’s the champion,” Suarez said.

Suarez (8-0) has won her first five UFC fights. The other three women to do that — Ronda Rousey, Joanna Jedrzejczyk and Cris Cyborg — all became champions. Suarez, the 28-year-old former champion wrestler from California, has 22 UFC takedowns in five fights, second-most by a woman in that amount of bouts.

Ansaroff (10-6) was on a four-fight winning streak coming in. The 33-year-old Florida native, who is engaged to UFC women’s bantamweight and featherweight champion Amanda Nunes, could have earned a title shot with a victory Saturday.

Alexa Grasso defeated Karolina Kowalkiewicz by unanimous decision

This was the Grasso the UFC expected to get when the promotion signed her three years ago.

The Mexican striker pieced up former title challenger Kowalkiewicz in every round, dominating in the standup en route to a unanimous decision (30-27, 30-27, 30-27) victory. Grasso landed hard one-two combinations in every round, bloodied Kowalkiewicz’s nose in the third and finished the bout going for a guillotine choke.

Grasso’s UFC career has been plagued by injuries, but she came into the promotion as a blue-chip prospect in 2016. The smooth striking, clinch work and confidence she demonstrated Saturday led to perhaps her best career performance against a highly ranked strawweight.

Grasso (11-2) landed 148 significant strikes, a UFC career high for her. The 25-year-old Lobo Gym product has won two of three fights. Kowalkiewicz (12-5), the 33-year-old Poland native, has lost three straight.

Yan Xiaonan defeated Angela Hill by unanimous decision

Xiaonan was in big trouble at the end of the first round, stuck in a tight triangle choke. She was able to rally in the second and third rounds to clinch a unanimous decision (29-28, 29-28, 29-28) win over Hill in a very close contest. Had Hill been given the nod, few would have complained.

Xiaonan survived that Hill triangle choke and immediately put the pressure on in the second, landing a side kick to Hill’s arm that sent Hill crashing to the mat. In the second and third, Xiaonan landed nice combinations, but Hill had her moments, especially a big overhand right in the third.

Xiaonan (11-1, 1 NC) has won her first four UFC fights and hasn’t lost since 2010. That win streak is tied for the longest in the strawweight division, with champion Jessica Andrade, Tatiana Suarez and Nina Ansaroff. The 29-year-old China native appears to be someone to watch at 115 pounds. Hill (9-7), the 32-year-old San Diego resident, has lost three of four.

Darren Stewart defeated Bevon Lewis by unanimous decision

Stewart climbed on top of the cage to celebrate and was met with boos. It wasn’t necessarily for what he did; it was for what he and Lewis didn’t do. Stewart defeated Lewis by unanimous decision (29-28, 29-28, 30-27) in a pretty listless fight that was mostly clinching and waiting for the other to throw strikes. The best moments of the bout came in the opening seconds when Stewart downed Lewis twice with hard leg kicks.

Stewart (10-4) has won three of four fights. It was only the 28-year-old England native’s third career victory by decision. Lewis (6-2), a 28-year-old California native, has lost his first two UFC fights.

Eddie Wineland defeated Grigorii Popov by second-round TKO

Eight years after his UFC debut, Wineland can still mash. The former WEC bantamweight champion clobbered Popov with a series of right hands in the second round to finish via TKO at 4:47.

Wineland rocked Popov in the first round with right hands. In the second, Popov was able to drop Wineland with a right hand of his own. But four consecutive monster rights from Wineland changed the tide and the bout was over soon after.

Wineland (24-13-1) snaps a two-fight losing streak with this victory. The Indiana resident has won three of five overall and has remained relevant in the bantamweight division. Wineland, 34, has been a pro MMA fighter since 2003. This was his 14th career knockout and he has won that way in his past four UFC wins. Popov (14-3), a 35-year-old Russian, was making his UFC debut.

“I hit people hard and they fall down,” Wineland said.

Katlyn Chookagian defeated Joanne Calderwood by unanimous decision

Chookagian is back in the title hunt.

The New Jersey resident overcame a tough first round to down Calderwood via unanimous decision (30-27, 29-28, 29-28). Calderwood chewed up Chookagian’s lead leg in the first round, but it didn’t end up paying dividends. Chookagian landed the harder punches in the final two rounds in what was a very close fight. Calderwood’s nose was bloody by the end and Chookagian was wearing a nasty hematoma on her forehead.

Chookagian (12-2) rebounded from a loss to Jessica Eye and the 30-year-old striker has now won four of five, including a 3-1 record in the flyweight division. Calderwood (13-4), the 32-year-old Scotland native, had her two-fight winning streak snapped.

“I want that title shot now,” Chookagian said. “I’m No. 2. I want that shot.”

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