UFC 259 live updates and results: Dominick Cruz returns with statement win

LAS VEGAS — Dominick Cruz fought just once since 2016 before Saturday. He has just six fights in the past decade. But at UFC 259, one of the best bantamweight fighters ever proved once again that he can hang with the top athletes in the division.

With the kind of technical and tactical performance that fans have come to expect, Cruz outpointed Casey Kenney via split decision (28-29, 29-28, 30-27) on the prelims at the UFC Apex. It was Cruz’s first victory since he beat Urijah Faber at UFC 299 on June 4, 2016.

“A little closer than I wanted,” Cruz said in his postfight interview. “But I got the job done.”

Kenney had success throughout the fight kicking Cruz’s legs. But Cruz, known for his innovative footwork, never slowed down. He stuck with his unorthodox style and hit Kenney with big shots in every round, including a shovel left hook in the first and a big blitzing combination in the second.

In the third round, Cruz took Kenney down twice and landed more solid shots from the left and right. Kenney landed hard several times, too, but not with the consistency of Cruz — and usually they did not come in combinations.

Cruz (23-3) had not fought since a loss to Henry Cejudo in a bantamweight title fight at UFC 249 last May. The San Diego resident’s last bout before that was a loss to Cody Garbrandt in a bantamweight title fight way back at UFC 207 on Dec. 30, 2016. Cruz, 35, first won the WEC bantamweight title in 2010 and entered the UFC as champ. He relinquished the belt due to several knee surgeries and foot injuries, which have accounted for his inactivity. Cruz also is a prolific UFC on-air analyst.

Kenney (16-3-1) was on a three-fight winning streak coming in. The Arizona resident has a 5-2 UFC record and remains one to watch in the bantamweight division. Kenney, 29, is a former national champion judoka who has developed well-rounded striking at the MMA Lab.

— Marc Raimondi

How to watch and purchase UFC 259

Fight in progress:

Light heavyweight: Aleksandar Rakić (13-2, 5-1 UFC, -160) vs. Thiago Santos (21-8, 13-7 UFC, +135)

Results:

Men’s bantamweight: Kyler Phillips (9-1, 3-0 UFC) defeats Song Yadong (16-5-1, 5-1-1 UFC) by unanimous decision

One streak goes on, and the other has ended.

Phillips paired fluid movement with measured aggression to get the better of Song in the first two rounds, then held on in Round 3 to capture his fourth straight victory and end Song’s unbeaten run at nine in a row.

With a minute and a half left in the fight, Phillips scored a takedown. It did not lead to a finish, but it secured the victory, as Song had been peppering him with punches in the final round and was in his face, throwing big shots aimed at pulling out the fight with a knockout. But once on the canvas, even though Phillips lost position and ended up on bottom, and would go on to lose the round, he was safe to make it to the final horn.

All three judges scored the bout 29-28.

Phillips, a 25-year-old from Phoenix, had built a lead through the first two rounds, landing the bigger shots and mostly keeping out of range of Song’s power. He had to fend off a Song surge in Round 3, but did so to move to 3-0 in the UFC.

Song, who is 23 and from China, trains at Team Alpha Male in Sacramento, California. He had not lost a fight since 2016.

Jeff Wagenheim

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Men’s flyweight: Askar Askarov (13-0-1, 3-0-1 UFC) defeats Joseph Benavidez (28-8, 15-6 UFC) by unanimous decision

Askarov, a flyweight title contender out of Russia, added a big name to his resume by defeating Benavidez over the course of three one-sided rounds.

According to UFC Stats, Askarov converted five of six takedown attempts and controlled Benavidez on the ground for large chunks of the first and second rounds. Benavidez tried to respond with blitzing combinations on the feet, but Askarov’s distance management and grappling control essentially neutralized the four-time title challenger. Judges scored it for Askarov 30-27, 30-27 and 30-26.

Sporting a bad cut and swelling under his left eye, Benavidez went into the third round looking for a finish but never came close. He landed a hard Superman punch midway through the final round, but Askarov wore it well and did well avoiding risk and keeping Benavidez on the outside.

Benavidez, who fights out of Las Vegas, remains tied with former champion Demetrious Johnson for the most wins in UFC flyweight history with 13. He has been stuck on that number since June 2019. He has now dropped his past three, including back-to-back losses to current champion Deiveson Figueiredo in 2020. Askarov moves to 3-0-1 in the UFC.

— Brett Okamoto

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Men’s flyweight: Kai Kara-France (22-9, 5-2 UFC) defeats Rogério Bontorin (16-3, 2-2 UFC) by first-round TKO

Bontorin was on the way to a 10-8 round. And then — just like that — his head was crashing to the canvas.

Kara-France escaped after a long stretch of ground dominance by Bontorin at the end of the first round and unleashed a hellish combination. Kara-France landed a right hand that rocked Bontorin and a right uppercut that caused Bontorin to face plant. The finish came at 4:55 of the first round via TKO.

“Mark Hunt walkaway — vintage,” Kara-France said in his postfight interview, referencing his fellow Oceania native Hunt’s propensity for walk-off knockouts.

The final sequence was a bit odd. Bontorin fell face-first to the canvas and Kara-France started celebrating. Then, when it seemed like referee Herb Dean had not actually called off the bout, Kara-France ran back to Bontorin in an attempt to blast him with more blows. Dean headed him off at the pass and then officially called the bout over by TKO. Bontorin, who seemed to think the fight was still going, fired his mouthpiece at Kara-France in frustration before cooler heads prevailed.

Bontorin hurt Kara-France with a left hand early in the first and then took him down. From there, he took Kara-France’s back and dominated, nearly cinching in rear-naked chokes on multiple occasions. It was completely one-sided until Kara-France got to his feet in the closing seconds and shook off Bontorin.

“I put the flyweights coming up on notice,” Kara-France said. “Anyone in that top five can get it.”

Kara-France, 27, came in ranked No. 10 in the world at flyweight by ESPN. The New Zealand native was coming off a second-round submission loss to Brandon Royval at UFC 253 in September. Bontorin, a 28-year-old Brazil native, has dropped two straight following a four-fight winning streak.

— Marc Raimondi

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Men’s flyweight: Tim Elliott (18-11-1, 6-9 UFC) defeats Jordan Espinosa (15-9, 2-4 UFC) by unanimous decision

Elliott got a takedown early in the first round and dominated Espinosa from top position while delivering damage for the rest of the first five minutes. Elliott got a takedown early in the second round, and proceeded to dominate and do more damage, not allowing Espinosa off the canvas until the horn. The third round? More of the same.

It was 15 minutes of total control, and one judge gave Elliott a couple of 10-8 rounds, making it a 30-25 scorecard. The other two judges scored the bout 30-27.

The three takedowns give Elliott 47 for his UFC career, putting him alone in second place among flyweights, behind former champion Demetrious Johnson (58).

Elliott, who is 34 and from Lee’s Summit, Missouri, won his second in a row after withstanding a three-fight losing streak against ranked fighters.

Espinosa, a 31-year-old from Albuquerque, New Mexico, nearly landed head kicks in both the first and second rounds, but Elliott ducked under both and rushed forward for takedowns. While on his back in Round 3, Espinosa cut Elliott with an elbow. But that was all he managed in losing for the fourth time in his past five bouts.

These two were scheduled to meet in January, but the bout was postponed after Espinosa tested positive for COVID-19.

Wagenheim

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Light heavyweight: Kennedy Nzechukwu (8-1, 2-1 UFC) defeats Carlos Ulberg (5-1, 0-1 UFC) by second-round KO

Nzechuwu, a light heavyweight prospect out of Dallas, earned the biggest win of his career with a second-round upset of Ulberg.

Nzechuwu got off to a terrible start, as he was visibly wobbled by a left head kick in the opening minute. Ulberg, who fights out of New Zealand and is a close teammate of Israel Adesanya, pressed in looking for the finish, and did so intelligently. He ripped Nzechuwu to the body with punches and knees from the Thai clinch, but Nzechuwu managed to survive and separate.

As the round progressed, Nzechuwu started to even things behind straight left hands to Ulberg’s head. Ulberg looked a bit fatigued between rounds, but still came out pumping the jab and low leg kicks to slow the forward motion of Nzechuwu. Nzechuwu would not be denied, however, as he walked through Ulberg’s offense and knocked him out with a short right hand along the fence 3:19 into the round.

Nzechuwu, 28, is now 2-1 in the UFC. His only loss came against the currently ranked Paul Craig. Ulberg drops his UFC debut.

— Okamoto

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Welterweight: Sean Brady (14-0, 4-0 UFC) defeats Jake Matthews (17-5, 10-5 UFC) by third-round submission

In a battle of welterweight prospects, Brady showed up in a big way.

Brady steamrolled Matthews, finishing with a submission (arm triangle) at 3:28 of the third round. The undefeated Brady dominated Matthews in every facet of MMA, outwrestling him and outgrappling him — and even wobbling him with strikes in the third. It was the kind of victory that announced Brady as a real threat in a very good UFC welterweight division. Brady winning by submission was +400 per Caesars by William Hill.

“I think I just deserve a top-15 guy,” Brady said in his postfight interview. “Let’s see who they give me after this.”

Matthews’ best moment came in the first round. He dropped Brady with a punch after catching a Brady kick. But Brady was quick to get on top in a ground scramble. And he spent the rest of the round there. Brady went back to that clear advantage in the second round, shooting a double-leg takedown on Matthews and getting him down. Brady dominated from there, getting the back and slipping into mount while landing punches.

In the third round, Brady rocked Matthews with a left hook. Matthews ended up being the one going for a takedown, which Brady stuffed and then won position in a scramble yet again. From there, Brady got into dominant position and wrapped Matthews up into an arm-triangle choke from arm triangle.

Brady, 28, is 4-0 in the UFC with two straight submission finishes in a row. The Philadelphia native is the former Cage Fury Fighting Championship welterweight champion. Brady’s four-fight UFC winning streak is the third-best active winning streak in the division, behind champion Kamaru Usman (13) and Leon Edwards (8). Matthews, still just 26 years old out Australia, had a three-fight winning streak snapped.

Raimondi

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Strawweight: Amanda Lemos (9-1-1, 3-1 UFC) defeats Livinha Souza (14-3, 3-2 UFC) by first-round TKO

Lemos finished this fight between Brazilian women with a jab.

The straight punch dropped Souza, and referee Jason Herzog jumped in almost immediately, waving off the bout as a TKO at 3:39 of Round 1. It was a quick action by the ref, almost as quick as Lemos’ powerful fists.

The 33-year-old Lemos, in winning her third straight fight, was in command from the start, taking ownership of the center of the Octagon and stalking Souza, who was overmatched in the standup fighting. The bout went to the canvas midway through the round after Lemos landed an overhand right hand that dropped her countrywoman, but that actually gave Souza a glimmer of a chance. She grabbed hold of Lemos’ ankle and went for a submission — Souza has eight of them among her 14 career wins — but Lemos escaped, delivered some ground-and-pound, then got the fight back to standing.

That was the beginning of the end for Souza, who is 29. She had no answers, got dropped by the jab, and that sealed her second loss in her last three fights.

— Wagenheim

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Lightweight: Uroš Medić (7-0, 1-0 UFC) defeats Aalon Cruz (8-4, 0-2 UFC) by first-round TKO

Medic has been saying he’s UFC-ready for a while. He proved it big time in his promotional debut.

Medic devastated Cruz with strikes on the feet, en route to a first-round TKO finish. Medic hurt Cruz almost immediately, and referee Mark Smith gave Cruz every opportunity to continue — perhaps too many — before finally calling the bout at the 1:40 mark.

Medic, who fights out of Alaska but was born in Serbia, badly hurt Cruz with a left hook to the temple and followed that with a flying knee that Cruz ate flush. Cruz basically dropped to the ground, covered up and held onto Medic’s leg. Medic hit him with a long series of unanswered punches, and dropped him again with a left hand after Cruz somehow managed to stand up. The end was never in question.

A former contestant on Dana White’s Contender Series, Medic has finished all of his professional bouts, including six in the first round. Cruz, who also was on DWCS and is from Tampa, drops to 0-2 in the UFC with two first-round losses by knockout.

— Okamoto

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Men’s bantamweight: Trevin Jones (13-6 1 NC, 1-0 1 NC UFC) defeats Mario Bautista (8-2, 2-1 UFC) by second-round TKO

Jones finally has his first UFC victory — officially.

He actually won his promotional debut last August, knocking out Timur Valiev, but the result was overturned to a no-contest after Jones tested positive for marijuana. He had taken the fight on two days notice.

Now the 30-year-old native of New Orleans, who grew up in and still trains in Guam, has another knockout. This one came 40 seconds into the second round, when he caught Bautista coming in with a lead right uppercut, dropping him. Jones is unbeaten in his past four fights.

Bautista, a 27-year-old fighting out of the MMA Lab in Glendale, Arizona, saw a two-fight winning streak come to an end.

— Wagenheim

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Still to come:

Light heavyweight title bout: Jan Blachowicz (c) (27-8, 10-5 UFC, +200) vs. Israel Adesanya (20-0, 9-0 UFC, -240)
Women’s featherweight title bout: Amanda Nunes (c) (20-4, 13-1 UFC, -1100) vs. Megan Anderson (11-4, 3-2 UFC, +700)
Men’s bantamweight title bout: Petr Yan (c) (15-1, 7-0 UFC, -120) vs. Aljamain Sterling (19-3, 11-3 UFC, +100)
Lightweight: Islam Makhachev (18-1, 7-1 UFC, -380) vs. Drew Dober (23-9 1 NC, 9-5 1 NC UFC, +300)
(c) = defending champion

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