The Ultimate Fighting Championship on Saturday ushered in 2019 with its first fight card on ESPN and ESPN Plus -- the American sports conglomerate’s new streaming service. A champion-versus-champion superfight between Henry Cejudo and T.J. Dillashaw was pegged as the UFC Fight Night 143 main event, and the two men combined for a quick burst of action that was eerily reminiscent of the promotion’s debut headliner on Fox between Cain Velasquez and Junior dos Santos.
Cejudo put his foot on the gas and from the opening bell looked to be headhunting against Dillashaw, a Bang Muay Thai specialist. His aggressiveness paid dividends early, as an overhand right put Dillashaw in a world of trouble. Cejudo swarmed from the moment he smelled blood, refused to allow his counterpart to recover and retained his flyweight title with a technical knockout 32 seconds into the first round. It was the fastest finish in the history of the 125-pound championship.
Afterward, Cejudo was all class. While elated by his latest victory, he credited Dillashaw for making the main event a reality and then indicated his interest in a rematch at 135 pounds. Dillashaw was distraught in defeat and did not agree with referee Kevin MacDonald’s decision to call for the stoppage, believing he was not afforded the opportunity as bantamweight champion to work his way back into the fight.
The Bull and the Matador
Despite backlash from fans and media alike, the much-maligned Greg Hardy made his UFC debut against fellow Dana White’s Tuesday Night Contender Series graduate Allen Crowder in the co-main event. The fight was met with criticism due to Hardy’s past history of alleged domestic violence, which resulted in his being ostracized by the NFL. Despite the questions of morality, UFC President Dana White declared that Hardy was “here to stay.”
Hardy looked to overwhelm his opponent at the start, but Crowder, despite being hit with heavy punches, never wavered and used his in-cage experience to tire out the American Top Team-trained heavyweight, grind him against the cage and work a grappling attack against an opponent that had yet to fight off of his back in a professional bout.
In the middle of the second round, a clearly gassed Hardy stuffed a takedown attempt from Crowder, stood and fired a blatantly illegal knee to the head of his still grounded opponent, sending him to his back in a dazed state. After discussions with referee Dan Miragliotta and cageside doctors, Crowder was declared unfit to continue and announced as the winner by disqualification. Hardy’s promotional debut ended in puzzling fashion, as the crowd responded with a chorus of profanity-laced chants. Despite the fight-ending foul, White told media members in a post-fight scrum that he expects Hardy to compete inside the UFC again.
‘Cowboy’ Back in the Saddle
Donald Cerrone made his return to the lightweight division to take on upstart contender Alexander Hernandez in the featured prelim on ESPN. “Cowboy” stole the show in vintage fashion, taking advantage of Hernandez’s inexperience while overwhelming him for the better part of two rounds, unleashing a polished and precise kickboxing attack with which “Alexander the Great” could not keep up.
In the first round, Hernandez came out aggressively and stood in the pocket, looking to land hard, heavy shots and put away the veteran early. Cerrone stayed composed despite eating damaging shots from his opponent. As the round wore on, “Cowboy” started to gain steam and began landing at will. The middle stanza was all Cerrone, who walked down Hernandez while landing boxing combinations.
The fight-ending sequence started with a head kick that sent a wobbly Hernandez to the mat. From there, “Cowboy” followed up with heavy ground-and-pound that prompted the stoppage. Afterward, Cerrone called for a fight against former lightweight and featherweight champion Conor McGregor.
Gregor Gillespie kept his undefeated record intact, extending his winning streak to 13 fights with a second-round technical knockout of Yancy Medeiros. Gillespie established a pressure-filled wrestling attack that wore out Medeiros and culminated in a ground-and-pound flurry from back mount that beat the buzzer and netted the stoppage at the end of Round 2 … Joseph Benavidez took a unanimous decision from Dustin Ortiz in a grapple-heavy flyweight rematch. Benavidez managed to successfully thwart the majority of Ortiz’s takedown attempts while landing many of his own. He also dropped Ortiz in the first round with a big overhand left. After the win, Benavidez called for another crack at the flyweight crown … Paige VanZant submitted Rachael Ostovich in their women’s flyweight showcase, executing a come-from-behind armbar finish after being dominated by the Hawaiian in the opening round … Glover Teixeira withstood an elbow-laced blitz from Karl Roberson, implementing a grappling attack for which the short-notice replacement had no answer. Glover took down Roberson, moved to mount and transitioned to side control before finishing the fight with an arm-triangle choke.