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Monday, July 4, 2022

The Real Winners and Losers from UFC on ESPN 29 | Bleacher Report

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    UFC on ESPN 29 went down on Saturday night inside the Apex facility in Las Vegas, Nevada. By the time action concluded, most onlookers seemed to agree that it was an excellent night of fights. 

    In the main event, No. 3-ranked middleweight contender Jared Cannonier burst back into title contention with a hard-fought decision win over the always game Kelvin Gastelum. In the co-main event, meanwhile, three-time Olympic wrestler Mark O. Madsen picked up an impressive win over the extremely experienced Clay Guida.

    Other highlights of the main card included an impressive win from Vinc Pichel, who defeated Austin Hubbard by unanimous decision, and a big win from Alexandre Pantoja, who seemingly earned a flyweight title shot with a submission defeat of Brandon Royval. While the main card was plenty entertaining, the undercard was arguably even better, highlighted by a streak of four consecutive finishes to start the night. 

    As always the B/R combat sports team was on duty to rate the biggest winners and losers of the night. Keep scrolling for our take.

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    After a late 2020 loss to Robert Whittaker, Jared Cannonier’s status as a future middleweight title challenger was suddenly in question. Had he lost to Kelvin Gastelum in the UFC on ESPN 29 main event, his title ambitions would have taken another serious hit. 

    Thankfully for Cannonier and his fans, he got the win he sought. After five, competitive rounds, the hard-hitting middleweight was awarded a unanimous decision victory. Just like that, he was back in the title conversation—and conceivably the next man in line for the winner of the upcoming title fight between champion Israel Adesanya and challenger Robert Whittaker. 

    In his post-fight interview with commentator Daniel Cormier, Cannonier suggested he’s interested in taking another fight in the in the meantime because he’s “broke,” but after his win over Gastelum, he’s right back on the cusp of championship glory. The title shot is seemingly his if he’s willing to wait for it. That’s what we call bouncing back. 

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    Mark O. Madsen needed a win in his UFC on ESPN 29 co-headlining fight with Clay Guida. Not only because the former Danish Olympian had not fought since a March, 2020 win over Austin Hubbard, but also because his wife Maria was recently diagnosed with multiple sclerosis.

    Ahead of the fight, Madsen explained how his wife’s condition was motivating him to perform:

    “A lot of this is actually about showing my wife that we won’t let disease and we won’t let adversity determine anything in our life,” Madsen told UFC.com. “We won’t let it determine our dreams, what dreams we should be focusing on or what dreams we should be chasing. Even with MS, we still have all the cards on the table, and this is really about showing my wife that we can still fight, we are still in the game.”

    Guida, a 57-fight veteran, put up an excellent fight, but Madsen ultimately got the outcome he wanted, leaving the cage with a split decision win. It wasn’t the kind of performance that will launch him into a top-15 fight, but it was a feel-good win for a guy who really seemed to need one.

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    Around midnight on the east coast, unranked heavyweights Parker Porter and Chase Sherman lumbered out of their corners for the third round of a fight that was decent at best. Why the UFC chose to put this fight—which always had a high likelihood of being a snoozer—so far up on the UFC on ESPN 29 lineup is a head-scratcher to say the least.

    Some fans have no problem staying up late to watch fights. Yet a good portion of the UFC fanbase would surely prefer to be sleeping when the clock strikes midnight. If the promotion is going to keep these fans up late, it could at least reward them with interesting, high stakes fights—something like Alexandre Pantoja and Brandon Royval’s main card flyweight fight, for example.

    Not only was that flyweight fight seemingly a No. 1 contender fight—the stakes don’t get much higher than that—but it always why looked like a fun matchup on paper. It could have been saved for later in the night, while we could have gotten Porter and Sherman’s fight out of the way much earlier. 

    It wasn’t the first time the UFC bout orders left fans scratching their heads, and it probably won’t be the last.

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    The UFC on ESPN 29 main card was kicked off by a flyweight No. 1 contender fight between Alexandre Pantoja and Brandon Royval. Pantoja won the fight by second-round submission, seemingly earning himself a title shot in the process based on a recent comment from UFC President Dana White.

    This is good news for the champion, Brandon Moreno. 

    After a dazzling win over Deiveson Figueiredo at UFC 263 in June, Moreno looks like he’s on the cusp of superstardom—but he’s going to need the right opponents to get there. Pantoja is just that. Moreno has fought the Brazilian grappling specialist twice before, first losing via submission in The Ultimate Fighter house, then losing by decision in the UFC in 2018. The pair’s history gives their potential championship rematch with a compelling, redemptive narrative as Moreno looks for a win against a guy who might just have his number. It’s just the kind of challenge he needs to topple to further cement himself as one of the UFC’s next big stars. 

    The champion, who was cage-side for Pantoja’s win and eagerly embraced the Brazilian’s post-fight call for a December fight, seems ready for it.

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    As we covered above, Alexandre Pantoja seemingly earned himself a crack at UFC flyweight champion Brandon Moreno with a submission win over Brandon Royval on the UFC on ESPN 29 main card. 

    In his post-fight interview with cage-side commentator Daniel Cormier, Pantoja made a courteous call for a December title fight with the champion, who happened to be in the building for the fight. 

    It was a perfect opportunity for a classic, in-cage stare down. The UFC used to do in-cage stare downs all the time—often after a fighter earned a title shot in a No. 1 contender fight—and it always seemed to drum up immediate interest in the upcoming championship fight. 

    Why the promotion stopped doing these in-cage stare downs is impossible to say, but it feels like a missed opportunity. We had both fighters under the same roof. Why not have them square off and start building the hype right away?

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    Brazilian bantamweight Josiane Nunes made her UFC debut on the UFC on ESPN 29 undercard, taking on Swedish Muay Thai specialist Bea Malecki. Despite being at a borderline comical seven-inch height disadvantage, Nunes was able to put forth a truly impressive performance.

    From the moment the fight was waved on, she move forward, forcing a close-range firefight with her far taller foe against the cage. This strategy worked wonders, as Malecki was visibly uncomfortable off her back foot. It also allowed Nunes to navigate a substantial reach deficit—with violent results. With just six seconds left in the fight’s first round, Nunes floored her towering foe with a thunderous overhand left. Just like that, it was over. 

    This thudding knockout win improved Nunes’ overall record to 8-1, and her current streak to seven straight, with her last five wins all coming by way of knockout. Most importantly, she announced herself to UFC fans—and her rivals in the bantamweight division—in truly emphatic fashion. It was a hell of a way to an entrance.

    Nunes’ wasn’t the only fighter on the card to make this kind of splash, either.

    Later, on the main card, Uzbekistan’s Saidyokub Kakhramonov made a short-notice UFC debut against well-established Guamanian bantamweight Trevin Jones. While Jones did his best to take away his rival’s weapons by gluing him to the cage, he had no answers for the Uzbekistani on the feet, and ultimately met his end on the mat, succumbing to third-round guillotine. 

    With his win over Jones, Kakhramonov moved onto a three-fight win-streak and elevated his overall record to a commendable 9-2—with seven wins by way of knockout or submission. Just like Nunes earlier in the night, he also made some real noise in his UFC debut, immediately announcing himself as a fighter to keep an eye on.

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    The UFC on ESPN 29 undercard was phenomenal. In the first fight of the night, we watched Ramiz Brahimaj choke Sasha Palatnikov unconcious in the first round. That was followed by a Knockout of the Year contender courtesty of Ignacio Bahamondes, who flattened Roosevelt Roberts with a third-round spinning kick, and a pair of first-round knockouts courtesy of William Knight and Josiane Nunes, who defeated Fabio Cherant and Bea Malecki respectively.

    As if those four consecutive finishes weren’t enough to whet fans’ appetites for the violence to come, the prelims were topped off by a thrilling war between Austin Lingo and Luis Saldana, which the former won by unanimous decision. 

    It was one of the best undercards in recent memory, and anybody who missed it flatly missed out.

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