UFC 259 Prelims: Dominick Cruz Outpoints Casey Kenney, Records First Win Since 2016

By: Brian Knapp
Mar 6, 2021

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Dominick Cruz still has something left to offer.

The former Ultimate Fighting Championship bantamweight titleholder eked out a split decision over Casey Kenney in the featured UFC 259 prelim on Saturday at the UFC Apex in Las Vegas. Judges Derek Cleary and Sal D’Amato scored it 29-28 and 30-27 for Cruz, while Michael Bell saw it 29-28 for Kenney.

Neither man was willing to budge. Cruz (23-3, 6-2 UFC) darted in and out with his patented unorthodox movements, piled up points with lunging punches to the head and occasionally zeroed in on the body. Kenney counteracted those efforts with repeated kicks to the legs and timely power punches upstairs. Both men were stricken by fatigue in the latter stages, but two Cruz takedowns in the third round seemed to provide the difference.

The victory was Cruz’s first since June 4, 2016.

Phillip Upends Hyped Song

MMA Lab prospect Kyler Phillips took a massive step forward in his development, as he laid claim to a unanimous decision over Yadong Song in an entertaining three-round bantamweight battle. All three cageside judges scored it the same: 29-28 for Phillips (9-1, 3-0 UFC), who extended his winning streak to four fights.

Song (16-5-1, 5-1-1 UFC) struggled to answer his opponent’s variety. Phillips cracked him with a head kick and a spinning back kick to the body in the first round, executed multiple takedowns and kept the Team Alpha Male rep off-balance for much of their 15-minute duel. Song made his move in Round 3, where he drew the John Crouch disciple into power punching exchanges. However, the finish he needed to dig out of a two-rounds-to-none hole was nowhere in sight.

The loss was Song’s first since Oct. 24, 2016.

Related » UFC 259 Round-by-Round Scoring

Askarov Dominates Shopworn Benavidez

Former Absolute Championship Berkut titleholder Askar Askarov remained undefeated with a unanimous decision over Joseph Benavidez in a three-round tilt at 125 pounds. Askarov (14-0-1, 3-0-1 UFC) swept the scorecards with 30-27, 30-27 and 30-26 marks from the judges, perhaps cementing himself as the No. 1 contender for the flyweight crown.

Benavidez (28-8, 15-6 UFC) was a step too slow and seemed unsure of himself throughout the match. Askarov battered his midsection pink with lead-leg front kicks, answered his wild swings with tighter punches on the counter and secured multiple takedowns. By the time it was over, Benavidez had suffered significant damage to his left eye and looked very much like a directionless fighter in a division he once seemed destined to rule.

Askarov has pieced together a three-fight winning streak since his split draw with Brandon Moreno in September 2019.

France Weathers Bontorin, Nets Finish

City Kickboxing standout Kai Kara France brought down Rogerio Bontorin with punches in the first round of their flyweight confrontation. France (22-9, 5-2 UFC) finished it 4:55 into Round 1, as he won for the 10th time in 12 appearances and maintained his Top 10 ranking at 125 pounds.

Bontorin (16-3, 2-2 UFC) struck for a takedown inside 90 seconds, advanced immediately to the back and secured his position with a body triangle. The Gile Ribeiro protégé made one pass after another at rear-naked chokes. All of them failed. France managed to escape to his feet late in the round and uncorked three right hands—an overhand, an uppercut and another overhand—that put away the stunned Brazilian.

The 28-year-old Bontorin has lost two fights in a row.

Elliott Swamps Overmatched Espinosa

Repeated takedowns, crushing top control and effective ground-and-pound carried former Titan Fighting Championships titleholder Tim Elliott to a unanimous decision over Jordan Espinosa in a three-round flyweight scrap. All three cageside judges scored it for Elliott (17-11-1, 6-9 UFC): 30-27, 30-27 and 30-25.

Espinosa (15-9, 2-4 UFC) was essentially a non-factor. Elliott grounded him with ease, nullified his guard and made for a miserable experience across 15 one-sided minutes. Espinosa sliced open “The Ultimate Fighter” Season 24 winner with an elbow strike from the bottom in the third round in what seemed like a brief window of success. Elliott responded by using tactical head movement to drip blood into his eyes.

Elliott will head into his next assignment on the strength of two straight wins.

Nzechukwu Rally Stops Ulberg

Fortis MMA representative Kennedy Nzechukwu overcame a slow start to dispatch the previously unbeaten Carlos Ulberg with punches in the second round of their light heavyweight tilt. Nzechukwu (8-1, 2-1 UFC) drew the curtain 3:19 into Round 2.

Ulberg (3-1, 0-1 UFC) staggered the Nigerian with a head kick and chipped away with punches, kicks and knees, directing his efforts to the legs, body and head. However, the frenetic pace he pushed failed to break Nzechukwu and slowly bled his own gas tank dry. Ulberg seemed to catch a second wind at the start of the second round, only to be drawn into an exchange of haymakers along the fence. Nzechukwu dropped him with a clean right hook and mopped up what was left with standing-to-ground punches.

Nzechukwu, 28, has posted back-to-back wins since he submitted to a Paul Craig triangle choke on March 30, 2019.

Brady Choke Submits Matthews

Unbeaten former Cage Fury Fighting Championships titleholder Sean Brady submitted “The Ultimate Fighter Nations” alum Jake Matthews with an arm-triangle choke in the third round of their welterweight encounter. Matthews (17-5, 10-5 UFC) conceded defeat 3:28 into Round 3.

Brady (14-0, 4-0 UFC) navigated a brief brush with adversity in the first round, where his Australian counterpart caught one of his kicks, bloodied his nose with a right hand and drove him to the mat. From there, however, the rout was on. Brady assumed top position and applied suffocating control, establishing his clear dominance on the ground. Matthews surrendered takedowns in the second and third rounds, wound up pinned to the mat and retreated to a defensive shell. Brady softened him with punches in the third, framed the arm-triangle from half guard, cleared the legs and elicited the tapout.

The defeat closed the book on a three-fight winning streak for Matthews.

Intimidating Lemos Wrecks Souza

Once-beaten former Lion Fight champion Amanda Lemos blew away Livinha Souza with punches in the first round of their women’s strawweight clash. Souza (14-3, 3-1 UFC), who had never before been finished, bowed out 3:39 into Round 1.

Lemos (9-1-1, 3-1 UFC) set the tone at the start, as she seized command of the center of the cage, planted her feet and went about dismantling the onetime Invicta Fighting Championships titleholder with precise punches. Souza hit the deck on the end of a stiff right cross, turtled and managed a pass at a heel hook before the two women re-engaged on the feet. Soon after, Lemos dropped her with a jab, pounced with punches and forced referee Jason Herzog to intervene.

An emerging threat at 115 pounds, Lemos has rattled off three straight victories.

Unbeaten Medic Smashes Cruz

Undefeated Kings MMA prospect Uros Medic dazzled in his promotional debut, as he cut down Aalon Cruz with punches in the first round of their lightweight affair. Cruz (8-4, 0-2 UFC) succumbed to blows 1:40 into Round 1, referee Mark Smith having given him every conceivable opportunity to recover.

Medic (7-0, 1-0 UFC) wobbled his fellow Dana White’s Contender Series alum with a right hook, invited him into the clinch and then broke free with a left hook at close range. Cruz stumbled backward, absorbed the impact from a blocked flying knee and folded under a barrage of punches. Medic continued to unleash his hands through several attempted scrambles before ultimately prompting the stoppage.

The 27-year-old Medic has finished all seven of his opponents, six of them inside one round.

Jones Stings Favored Bautista

Former Pacific Xtreme Combat champion Trevin Jones put away Mario Bautista with punches in the second round of their bantamweight pairing. Jones (13-6, 1-0 UFC) brought it to a close 40 seconds into Round 2, springing the upset as a 2-to-1 underdog.

Bautista (8-2, 2-2 UFC) kept his adversary guessing for much of the first round, as the MMA Lab export countered effectively and fired off body kicks, knees and left hands with ill intent. However, Jones floored him with a right uppercut early in the second round, followed him to the canvas and sealed the deal with a series of rapid-fire hammerfists.

The loss snapped Bautista’s two-fight winning streak. Advertisement
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