“The Ultimate Fighter Latin America” winner pushed a merciless pace across five rounds at elevation and escaped with a split decision against Alex Caceres in the UFC Fight Night 92 headliner on Saturday at the Vivint Smart Home Arena in Salt Lake City. Judges Glenn Trowbridge and Tony Weeks saw it for Rodriguez, 48-47 and 48-47, while Derek Cleary struck a 49-46 scorecard for Caceres.
Rodriguez (9-1, 5-0 UFC) blended traditional techniques with wild spinning attacks and unorthodox kicks. The 23-year-old taekwondo black belt at times overwhelmed Caceres with volume but never had the MMA Lab rep in real danger. Caceres (12-9, 7-7 UFC) made his most substantial moves in the third round, where he flurried with punches, connected with a knee to the body and scrambled into to top position, applying his ground-and-pound from a crouched position. Rodriguez righted his ship in round four, as he backed up “Bruce Leeroy” with kicks to the legs, punches upstairs and another barrage of spinning punches and kicks.
Though Caceres landed a takedown in the fifth round, he failed to consolidate it with damage or control. Rodriguez kept his foot on the accelerator until the end, capping his performance with a last-second cartwheel kick that missed the mark but nevertheless wowed the crowd.
Bermudez Bests Returning Bezerra
Long Island MMA standout Dennis Bermudez utilized takedowns and damaging ground-and-pound in securing a unanimous decision over “The Ultimate Fighter Brazil” Season 1 winner Rony Mariano Bezerra in the featherweight co-main event. All three cageside judges sided with Bermudez (16-5, 9-3 UFC): 30-27, 30-26 and 30-27.
In his first appearance in more than a year, Bezerra (14-6, 4-3 UFC) was on his heels from the start. Bermudez delivered his first takedown roughly two minutes into the fight and opened a gruesome vertical gash on the Brazilian’s forehead with a short elbow. Blood poured from the wound, but Bezerra fought on. He knocked Bermudez out of the air with a counter right hand in the second round but whiffed on a guillotine choke and wound up on the bottom. Bezerra returned to his feet, only to be taken down again, not once, not twice, but three different times.
Bermudez nearly squandered his good work in the third round. Bezerra reversed out of a lazy takedown attempt from “The Ultimate Fighter 14” finalist, mounted briefly and closed in on a rear-naked choke. Bermudez waded through the adversity, moved to a more advantageous position and restored order
Leites Choke Submits Camozzi
Nova Uniao’s Thales Leites submitted Chris Camozzi with a palm-to-palm rear-naked choke in the third round of their welterweight feature. Leites (26-6, 11-5 UFC) finished it 2:58 into round three, breaking a two-fight losing streak in the process.
A replacement for the injured Brad Tavares, Camozzi (24-11, 9-8) was a non-factor. Leites ran him through a maze of clinches from which there was no exit. The Brazilian jiu-jitsu black belt advanced to the back in all three rounds, wearing down Camozzi with ground-and-pound and the constant threat of various chokes. Leites secured his final takedown inside the first 40 seconds of round three, circled to the back, cut off escape with a body triangle and eventually snaked his arms in place for the choke.
Streaking Ponzinibbio Downs Cummings
American Top Team export Santiago Ponzinibbio won for the third time in as many appearances, as he was awarded a unanimous verdict over Zak Cummings in a featured tilt at 170 pounds. Ponzinibbio (23-3, 5-2 UFC) drew 29-28, 29-28 and 30-27 nods from the judges.
Cummings (19-5, 5-2 UFC) could not match the hand speed of the Argentine striker. Ponzinibbio tore into him with probing jabs and stabbing right hands, resulting in significant damage to both eyes. Cummings connected with his share of thudding lefts, but the Irving, Texas, native was often met with two, three and four shots in return. Ponzinibbio also mixed in kicks at opportune times, including a concussive blow to the head in the first round that might have felled a lesser man.
The defeat brought an end to a modest two-fight winning streak for Cummings.
Smith Routs Prospect Gigliotti
Repeated takedowns and a punishing clinch carried Strikeforce veteran Trevor Smith to a unanimous decision over Power MMA prospect Joseph Gigliotti in a three-round middleweight showcase. All three cageside judges scored it the same: 30-26 for Smith (14-6, 4-3 UFC).
Gigliotti (7-1, 0-1 UFC) failed to maintain a safe distance between himself and the Washington-based grappler. Smith lured him into one clinch after another, sapped his strength and weakened him to such a degree that he was unable to mount much resistance. He was particularly dominant in round two, where he appeared to break Gigliotti’s nose with a knee strike, swooped into top position and peppered him with punches and elbows. Smith closed the middle stanza by framing a brabo choke on the deteriorating Resurrection Fighting Alliance alum.
Smith executed two takedowns in the third round, removing any possibility of a Hail Mary comeback for Gigliotti. The 35-year-old has won four of his last six fights.
Moroz Outpoints Newcomer Taylor
Maryna Moroz made the most of a difficult situation, as she walked away with a split verdict against short-notice replacement Danielle Taylor in a women’s strawweight feature. Judges Cleary and Rich Montanez scored it for Moroz, 29-28 and 30-27, while Dan Furse cast a dissenting 29-28 nod in Taylor’s favor.
Faced with seven-inch height and reach deficits, Taylor found herself pinned on the perimeter for much of the 15-minute match. Moroz (8-1, 3-1 UFC) kept the King of the Cage champion at bay with a consistent jab, basic punching combinations, occasional kicks and some well-timed counters. A fill-in for the injured Justine Kish, Taylor (7-2, 0-1 UFC) connected with a few rolling overhand rights, one of which stunned Moroz in the second round. However, it was not enough to turn the tide in her favor, as she failed to keep pace with the Ukrainian’s output.
McGee Grinds Past Steele
“The Ultimate Fighter” Season 11 winner Court McGee did what he does best and captured a unanimous decision over former CES MMA champion Dominique Steele in their three-round undercard collision at 170 pounds. McGee (18-5, 7-4 UFC) swept the scorecards with 30-27, 29-28 and 29-28 marks from the judges.
Steele (14-8, 1-3 UFC) met with trouble right out of the gate, as “The Cursher” wobbled him with the first punch he threw, followed up with a takedown and moved to the back. From there, McGee threatened with a rear-naked choke and neck crank before the Team Vision export escaped to his feet. Steele had the Orem, Utah, native ducking for cover with left hands on more than one occasion but could not stay out of the clinch. McGee repeatedly dragged him into close-quarters combat, stifling him against the fence with relentless pressure and sporadic elbows and punches.
McGee has won four of his past six bouts.
Tybura Head Kick KOs Pesta
Former M-1 Global champion Marcin Tybura knocked out Viktor Pesta with a second-round head kick in a preliminary heavyweight encounter. Pesta (10-3, 1-3 UFC) met his end 53 seconds into round two, the finish sudden and violent.
Tybura (14-2, 1-1 UFC) clubbed the Czech with a series of overhand rights, staggered him with a left hook and sprawled out of a takedown in a first round that was largely one-sided. Less than a minute into the second, he sent his shin crashing into Pesta’s head with toe-curling consequences. The 26-year-old was unconscious before he hit the canvas. No follow-up shots were necessary.
Surging Teymur Sinks Novelli
David Teymur cut down Team Quest representative Jason Novelli with second-round punches in their undercard pairing at 155 pounds. Teymur (5-1, 2-0 UFC) brought it to a close 1:25 into round two.
Novelli (11-2, 0-1 UFC) struggled to find a rhythm. Teymur forced him to chase and battered him with kicks to the legs, body and arms throughout the first round. A straight left early in the second floored Novelli and set the stage for the finish. Teymur fired off a series of accurate punches with both hands before closing the deal with a right hook on the button.
Teymur, 27, has rattled off five consecutive victories, four of them finishes.
Ishihara Blows Away Gutierrez
Team Alpha Male’s Teruto Ishihara wiped out Horacio Gutierrez with first-round punches in a preliminary featherweight confrontation. Gutierrez (2-3, 0-2 UFC) succumbed to blows 2:32 into round one, as the 25-year-old lost his third fight in a row.
Ishihara (9-2-2, 2-0-1 UFC) used the Chicago Fight Team rep’s aggression against him. While moving backward, he connected with a sweeping counter left hook that floored the oncoming Gutierrez and rendered him incapable of defending himself. Ishihara pounced with hammerfists and delivered another left hook while the dazed Gutierrez was rising to his feet. He collapsed back to the mat, prompting referee Dave Seljestad to act.
Swanson Outduels ‘Crusher’ Kawajiri
Jackson-Wink MMA mainstay Cub Swanson won for the eighth time in 10 appearances, as he took a unanimous verdict from former Shooto champion Tatsuya Kawajiri in a three-round undercard battle at 145 pounds. Scores were 30-27, 30-27 and 29-28, all in Swanson’s favor.
Kawajiri (35-10-2, 3-3 UFC) gave the World Extreme Cagefighting alum fits with his takedowns and top game, particularly in the first round. There, he advanced to full mount and applied some of his patented ground-and-pound. Swanson (23-7, 8-3 UFC) shifted the momentum in round two, as he countered an attempted takedown into mount, rotated to the back and nearly finished it with a rear-naked choke.
Both men had their moments across the final five minutes. Kawajiri executed a pair of takedowns, only to see the Californian escape on both occasions. Swanson again climbed to the back, traded reversals and closed the third round by firing off standing-to-ground punches on the visibly fatigued Kawajiri.
Ledet Jab Shreds Sherman
Legacy Fighting Championship veteran Justin Ledet remained unbeaten, as he claimed a unanimous decision over Chase Sherman in their preliminary heavyweight affair. All three cageside judges saw it the same: 30-27 for Ledet (7-0, 1-0 UFC).
Sherman (9-2, 0-1 UFC) connected with heavy leg kicks but spent the majority of his time eating jabs from the Rosharon, Texas, native. Ledet pieced together two-, three- and four-punches combinations and mixed in a few knees at close range, but his jab stole the show. He snapped back Sherman’s head repeatedly, opened a small cut near his right eye and bloodied his mouth and nose. Once fatigue became a factor, the bout devolved into little more than target practice for the favorite.
The loss snapped Sherman’s four-fight winning streak.