After a three-year absence, the UFC returned to Indianapolis on Wednesday night for Fight Night 27.
While the card wasn't stacked with high-profile names or championship tilts, the leather flew without regard for safety at Bankers Life Fieldhouse, as fighters from all levels of the UFC roster looked to take a step up the ladder.
The main event bout between Carlos Condit and Martin Kampmann was a rematch four years in the making. Both fighters have been staples in the upper tier of the welterweight division for the past several years, and their matchup at Fight Night 27 was to determine who would stay and who would go in the contender's mix at 170 pounds.
The pressure was on, and "The Natural Born Killer" responded in impressive fashion.
After spending the first round on his back, Condit came to life and put on a clinic via punches and kicks to Kampmann's face. The former interim champion landed a knee in the early stages of the fourth round that brought about the beginning of the end for the Danish striker.
The co-main event featured a battle of lightweights looking to enter the title shot conversation as Donald "Cowboy" Cerrone squared off with surging Brazilian Rafael dos Anjos. The 30-year-old Jackson's MMA-trained fighter had won three of his past four showings, where "RDA" had collected four consecutive victories of his own.
There was plenty on the line for each fighter on Wednesday night, but it was dos Anjos who made a statement in Indianapolis. The 28-year-old solidified himself in the upper tier of the ultra-competitive lightweight division by taking the unanimous decision victory on the judges' scorecards.
Where the two fights at the top of the card earned the lion's share of the attention in the buildup to Fight Night 27, the card was filled with plenty of gritty action from top to bottom. Several fighters had impressive showings on the sport's biggest stage, while others had far from stellar performances.
That being said, mixed in between all the face-punching and guillotine chokes, there were a handful of curious happenings in the "Circle City."
Let's take a look at the good, bad and strange from UFC Fight Night 27.
Condit put himself back in the game at Fight Night 27. After dropping back-to-back fights to champion Georges St-Pierre and current No. 1 contender Johny Hendricks, The Natural Born Killer was eager to fight his way back into title contention against Kampmann on Wednesday night.
While "The Hitman" used his wrestling to get the edge early, after the first round it was all Condit. The Jackson's MMA fighter battered Kampmann at every turn and eventually secured the finish in the fourth round.
Condit's victory will keep him in the highly competitive mix of the welterweight division, and his performance in Indianapolis is further proof the Albuquerque native is still one of MMA's fiercest finishers.
Rafael dos Anjos has been quietly building a case for a title shot. The well-rounded Brazilian came into his bout with Cerrone on a tear, and with a victory over Cowboy, dos Anjos puts himself on the radar for title contention.
The Kings MMA fighter took the fight directly to the former WEC lightweight title challenger and battered Cerrone for the first two rounds. While Cerrone bounced back in the final frame, it wasn't enough to turn the tide, and dos Anjos took the unanimous decision victory.
With the win over Cerrone, "RDA" guarantees his next challenge will come against one of the division's best.
Coming off winning The Ultimate Fighter and upsetting Uriah Hall, 21-year-old Kelvin Gastelum came in to Fight Night 27 with a lot of expectation, and he absolutely delivered on Wednesday night.
The Team Reign fighter made a successful welterweight debut by earning a first-round submission victory over Brian Melancon. The TUF winner ate a few big shots early, but he dropped the Strikeforce transplant with an uppercut before finishing him off with a rear-naked choke.
With the victory, Gastelum keeps his undefeated record intact, and the buzz surrounding him will continue to grow.
All the hype going in to Fight Night 27 was on Erik Perez, but apparently no one translated it to Takeya Mizugaki. The scrappy Japanese bantamweight brought the ruckus directly to the highly touted prospect to pull off the upset split-decision victory.
Mizugaki got the best of Perez in nearly every exchange throughout the three-round affair, and in doing so, he picked up his third consecutive win. While he has had trouble staying in the win column consistently, there is no doubt Mizugaki always shows up to fight, and his performance on Wednesday night was another solid example.
It wasn't pretty by any means, but Brad Tavares picked up his fourth consecutive victory over Bubba McDaniel.
The featherweight division has quickly become one of the most competitive collections under the UFC banner. A handful of fighters are battling to earn a shot at the 145-pound crown, and Darren Elkins kept himself in the title shot conversation by defeating Hatsu Hioki on Wednesday night.
The Indiana native was coming off a first-round knockout against former title challenger Chad Mendes in April at UFC on Fox 7, but he fought his way back into the win column as he earned a unanimous decision victory over the Japanese veteran. Despite Hioki landing a body kick that injured him in the early goings, Elkins battled back strong to win the fight on the judges' scorecards.
"The Damage" has now been successful in six of his past seven outings, and his win in Indianapolis will guarantee his next showing will come against a top-ranked opponent.
There was solid hype surrounding Brandon Thatch's UFC debut, and he didn't disappoint. The Colorado native put on a impressive performance as he scored a first-round knockout over TUF alum Justin Edwards at Fight Night 27.
While the fight didn't last long enough for Thatch to put his full skill set on display, he showed enough to prove he belongs competing inside the Octagon.
The third time is a charm for Jason High. The "Kansas City Bandit" had come out on the business end of his two previous showings under the UFC banner, but the veteran picked up his first official UFC win on Wednesday night against James Head.
High looked impressive as he pressed the action from the opening bell until he locked in the fight-ending guillotine choke.
The previous installment of "Good, Bad and Strange" for Fight Night 26 marked the first time a referee had been featured in my fight night musings. Yet, where Kevin McDonald did a remarkable job of handling the violent frenzy that was Michael McDonald vs. Brad Pickett, on Wednesday night, referee Rob Hinds had the opposite performance.
During the opening round of Roger Bowling vs. Abel Trujillo, the official pulled a referee "no no" by touching the fighters during a submission attempt. Bowling had Trujillo locked in a guillotine choke when an overeager Hinds tapped the Cincinnati native's arm. Typically a touch from the referee means the fight is over, but fortunately, Bowling didn't respond and kept the choke intact.
While that mishap was a bad look on Hinds' behalf, it was far from the worst.
After Trujillo plugged two questionable knees into a grounded Bowling, Hinds called time citing the blows were done intentionally, then changed his mind and deemed them unintentional after the fight was called. This lead to the bout being called a "no-contest" rather than Trujillo being disqualified.
There is no doubt calling live action is a difficult task inside the cage, but a referee has to stick to his original call.
While losing to Mizugaki is nothing for Erik Perez to hang his head about, the buzz surrounding him certainly suffered at Fight Night 27. The UFC has made no secret of its plans to take the Octagon to Mexico, and with "Goyito" being part of the marketing machine, Perez continuing to win was key.
The unfortunate aspect of the situation is that Perez put on an exciting fight against a gritty, proven veteran, but he came out on the short end of the split decision. At 23 years old, there is still plenty of time for Perez to come into his own, but it will be interesting to see how this fight affected his status in that particular push.
Normally, a loss will derail the hype train, but I'm not sure if that will be the case with Perez.
The fight between Dylan Andrews and Papy Abedi may have started off uneventful, but it certainly didn't end that way.
"The Villain" battled back from serious adversity in the form of an injured shoulder to score a third-round knockout victory over the heavy-handed Abedi. An Abedi slam caused the injury, but Andrews battled through and finished the fight in impressive fashion as he left the Swedish fighter face down on the canvas.
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