Julianna Pena thought she was safe on the ground. Valentina Shevchenko proved otherwise.
The 28-year-old Shevchenko cemented her claim as the No. 1 contender for the Ultimate Fighting Championship women’s bantamweight title, as she submitted “The Ultimate Fighter” 18 winner with a second-round armbar in the UFC on Fox 23 headliner on Saturday at the Pepsi Center in Denver. Pena (8-3, 4-1 UFC) conceded defeat 4:29 into Round 2.
Shevchenko (14-2, 3-1 UFC) answered aggression with cold calculation. The Kyrgyzstani kickboxer surprised Pena with a pair of takedowns from the clinch in the first round, peppering her with ground-and-pound before evading an attempted armbar. “The Venezuelan Vixen” turned the tables in the second, where she executed a takedown of her own and set up shop in Shevchenko’s full guard. Pena was content to strike from there, even as her opponent moved her legs and hips into position for the armbar. Shevchenko maintained her grip on the maneuver through a desperate scramble and forced the tapout, likely securing a rematch with reigning UFC women’s bantamweight champion Amanda Nunes.
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Masvidal Shreds Cerrone in Co-Headliner
American Top Team mainstay Jorge Masvidal took care of Donald Cerrone with second-round punches in their welterweight co-main event. Masvidal (32-11, 9-4 UFC) brought it to a close 1:00 into Round 2, authoring perhaps the most significant victory of his outstanding 43-fight career.
As expected, neither man shied away from contact. Cerrone (32-8, 19-5 UFC) chewed up the Miami native’s lead leg with kicks but failed to move his head and provided “Gamebred” with an inviting target. Masvidal found the mark with a nasty three-punch combination, leveling “Cowboy” in the waning seconds of the first round. He pounced for the finish, only to have the bell save Cerrone from certain doom. Masvidal went after his clearly compromised counterpart at the start of the second, dropped him with an overhand right and met Cerrone with a hellacious volley of body blows against the fence after he returned to his feet. With that, referee Herb Dean had seen enough.
The loss snapped Cerrone’s four-fight winning streak.
Rising Star Ngannou Blasts Arlovski
Francis Ngannou continued his rapid ascent on the divisional ladder, as he wiped out Andrei Arlovski with first-round punches in their featured heavyweight pairing. Now on a career-worst four-fight losing streak, Arlovski (25-14, 14-8 UFC) met his end 92 seconds into Round 1. He might as well have been a bug splattering on a windshield.
Ngannou (10-1, 5-0 UFC) stalked and struck. He countered a right hand from Arlovski with a clubbing overhand left and followed it with a short right uppercut. The Belarusian went stiff momentarily and hit the deck with Ngannou in close pursuit. A series of unanswered rights on the turtled Arlovski forced the stoppage.
The 30-year-old Ngannou has won nine fights in a row, all of them finishes.
Knight Choke Finishes Caceres
Jason Knight submitted “The Ultimate Fighter 12” quarterfinalist Alex Caceres with a rear-naked choke in the second round of their featherweight showcase. Caceres (12-10, 7-8 UFC) bowed out 4:21 into Round 2, losing for the fifth time in seven appearances.
Knight (16-2, 3-1 UFC) was the aggressor from start to finish. However, Caceres outstruck the Alan Belcher protégé for much of the first round -- until a high-amplitude takedown, immediate back take and the threat of a rear-naked choke just before the bell changed the complexion of the fight. Knight picked up where he left off in the middle stanza, as he scrambled to the MMA Lab rep’s back, secured position with a body triangle and softened him with a sustained ground-and-pound assault. He ultimately wore down Caceres, snaked his arms in place and coaxed the tapout.
The 24-year-old Knight has rattled off three straight wins.