Marina Rodriguez Outstrikes Michelle Waterson in UFC on ESPN 24 Headliner

By Tristen Critchfield May 8, 2021

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While it wasn’t the headliner most initially expected, Marina Rodriguez and Michelle Waterson put on a striking showcase at UFC on ESPN 24.

Ultimately, it was Rodriguez’s muay Thai stylings that won the day, as she outlanded Waterson over the course of five rounds to earn a unanimous decision triumph at the UFC Apex in Las Vegas on Saturday night. All three judges saw the flyweight fight for the Brazilian: 48-47, 49-46 and 49-46. Rodriguez and Waterson, who both normally compete at 115 pounds, agreed to step in for a makeshift main event after the originally slated feature between T.J. Dillashaw and Cory Sandhagen fell through.

Rodriguez (14-1-2, 4-1-2 UFC) held a visible size advantage over her opponent, who once reigned as Invicta Fighting Championships’s atomweight queen. Over the course of the first 15 minutes, Rodriguez racked up a lead on the scorecards behind her powerful right hand, kicks to various levels and solid elbows and knees in the clinch. Waterson’s chin held up through the assault, and she kept things interesting with standing side kicks to the body and heavy low kicks to her adversary’s lead leg.

“The Karate Hottie” did her best work in Round 4, when she landed a takedown with a little more than three minutes remaining and punished Rodriguez from half guard with punches and elbows for the rest of the period. It was the only time Waterson was able to ground her opponent.

Waterson (18-9, 6-5 UFC) started well in the fifth round, landing a high kick that caused some unusual swelling on Rodriguez’s chin and a back kick to the body that momentarily stopped her opponent in her tracks. From there, Rodriguez picked up the pace, displayed sturdy takedown defense and stalked Waterson with punching combinations against the fence to put a final stamp on her victory.

Rodriguez has won back-to-back outings, while Waterson has tasted defeat in three of her last four.

Morono Rocks, Swarms Cerrone on Short Notice

Alex Morono made the the most of his short-notice opportunity.

Stepping in as a replacement for Diego Sanchez, Morono came out with a violent purpose against Donald Cerrone, winning their co-main event via technical knockout 4:40 into the opening frame. The Fortis MMA member hurt Cerrone with a right hand, then swarmed with offense against the fence to force referee Marc Goddard to intervene on the veteran fighter’s behalf.

Morono (19-7, 1 NC, 8-4, 1 NC UFC) was strong from the outset, as he consistently found the range for solid right hands, bloodying Cerrone’s nose in the process. When “Cowboy” attempted to shift gears and wrestle, Morono denied all of his foe’s takedown attempts. Eventually, Morono countered a Cerrone (36-16, 2 NC, 23-13, 1 NC UFC) jab with a massive overhand right that had the BMF Ranch founder staggering backward in retreat. From there, the former lightweight title challenger had no answers as Morono targeted the head and body with punches until the bout was waved off.

“We didn’t throw any overhands in training — [I] always straighten them out,” Morono said of the finish. “I’m gonna probably be getting chewed out a little bit for it, but I’ll take it.”

Magny Outworks Neal

Volume striking, neutralizing clinch work and the occasional takedown carried Elevation Fight Team product Neil Magny to a unanimous decision triumph over Fortis MMA representative Geoff Neal at welterweight. Two judges scored the fight 29-28, while a third saw it 30-27 — all in favor of Magny, who has won four of his last five in UFC competition.

Neal sent Magny a message in Round 1, when he pressured his foe and connected with several hard left hands. The blows caused some swelling under Magny’s left eye, but it didn’t slow him down in the slightest. When Neal (13-4, 5-2 UFC) attempted to force more exchanges as the bout progressed, Magny (25-8, 18-7 UFC) wisely sucked him into the clinch, and when the two combatants were at range, “The Haitian Sensation” outlanded his opponent with rangy punches and a variety of kicks. Neal was never out of his depth, but Magny’s pace and strategy proved to be the difference as the bout progressed.

“I’m gonna use that cardio and conditioning as a weapon,” Magny said. “It’s proven time and time again to help me out in my fights.”

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De Lima Grounds Greene

Marcos Rogerio de Lima put together a rinse-and-repeat performance for three rounds against Maurice Greene to garner a clear-cut unanimous decision triumph in a forgettable heavyweight affair. The 35-year-old Brazilian received scorecards of 30-26, 30-26 and 30-27 to continue a string of alternating wins and losses that dates back to December 2014. Greene has lost four of his last five promotional outings.

Greene (9-6, 4-4 UFC) had no answers for his opponent’s wrestling. In each round, “Pezao” closed the distance with ease, changed levels and grounded Greene. From there, de Lima (18-7-1, 7-5 UFC) was largely content to maintain half guard, remain heavy on top and stay busy with moderate ground-and-pound. There was a chippy moment at the end of Round 2 when de Lima drew a warning from referee Herb Dean for landing a punch after the horn, but that was the only drama of the fight because Greene had no answers for his opponent once he was planted on his back.

Gregor Gillespie Overwhelms Ferreira with Pace

Gregor Gillespie set a pace that Diego Ferreria simply couldn’t match.

The four-time NCAA All-American wrestler from Edinboro University survived a harrowing opening stanza, then wore down his fading opponent to earn a stoppage in the second period. The end came 4:51 into Round 2, as Gillespie unloaded on Ferreira with punches and elbows from back mount. It was Gillespie’s first appearances since a head-kick KO loss to Kevin Lee in November 2019.

Gillespie (14-1, 7-1 UFC) struggled to keep Ferreira (17-4, 8-4 UFC) grounded in the opening stanza, as the Brazilian jiu-jitsu black belt scrambled out of bad positions, threatened with submissions and cracked his adversary with stinging right hands. At the end of Round 1, Gillespie headed back to his stool on wobbly legs.

It didn’t take long for Gillespie to find his second wind. Once he did, Ferreira must have felt like he was facing an avalanche. Gillespie relentlessly pursued takedown after takedown, and it was clear that Ferreira was accepting bottom position more freely as his gas tank waned. Eventually, Gillespie scrambled to his foe’s back, flattened him out and unloaded with a stream of unanswered strikes to force the stoppage.

“I had to get tired myself to get him tired,” Gilespie said. “I was tired, but I always think about it like, ‘If I’m tired, I can’t imagine what he’s feeling.’ I made him quit. I make a lot of people quit. That’s something that I’ll never do.”

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Hawes Pulls Away from Daukaus

Phil Hawes overcame a bumpy start to author a dominant third round and earn a unanimous decision against Kyle Dakaus in a middleweight clash. Hawes secured scorecards of 30-26, 30-26 and 29-27 from the cageside judges for his seventh straight victory as a professional.

Daukaus (10-2, 1-2 UFC) appeared to have an edge early, as he attacked with rangy punching combinations while outgrappling Hawes in scrambles and controlling the clinch against the fence. The Martinez BJJ representative had Hawes (11-2, 3-0 UFC) reeling in Round 2 when he connected with a spinning backfist after whiffing on a high kick. An ensuing punching flurry put Hawes on wobbly legs for a moment, but surviving that adversity only strengthened the resolve of the Sanford MMA product.

“He rocked me… Once someone hits you good and they see you’re not backing down, they begin to break,” Hawes said.

From that point on, it was all Hawes. The New Jersey native turned the tide over the second half of Round 2, when he pressured Daukaus and landed effective combinations to the head and body while opening a cut near his opponent’s eye. That set the stage for a suffocating final frame, as Hawes landed a takedown 30 seconds in, navigated Daukaus’ guard and then spent the rest of the period punishing his foe with punches and elbows from above.

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