Nassourdine Imavov Defeats Jared Cannonier by Controversial TKO at UFC on ESPN 57

In a fight that should have brought some clarity to the middleweight title picture, the main event of “UFC Louisville” instead brought more confusion—though Nassourdine Imavov was not to blame.

In the main event of UFC on ESPN 57 on Saturday at KFC Yum! Center in Louisville, Kentucky, Imavov and Jared Cannonier met in a high-level matchup of 185-pound contenders. The first two rounds saw both men struggle with the other’s weapons: Cannonier had his head snapped back repeatedly by Imavov’s lightning-quick jab, especially his double jab, while Imavov had difficulty with Cannonier’s calf kicks and his enormous strength and leverage when wrestling against the cage. Cannonier appeared to have the slight edge going into the middle round, landing the slightly heavier blows, including some vicious leg kicks, and it was Imavov who initiated the ground game in Round 3, quickly dragging the “Killa Gorilla” to the canvas, then taking his back standing. Cannonier managed to escape without damage, but Imavov finished the round landing clean shots in the middle of the cage, the most momentum he had had all night.

Imavov went right back to work in Round 4, taking the center of the Octagon, refusing to engage Cannonier on the periphery as he had in Rounds 1 and 2, and rocked him with a right hook. Cannonier staggered away and Imavov pursued, pouring on punches. Cannonier appeared to recover somewhat but Imavov continued to tag him with clean shots. Cannonier stumbled toward the fence after a flurry of punches, hurt but seemingly alert and defending himself, when referee Jason Herzog moved in for a standing TKO stoppage. Cannonier was calm but indignant in protesting the call immediately, and the finish is likely to spark debate in the weeks to come, but it goes down as a win for Imavov at 1:34 of Round 4. The win extended the Dagestani-born Frenchman’s unbeaten streak to three straight since his loss to Sean Strickland, leaving him in the thick of the hunt for a middleweight title shot, and he used his time on the mic to call out Strickland for a rematch at the UFC’s upcoming card in France. Cannonier, who had won two straight since his unsuccessful bid for the title, saw that modest streak snapped in defeat.

In a do-or-die moment for any future contender aspirations—and perhaps even for his place on the UFC roster—Dominick Reyes did it. In the co-main event of “UFC Louisville,” the onetime light heavyweight title challenger (13-4) returned to action for the first time in over 18 months and snapped a four-fight losing streak by knocking out Dustin Jacoby (19-9-1) in the first round. Neither man seemed to truly settle in; Jacoby went on the offensive immediately, coming forward with punches and his dangerous low kicks, while Reyes gave ground and looked to counter. Perhaps mistaking Reyes’ strategic withdrawal for retreat, Jacoby pursued aggressively. Too aggressively, it turned out: “The Devastator” caught Jacoby with a short left hand that wobbled him, then as “The Hanyak” charged in again, landed a two-punch combination punctuated by a knee that rocked him badly. Jacoby went careening against the fence as Reyes gave chase, winging punches at him. The first salvo mostly missed, but when Reyes began to connect with flush punches while Jacoby staggered in place, referee Dan Miragliotta stepped in to stop the action. The stoppage, at the two-minute mark of Round 1, gave Reyes his first win in nearly five years, and at age 34, perhaps a new lease on life in the division where he came tantalizingly close to winning the title from Jon Jones at UFC 247. Jacoby, whose second run in the UFC saw him climb into the Top 10, is now reeling, having lost four of his last five.

The youngest fighter in the UFC put his lone professional setback further in the rearview, as Raul Rosas Jr. withstood all the chaos Ricky Turcios could throw at him on his way to a second-round submission win. Their bantamweight clash, which had been scheduled to take place in February but was postponed when Rosas fell ill during fight week, proved to be worth the wait. Turcios launched himself at Rosas as soon as the fight began, throwing his customary storm of punches, kicks, and takedown attempts calculated to cause scrambles. Rosas stayed calm and appeared to be winning for most of the round thanks to accurate counterstriking and positional superiority on the ground, but the best moment of offense in the first round was when Turcios took Rosas’ back and forced him to defend himself from a rear-naked choke or face crank. The second round got off to a similarly frantic and competitive start, but Rosas was ready to tame the storm. He took Turcios’ back during a scramble, locked up a body triangle and applied a rear-naked choke of his own. Turcios defended capably for a time, but Rosas adjusted his grip, slipped his arm under the chin and elicited the tap. Referee Blake Grice stepped in to save Turcios at 2:22 of Round 2, marking two wins in a row for Rosas since his decision loss to Christian Rodriguez last year.

In a clash of finish-minded middleweights, Brunno Ferreira survived one of the most entertaining rounds of the year before blowing up Dustin Stoltzfus with a spinning back elbow. Ferreira (12-1) and Stoltzfus (15-6) went to war immediately, exchanging punch flurries and wild wrestling sequences. Stoltzfus seemed to be getting the better of the exchanges through the first half of the round, when Ferreira caught him with a spinning back elbow. It foreshadowed what was to come, as moments later “The Hulk” spun again, this time catching Stoltzfus flush. The Pennsylvanian staggered and fell, and while he was attempting to return to his feet when referee Jason Herzog interposed himself to stop the fight, Stoltzfus did not lodge any complaint, and in fact appeared to acknowledge the rightness of the stoppage. The sensational finish left Ferreira 3-1 in the UFC with all four fights, win or lose, ending by first-round knockout. Stoltzfus has now alternated wins and losses in his last five Octagon outings, dating back to 2021.

Zachary Reese wasted no time in bouncing back from his first career loss, taking just 20 seconds to wipe out Julian Marquez with a body kick and punches in their middleweight bout. Reese (7-1) met the brawling Marquez (9-5) willingly, but with an acute sense of space and distance. The finish was set up by a hard left kick to the body, then capped off with a beautiful right uppercut that split Marquez’s gloves and landed squarely on the mouth. “The Cuban Missile Crisis” collapsed in a heap and Reese swarmed with hammerfists. Referee Dan Miragliotta jumped in for the stoppage, which Marquez protested, though on unsteady legs. The quick finish left the “Savage” 1-1 in the UFC, while Marquez saw his losing streak extended to a career-worst three straight.

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In the main card opener, Punahele Soriano announced his arrival to the UFC welterweight division in brutal fashion, grounding and pounding Miguel Baeza for three one-sided rounds. Both entered the cage with something to prove, as Soriano (10-4) was dropping from middleweight for the first time, while Baeza (10-4) was returning from a nearly two-year hiatus due to a back injury requiring surgery. Soriano looked outstanding in his new weight class, turning to the wrestling chops which often went underused at 185 pounds. The first round was a strange affair, as Baeza spent much of the five minutes working for a heel hook, then a kneebar. Soriano appeared to be in danger for a few moments, but managed to escape without damage. More importantly, he fed a steady stream of punches to Baeza while defending himself, a stream which only intensified once his leg was out of danger. Once Round 2 began, the rout was on. Soriano grounded Baeza quickly and hammered him with ground strikes. Referee Rob Mooney looked on closely, ready to save the Floridian, but Baeza kept moving, blocked some of the blows, and generally stayed busy enough to stave off the stoppage. It was a moral victory at best, as Soriano did the exact same thing in Round 3, once again taking Baeza down and mauling him from top position for most of the round. The bruising performance, instantly a candidate for “Beatdown of the Year” netted Soriano the decision by two 30-25 scores and one very conservative 30-27. With the win, Soriano announced himself as someone to watch at 170 pounds, while Baeza’s future appears uncertain after his fourth straight loss, including two knockouts and Saturday’s one-sided drubbing.

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