Rose Namajunas Outduels Amanda Ribas in UFC on ESPN 53 Main Event

Perhaps Rose Namajunas can redefine herself at 125 pounds after all. If nothing else, her latest performance represents a step in the right direction.

The two-time Ultimate Fighting Championship women’s strawweight titleholder on Saturday used her vast array of tools to capture a five-round unanimous decision over Amanda Ribas in the UFC on ESPN 53 headliner at the UFC Apex in Las Vegas. Scores were 49-46, 49-46 and 48-47, all for Namajunas (12-6, 10-5 UFC), who bounced back from consecutive losses to Carla Esparz and Manon Fiorot.

Neither woman gained a discernible standup edge in a showdown that was heavy on tactics and light on highlights. Namajunas was the cleaner striker, but her Brazilian adversary was the busier of the two. “Thug Rose” shined brightest in the ground exchanges. She executed takedowns of her own and made a number of high-risk head-and-arm throws from Ribas work in her favor—a development that allowed the Milwaukee native to shift momentum and build a lead with control time. Namajunas held off the Jungle Fight champion down the stretch, as she fought conservatively across the final five minutes and left her fate to the judges.

Ribas (12-5, 7-4 UFC) has lost four of her past seven fights.

Meanwhile, Dana White’s Contender Series graduate Karl Williams fed Justin Tafa an unhealthy diet of takedowns, ground-and-pound and positional control, as he laid claim to a unanimous decision in their three-round heavyweight co-main event. All three cageside judges scored it for Williams (10-1, 3-0 UFC): 30-27, 29-28 and 29-28.

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Tafa (7-4, 4-4 UFC) had his moments—he buzzed the tower with several right uppercuts in the third round—but his lack of effective takedown defense proved costly. Williams grounded him in all three rounds, piled up points with punches and bled the clock, all while steering clear of danger. Frustration grew for Tafa. A short-notice fill-in for younger brother Junior Tafa, the Australian managed to break free with a little more than a minute to go in the bout. However, Williams swooped in for one final takedown and kept the “Bad Man” bottled up until no time was left.

Williams, 34, now finds himself on a seven-fight winning streak.

Further down the card, Xtreme Couture’s Edmen Shahbazyan overcame an inauspicious start to waylay A.J. Dobson with elbows and punches in the first round of their middleweight showcase. A late-notice replacement for Dusko Todorovic, Dobson (7-3, 2-2 UFC) checked out 4:33 into Round 1.

Shahbazyan (13-4, 6-4 UFC) had to sail through some rough surf. Dobson wobbled him with a counter right hand, made a pass at a guillotine and then staggered him with a left hook. Shahbazyan answered with a takedown, only to have his opponent scramble into top position. Some ground-and-pound followed before the two men returned to their feet. Shahbazyan regained his faculties, clipped the Strong Style Fight Team product with a left hook, bullied him to the mat and cut loose with elbows and punches until the job was done.

It goes down as the 11th first-round stoppage on the Shahbazyan resume.

Elsewhere, undefeated Reno Academy of Combat prospect Payton Talbott cut down Cameron Saaiman with punches in the second round of their bantamweight feature. Saaiman (9-2, 3-2 UFC) succumbed to blows 21 seconds into Round 2, as he crashed and burned for the first time as a pro.

Talbott (8-0, 2-0 UFC) dazed the South African with a knee and a pair of standing elbows in the first round, forced him onto the back foot and never allowed him to sniff a potential comeback. He met Saaiman with a counter left hook at the start of the middle stanza, sent him crashing to the mat and flurried with punches until referee Chris Tognoni had seen enough.

An emerging force at 135 pounds, Talbott has finished seven of his first eight opponents.

Deeper into the main draw, a new and improved Youssef Zalal returned to the UFC for the first time since August 2022 and disposed of former King of the Cage champion Billy Quarantillo with a rear-naked choke in the second round of their featherweight attraction. Quarantillo (18-6, 6-4 UFC) bowed out 1:50 into Round 2, suffering the first submission defeat of his 24-fight career.

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A short-notice replacement for Gabriel Miranda, Zalal (14-5-1, 4-3-1 UFC) flirted with flawlessness. The 27-year-old Factory X rep rocked Quarantillo with a knee strike in the first round, tripped him to the canvas, moved to the back with a body triangle and threatened with a face crank. The bell sounded while the finish was near. Zalal picked up where he left off in the middle stanza, swept the Gracie Tampa South standout to the mat and again progressed to the back. This time, he snuck his forearm underneath the chin, tightened his squeeze and closed the deal.

Zalal has rattled off four straight victories, all of them by stoppage.

Finally, Team Oyama’s Fernando Padilla rebounded from a Sept. 16 defeat to Kyle Nelson and put away promotional newcomer Luis Pajuelo with a standing brabo choke in the first round of their featherweight appetizer. Pajuelo (8-2, 0-1 UFC) conceded defeat 2:45 into Round 1, his five-fight winning streak at an end.

The 6-foot-1 Padilla (16-5, 2-1 UFC) made the most of his six and a half-inch reach advantage. He floored Pajuelo with a clean left hand, swarmed with punches and settled in top position. From there, Padilla dropped punches and elbows, then caught the choke when his counterpart attempted to scramble to his feet. The tapout followed soon after.

Padilla, 27, has won four of his past five bouts.

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