Tatsuro Taira Moves to 16-0 with Knee Injury Stoppage of Alex Perez at UFC Vegas 93

Tatsuro Taira entered the cage on Saturday looking to complete the transition from prospect to contender, and he succeeded, though not in the way anyone would have wished for.

In the flyweight headliner of UFC on ESPN 58 at the UFC Apex, Taira faced resurgent former title challenger Alex Perez. Perez immediately took the fight to the young phenom, coming at him with big punches and some hard low kicks, shoving him to the fence with underhooks, and generally putting on a frantic pace. Taira was up to the test, holding his own in the clinch and sticking Perez with long, straight punches in space. Perez scored a takedown late in the round, scooping the Okinawan up and depositing him on his back in the center of the cage, but Taira popped right back to his feet. Taira was cautioned for eye pokes twice in the first round and a half of the fight, but his composure was otherwise exemplary for a 24-year-old in his first UFC main event. Nonetheless, Perez seemed to be succeeding in making the fight a chaotic affair, and getting slightly the better of that chaos, when Taira turned a blown takedown attempt into a beautiful standing back take. After a long sequence on the feet, Taira hauled the veteran to the floor, only for Perez to scream out in pain, having suffered an apparent knee injury during the takedown. Referee Herb Dean immediately waved the fight off, an anticlimactic end to a promising bout. The result went into the books as a TKO via leg injury at 2:59 of Round 2, running Taira’s record to 16-0 overall, 6-0 in the UFC. Perez, who had been riding the positive momentum of his knockout of Matheus Nicolau in April, fell to 25-9 overall, 7-5 in the UFC.

Miles Johns (15-2, 1 NC) picked up a key win, outpointing Douglas Silva de Andrade (29-6, 1 NC) in a tense, sometimes frustrating bantamweight co-main event that smoked, smoldered but never quite burst into a full conflagration. The tentative first round yielded few decisive moments, but Johns’ punching power advantage was obvious, and implied he might take over the fight—or end it—if he could land more than a glancing blow. The bantamweights remained content to exchange single punches and kicks, albeit with murderous intent, in Round 2, but Johns appeared to land more and heavier blows, including a left hand late in the round that staggered the Brazilian badly. Johns continued his gradual takeover of the fight in the final frame, where he hurt Silva de Andrade again in the early moments. “D’Silva” recovered quickly and mounted some offense of his own, landing several hard shots on Johns as both men ramped up the urgency just a bit. Silva de Andrade made things interesting late, landing a lovely wheel kick and knocking Johns’ mouthpiece out with a solid pair of punches, but the American recovered—aided by referee Mark Smith’s intervention to return his gumshield—and they closed out the fight by swinging away in the center of the cage. The judges scored the fight for Johns by 30-27, 30-27 and 29-28 tallies, bringing his UFC record to 6-2 with one no contest since graduating from Dana White's Contender Series Season 3; Silva de Andrade fell to 7-6 in the Octagon.

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Lucas Almeida (15-3) righted the ship, snapping a two-fight losing streak with a heavy-handed performance against Timothy Cuamba (8-3) in their featherweight attraction. Cuamba immediately established his speed advantage on the feet, navigating the reach of the taller, heavier Brazilian with blisteringly quick one-twos and low kicks. Almeida was unruffled, though, and blasted the Hawaiian with a heavy left-right combo near the halfway point of the round, the right hand coming through unblocked to sit Cuamba down in place. Cuamba returned to his feet and appeared to recover, but Almeida dropped him with another clean right hand a minute later. Cuamba survived again and, after a moment’s recovery, waded into range and landed a solid combination of his own, loosening Almeida’s mouthguard, then tagging him with a solid left to the body in the closing seconds. Cuamba went right back to work in Round 2, darting into range to land punches and going back to work on Almeida’s body. He appeared to be gaining momentum when Almeida rocked him with yet another short right. Cuamba stumbled and dived for a single-leg takedown attempt, buying himself time to recover, but when they resumed the striking battle, Cuamba still had no answer for the Brazilian’s heavy, accurate right. The round closed with Almeida matching Cuamba down, backing him into the fence, in clear control of the fight. Cuamba once again came out spirited for the final frame, landing a sharp body kick, then shooting for a takedown in the opening minute. Almeida managed to fight off the takedown and went on the offensive, backing the shorter man up with feints and hard, straight punches. Almeida remained in the driver’s seat on the feet, and while Cuamba landed a clean takedown with a minute to go, and threw a torrent of strikes from top position, he could not find the finish, or even do enough damage to leave the outcome in doubt. The cageside judges turned in unanimous 29-28 scores in favor of Almeida, who moved to 2-2 in the UFC with the win. Cuamba, who dropped a split decision to Bolaji Oki in his short-notice debut in February, fell to 0-2.

Returning to the Octagon for the first time in over a year, Brady Hiestand made up for lost time, throttling Garrett Armfield after two-plus rounds of back-and-forth bantamweight madness. Armfield struck first, snaring Hiestand in a tight armbar in the opening seconds of Round 1. The fight looked to be on its way to a sub-minute finish as Armfield went belly-down and Hiestand’s limb contorted at an alarming angle, but Hiestand remained calm, squirmed out of the hold and transitioned instantly to a guillotine choke. It was Armfield’s turn to show his cool and he did so, surviving and escaping, but the wild grappling display was far from over. Hiestand secured another takedown late in the round and applied a rear-naked choke. With his forearm completely under Armfield’s chin, the fight looked to be over, but Armfield fought off the choke and made it to the horn. Rather than test his luck on the floor again in Round 2, Armfield showcased his striking, rocking Hiestand badly with punches twice in the opening seconds. Armfield hustled his dazed foe to the ground, where he shucked off a loose triangle attempt and pounded him with punches from top position while passing his guard. Hiestand recovered, exploded to his feet and hauled Armfield to the canvas once again, applying a body triangle and working for a rear-naked choke. Armfield defended capably again and returned to his feet, where they slugged it out for the final minute. Round 3 began similarly, with Armfield’s sharper, heavier punches giving him the advantage, but once again, Hiestand showed his ability to take an opponent’s back in a flash, wrapping Armfield up and dragging him to the floor. The rear-naked choke attempt was not long in coming and this time, Armfield was forced to ask out of the fight at 1 minute, 28 seconds of the final frame. The finish brought Hiestand’s record to 8-2 overall, 3-1 in the UFC, with three straight wins since coming up short against Ricky Turcios in “The Ultimate Fighter” Season 29 finale. Armfield fell to 10-4 overall, 2-2 in the UFC.

Assu Almabaev continued his inexorable rise up the 125-round ranks, thoroughly outgrappling Jose Johnson for three rounds in their main card attraction. Almabaev (20-2) spent the first few minutes of the fight adjusting to the unique matchup problems presented by the six-foot-tall Johnson, who dropped from 135 pounds for this fight and immediately became the tallest flyweight in UFC history. However, once Almabaev found his way past the jab and front kicks of “No Way,” his advantages in wrestling and grappling became obvious. Almabaev took down Johnson with ease in all three rounds, pelted him with sporadic but effective ground-and-pound, took his back, and threatened with various chokes and cranks, leaving no doubt as to who the superior fighter was. Johnson managed to avoid a complete rout by mounting some effective grappling offense of his own, taking the Kazakh’s back in Round 2 and briefly securing full mount in Round 3. However, Almabaev escaped without damage or serious peril each time, and the unanimous decision verdict (30-27 on all cards) was a mere formality. With the win, the 30-year-old went 3-0 in the UFC and extended his overall win streak to 16 straight since his only two career losses—one of them to current Octagon co-worker Tagir Ulanbekov—over seven years ago. Johnson’s unsuccessful flyweight debut left him 1-2 in the promotion.

In the welterweight main card opener, Adam Fugitt (10-4) and Josh Quinlan (6-3, 1 NC) engaged in three rounds of razor-close kickboxing. Each man tested the other’s defenses and resolve in similar ways, using plentiful low kicks to set up head kick attempts and feinting at range before darting into the pocket with punch combinations. Fugitt mixed in frequent strategic stance changes and a spinning back elbow late, while Quinlan attempted several Superman punches. Both had their moments of offensive success, but neither man hurt the other badly, and the result was three entertaining yet difficult-to-score rounds. The judges saw it that way, rendering an unsurprising split decision in favor of Fugitt (29-28, 29-28, 28-29). The win evened up Fugitt’s UFC ledger at 2-2, while Quinlan fell to 1-3 since joining the UFC on the heels of his overturned Contender Series win.

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