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Aljamain Sterling could not have fought smarter.
The Serra-Longo Fight Team star on Sunday made his latest move in the Ultimate Fighting Championship’s bantamweight division, as he cruised to a unanimous decision over Jimmie Rivera in the featured UFC on ESPN 1 prelim at the Talking Stick Resort Arena in Phoenix. All three cageside judges struck 30-27 scorecards for Sterling (17-3, 9-3 UFC).
Rivera (22-3, 6-2 UFC) never got in gear. Sterling kept the former King of the Cage champion off-balance with a hyperactive kicking game -- he fired at the legs, body and head -- while luring him in to clinch and takedown range, at which point he pressed him into the fence and uncorked foot stops and knees to the body. Rivera grew visibly frustrated and increasingly dejected. Sterling did his best work in the second round, where he briefly floored the Team Tiger Schulmann rep with a spinning backfist, followed with an overhand right and swarmed with knees, kicks and punches.
Sterling, 29, has pieced together a three-fight winning streak since his December 2017 knockout loss to Marlon Moraes.
Undefeated Bermudez Throttles Lopez
Surging South Shore Sportfighting prospect Manny Bermudez submitted Benito Lopez with a brabo choke in the first round of their preliminary bantamweight confrontation. Lopez (9-1, 1-1 UFC) conceded defeat 3:09 into Round 1.
Bermudez (14-0, 3-0 UFC) struck for a takedown, settled in full guard and applied his ground-and-pound before returning to his feet. Lopez chose to engage him in close quarters but left his neck exposed while they jockeyed for position along the fence. Bermudez then dragged him to the mat under threat of a guillotine, bailed on the maneuver and trapped the Team Alpha Male rep in a modified crucifix. From there, he made a slick transition to the brabo choke and prompted the tap.
It was the 11th first-round finish of Bermudez’s career.
Lee Streak Reaches Six
Former Legacy Fighting Alliance champion Andrea Lee extended her winning streak to six fights, as she took a unanimous decision from Ashlee Evans-Smith in a three-round battle at 115 pounds. A replacement for the injured Lauren Murphy, Lee (10-2, 2-0 UFC) swept the scorecards with identical 30-27 marks from the judges.
Evans-Smith (6-4, 3-4 UFC) lacked the weaponry necessary to deal with the Karate Mafia export in the standup exchanges. Lee connected with stinging jabs, leg kicks and counter right hands in all three rounds, all while shutting down the majority of her opponent’s takedown attempts. “KGB” also performed well at close range, delivering uppercuts and knees that forced Evans-Smith to cover up along the cage.
The 31-year-old Evans-Smith has dropped three of her last four bouts.
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Crafty Lentz Outmaneuvers Holtzman
Repeated takedowns, a stifling clinch and a multi-pronged standup attack carried Hard Knocks 365 representative Nik Lentz to a unanimous decision over Scott Holtzman in a three-round lightweight encounter. All three cageside judges scored it the same: 29-28 for Lentz (30-9-2, 14-6-1 UFC).
Holtzman (12-3, 5-3 UFC) failed to keep “The Carny” at a safe distance. Lentz peppered him with punch-kick combinations before swooping in for takedowns and clinches. He caught a guillotine choke in the second round, and though the finish did not materialize, he continued to build his lead. Perhaps sensing he was down two rounds to none, Holtzman picked up the pace in the third. There, the MMA Lab standout did significant damage by cutting off Lentz’s bid for a takedown and assaulting him with elbows and short punches from a kneeling position. However, it was not enough to fully turn the tide.
The loss snapped Holtzman’s three-fight winning streak.
Sanders Stops Reeling Barao
Former Resurrection Fighting Alliance champion Luke Sanders put away Renan Barao with punches in the second round of their bantamweight scrap. Sanders (13-3, 3-3 UFC) sealed the deal 1:01 into Round 2, winning for the second time in three outings.
Barao (34-8, 9-7 UFC) enjoyed success with a series of kicks to the body in the first round, but the approach was not sustainable. Sanders crowded the Brazilian early in the middle stanza and fired a two-punch combination that was punctuated by a devastating straight left. Barao hit the deck, where he was met with crushing ground-and-pound that drew the curtain.
The 32-year-old Barao has lost four fights in a row.
Whitmire Choke Submits Albu
Xtreme Couture’s Emily Whitmire submitted the previously unbeaten Aleksandra Albu with a rear-naked choke in the first round of their undercard pairing at 115 pounds. Albu (3-1, 2-1 UFC) bowed out 61 seconds into Round 1.
Whitmire (4-2, 3-1 UFC) executed a takedown inside the first 10 seconds, worked to pass guard and stood before scrambling to the Russian’s back. She secured her position with a body triangle, locked in the choke and forced the tapout.