LAS VEGAS -- Raquel Pennington had waited five years to get another shot at Holly Holm. Unfortunately for her, the Holm she encountered on Saturday night bore little resemblance -- at least in fight strategy -- to the one who defeated her by split decision back in 2015.
Holm, a former pro boxer and kickboxer known for her kicks and counterpunches, utilized clinches for much of the fight and dominated with her strength against the cage to earn a unanimous-decision victory in the co-main event of UFC 246.
It was a much-needed win for the 38-year-old Holm (13-5), who came in with a 2-5 record since knocking out Ronda Rousey later in 2015 to become UFC women's bantamweight champion.
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Holm was coming off her only knockout loss in MMA, a first-round head-kick TKO in her July challenge of current bantamweight champ Amanda Nunes.
'It feels really good to have a win,' Holm said. 'I always want more, I always want perfection. I know that I have more that I could show. I'm very happy to have the win and start the year off right.
'I definitely wanted to be more clear and dominant, and I feel like I did that. I feel like I dominated, but I just didn't do enough damage. That's what I want to do -- damage. I never want to make any excuses, a lot happened this camp, but my coaches are so amazing and always worked with me when I was available and we made it happen.'
Pennington (10-9) came in off a July win over Irene Aldana that ended a two-fight losing streak. Now she is back to square one.
The fight began with a couple of minutes of standup in the center of the cage, with Holm staying in kicking range and not allowing Pennington to close the distance. But then Holm got the fight up against the cage and remained in control of the clinch for the rest of Round 1.
Round 2 went to clinch right away, with Holm controlling the position. Twice Pennington was able to get Holm away from her by landing knees to the midsection, but each time Holm closed in on her again. They fought from distance for much of Round 3, with Pennington never able to land a telling blow that would turn the momentum her way. Two judges scored the bout 30-27 and the other had it 29-28.
Flyweight: Roxanne Modafferi (24-17-0) defeats Maycee Barber (8-1) by unanimous decision.
The 37-year-old Modafferi, who has been a pro fighter since 2003, stunningly won in every aspect of the women's flyweight fight, dropping Barber in the second round, dominating her in top position on the ground and bloodying her with strikes. Barber suffered a knee injury in the first round but didn't quit.
Heavyweight: Aleksei Oleinik (58-13-1) defeats Maurice Greene (8-5) by second-round submission.
Few in the world are better at getting unorthodox submissions than Oleinik. After working hard on a scarf choke for a good portion of the first round, Oleinik got Greene to tap at 4:38 of the second round to an armbar from an odd angle.
Oleinik spent the majority of both rounds in top position against Greene, who seemed in over his head against the veteran grappling specialist. Oleinik (58-13-1) snapped a two-fight losing streak with the win. The Ukraine native has won his past 17 victories via finish, 15 of those by submission. That streak goes back to 2010.
Oleinik, 42, earned his 48th career submission win Saturday. He has six UFC submissions, placing him tied for second with Stefan Struve among heavyweights in UFC history. Frank Mir has the most with eight.
Greene (8-4), a 33-year-old Virginia native, has lost two in a row following a three-fight winning streak.
Bantamweight: Brian Kelleher (20-10) defeats Ode Osbourne (8-3) by guillotine in the first round.Club keno lottery.
Patience paid off for Kelleher, who waited out a frenetic start by Osbourne, then took him to the canvas and sank in a guillotine at 2:49 of the first round to break out of a two-fight losing streak.
It was the fifth guillotine victory among Kelleher's 20 wins. He has nine submissions overall.
Osbourne came out on fire, swinging from his heels in the very first exchange. Osbourne missed that one, but he continued to come forward. Kelleher kept his distance until he saw an opening for a takedown. Once he had the fight on the mat, Kelleher immobilized Osbourne before getting his arms around the neck for an arm-in guillotine.
Kelleher then stood and leaned into his opponent, tightening the choke. When Kelleher fell to his back, the choke still secure, Osbourne tapped -- with his leg, as his arms were trapped.
'My back was against the wall in this fight. You know, I lost two fights in a row,' Kelleher said. 'This all I know, man. I know fighting. I know nothing else. And it was my time to keep my job in here tonight.'
Lightweight: Diego Ferreira (17-2) defeats Anthony Pettis (22-19) by rear-naked choke.
Ferreira won his sixth straight fight and did so in impressive fashion. He stalked the former UFC and WEC champion from the start, taking him to the canvas several times and threatening submissions before finally sinking in the winner at 1:46 of Round 2.
Pettis never got going in what was his second straight defeat. Starting with the 2015 loss to Rafael Dos Anjos in which he surrendered his championship, 'Showtime' has lost eight of 12 fights while bouncing around between the featherweight, welterweight and lightweight divisions. This was his first lightweight fight in over two years.
Ferreira caught a Pettis body kick early in the second round, and that was the beginning of the end. The Brazilian, who trains at Fortis MMA in Dallas, quickly took the fight to the canvas and once again seized back control. Pettis defended well, as he had in the first round, but eventually Ferreira got his arm around the chin and it was over.
'My dream is getting into the rankings, so now I think I will take Anthony's spot and be close to the top 10,' Ferreira said. 'Right now, I want to focus on my business a little, I have my gym back home in Texas. I want to get two or three of my fighters into the UFC.'
Featherweight: Sodiq Yusuff (11-1) defeats Andre Fili (20-7) by unanimous decision.
In his most measured performance to date, Yusuff outpointed Andre Fili by unanimous decision (29-28, 29-28, 29-28) in a mostly competitive featherweight bout.
Fili represented the biggest test yet for Yusuff, the prospect nicknamed 'Super.' And that test was certainly passed.
The ground game had been a weakness for Yusuff in past fights, but he showed much-improved skills there. After a Fili takedown in the first round, Yusuff was able to get up after wrenching a near kimura submission. In the second, Yusuff capitalized on Fili's slip after a Yusuff leg kick and ended up getting mount on the ground.
Fili had moments in the first and third. Both men got rocked in a crazy first-round exchange. But Yusuff was poised and carried his consistency the whole 15 minutes. It was a complete effort.
Yusuff (11-1) has won six straight, including his first four UFC fights. The Nigeria native is tied for the fourth-longest winning streak in the UFC featherweight division.
Yusuff, 26, outlanded Fili 73-49 in significant strikes, including a 20-0 mark on the ground even though Fili took him down three times. The victory adds to a red-hot run for Nigerian fighters. Active athletes born in the country are 23-1 in the UFC, including UFC middleweight champion Israel Adesanya and UFC welterweight champion Kamaru Usman. Fili (20-7), a 29-year-old California resident, had his two-fight winning streak snapped.
Flyweight: Askar Askarov (10-0-1) defeats Tim Elliott (16-9-1, +120) by unanimous decision.
Elliott showed a great deal of toughness as he recovered from being out on his feet for a half second in the first round. But as durable and gritty as Elliott might be, that alone is not enough to win an MMA fight. Askarov beat Elliott by unanimous decision (29-28, 30-27, 30-27) in a key flyweight fight.
Askarov nearly stopped Elliott in the first with a big right hand, but Elliott recovered quickly. Askarov spent the entire rest of the first round in top position on the ground.
In the second, Elliott had moments with judo throws and work on the ground. In the third, Elliott was clearly damaged and spent, but continued coming forward with his hands low -- while Askarov landed right hands and jabs to the face. Elliott was advancing the entire round and trying to egg on his foe as Askarov was circling away, which brought cheers from the fans.
But unfortunately for Elliott, it was not enough. The 119 combined head strikes in the fight were the fourth most in a UFC men's flyweight bout, per ESPN Stats & Information. Askarov, 27, entered the UFC as a top prospect in the 125-pound division. Elliott (15-10-1), a 33-year-old Kansas native, has lost three of four.
'I wanted to focus on my striking, and you could see that it was successful,' Askarov said. 'I started my year with a great win over a top-ranked opponent, so I hope that I will be in the top 10 now and I want to fight more guys in that top 10. I'd love to fight three more times this year and earn a title shot and prove what I can do.'
Lightweight: Drew Dober (22-9) defeats Nasrat Haqparast (11-3) by TKO in first round.
It was supposed to be another step on the trajectory of hot prospect Haqparast. Dober had other plans.
Dober countered a leg kick with a crushing left hand to Haqparast's jaw, dropping the youngster. Dober followed up with hard, accurate shots on the ground and the bout was called at 1:10 of the first round.
Dober (22-9, 1 NC) has quietly put together a nice run lately. The Nebraska native has won five of his past six with the only loss during that stretch coming to Beneil Dariush last March.
Dober, 31, earned his fifth first-round finish at lightweight in the UFC, tied for the third most in division history with three others. Haqparast (11-3) had his three-fight winning streak snapped. The 24-year-old German-born Afghani fighter remains someone to watch at lightweight.
'I think this is a huge statement win for me,' Dober said. 'He's carrying a huge fan base, especially internationally, and he's very talented, so I just wanted to go out there and showcase what I'm capable of. I feel like I'm just coming into my prime. He brought in a lot of hype, but I know what I'm capable of and I showed it. I'm going to take a much-needed break after this, but then I'm ready for top 10, top 15, whoever ends up saying yes.'
Light heavyweight: Aleksa Camur (6-0) defeats Justin Ledet (9-2) by unanimous decision.
It wasn't a flying knee finish like the one he landed to earn a UFC contract last summer on Dana White's Contender Series. But Camur will certainly take his first UFC win despite an up-and-down performance.
Camur was able to force the action in the second round and land a big right hand followed by some shots in the clinch. In the third, Camur got a takedown toward the end of the round and landed some ground-and-pound.
Ledet found a home for some shots, like a looping left uppercut in the second when it seemed Camur was getting tired following multiple explosive techniques that didn't land. In the end, though, it was the UFC neophyte getting his hand raised.
Camur (6-0) had finished all of his career wins before Saturday. The 24-year-old prospect is a teammate of UFC heavyweight champion Stipe Miocic, who was in attendance. Ledet (9-3, 1 NC), a 31-year-old Texan, has dropped three straight.
'Feels amazing to get my first win in the UFC,' Camur said. 'It definitely helped coming from the Contender Series, it's better than just being thrown straight into the UFC. There was a ton of focus on me there, so it helped ease me into this whole thing. I train with Stipe as much as I can, he's a huge help for my career. He hits hard, so I know going into fights that these guys aren't going to hit as hard as he does. He guides me inside and outside of the Octagon, not only Stipe, but the whole team at Strong Style. I knew starting this year off with a win was very important, especially mentally. I'm going to go right back to the gym and keep training and make sure that this is going to be a good year.'
Women's flyweight: Sabina Mazo (8-1) defeats JJ Aldrich (8-4)by split decision.
Sabina Mazo was the taller, longer fighter. The MMA blueprint would normally say she'd be best staying at distance and working her jab against JJ Aldrich. When that didn't work, Mazo was able to adjust to something counterintuitive: getting in close. And it led to a split-decision win (29-28, 28-29, 29-28) in the UFC 246 opener.
After the quicker Aldrich dominated the first round with her boxing combinations, Mazo began closing the distance midway through a close second. Mazo was able to bring the fight into close quarters and she really excelled in the clinch with knees and elbows. Near the end of the second, she clipped Aldrich with a head kick.
The third round was more of the same with the bigger Mazo tying Aldrich up and landing elbows and knees, the latter to both the head and the body. Mazo (8-1) has now won two in a row after losing for the first time in her MMA career in her UFC debut in March 2019. The 22-year-old Colombia native is considered a top prospect in the women's flyweight division. Aldrich (8-4), a 27-year-old Colorado native, has dropped two of three since moving up to flyweight from strawweight last year.
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'I think I'm growing as a fighter a lot, even when I lost my debut, I still learned a lot and it made me the fighter I am today,' Mazo said. 'This year, I want memorable fights and for people to know my name.'
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