UFC 229 was sold on the merits of its main event between unbeaten champion Khabib Nurmagomedov and the returning Conor McGregor. But the other fights were each exciting in their own right.
The main card opened up with the women as Michelle Waterson took on Felice Herrig. The “Karate Hottie” showed she was well-rounded, winning both the striking and grappling exchanges against Herrig for most of the fight.
Even when she ended up on her back after a takedown attempt was reversed, Waterson used some powerful elbows to maintain an offense. She took the bout by unanimous decision, and will ultimately move up the ranks closer to a title shot.
Next came the heavyweight bout between number-two ranked Derrick Lewis and Alexander Volkov. Despite a tense meeting at the weigh-ins, the men seemed calm in their bout. Volkov appeared to hurt Lewis early on in the first round with punches, but backed off after mistakenly assuming he’d poked Lewis in the eyes. A break was eventually called, which arguably let Lewis off the hook.
The story was the same for the next two rounds, with Volkov using his range to keep Lewis tired and frustrated on the outside. Lewis’s eye appeared to be damaged, and it looked like Volkov had the fight on lock – until the last 30 seconds. Lewis landed a perfectly timed jab-cross combo to floor his foe, following up with ground and pound and one of the most hilarious victory speeches the UFC has ever heard.
Undefeated Dominick Reyes continued his unbeaten streak at the expense of Ovince Saint Preux, showing great composure and patience as he picked his opponent apart over the course of three rounds. It was a masterful showing, as Reyes was able to demonstrate well-rounded technique with strengths in striking and grappling alike. A fast-rising contender, he’s just the type of talent the light heavyweight division desperately needs.
In the co-main event of the evening, former UFC interim lightweight champion Tony Ferguson returned from injury where he put the longest active unbeaten streak in the promotion on the line against former lightweight champion Anthony Pettis.
The bout started off with Ferguson using constant pressure to outpoint Pettis. He continued the strategy in the second round, but Duke Roufus’s advice to Pettis to punch over Ferguson’s kicks seemed to work – he floored Ferguson with a big shot and swarmed him. Ferguson managed to recover though, and went back to his game plan as both fighters were bleeding heavily.
Ferguson would ultimately get the technical TKO win as Pettis was unable to make it to the third round due to a broken hand. While fans likely wanted a third round in what was a sure contender for fight of the year, coach Roufus made the right choice not to send his fighter back out with such a debilitating injury.
Even though the card’s main event, and the ensuing brawl, were likely what most will remember, this card was stacked from top to bottom.