Fighters from around the globe dream of the day they’ll step into the UFC octagon for the first time. For six athletes, Saturday’s UFC on ESPN+ 37 event marked that special moment in their careers.
Check out this week’s rookie report to see what kind of first impression they made on the sport’s biggest stage from Flash Forum in Abu Dhabi.
Result: Tagir Ulanbekov def. Bruno Silva via unanimous decision (30-27, 29-28, 29-28)
Record: 12-1 MMA, 1-0 UFC
The first round saw Ulanbekov forced to stand and trade as Silva put the pressure on him from the get-go. But the Russian quickly found his feet and enjoyed some success with his strikes before eventually taking the Brazilian to the mat and working from top position.
Silva’s scrappy approach to the fight meant that it was tough for Ulanbekov to really settle, especially with the Brazilian hammering the Russian’s lead leg with kicks that clearly affected him, and Silva’s constant forward pressure meant that the debutant wasn’t given a moment’s rest during a breathless encounter.
But Ulanbekov responded well to the pressure and looked the stronger fighter in all areas as he landed the cleaner, crisper strikes and dominated the wrestling and grappling exchanges.
When the scorecards were totalled, all three judges scored the fight in Ulanbekov’s favor as the latest talent to come off the Dagestani conveyor belt picked up a hard-earned victory.
Result: Tracy Cortez def. Stephanie Egger via unanimous decision (30-27, 30-27, 30-27)
Record: 5-2 MMA, 0-1 UFC
Stephanie Egger may have lost out to rising prospect Tracy Cortez, but the Swiss newcomer showed promise as she showcased some of her defensive grappling skills through a gritty short-notice assignment on “UFC Fight Island.”
Egger was forced onto the back foot early as Cortez pushed the pace on the debutant, but the Swiss judoka showed some solid defense on the mat to avoid too much damage and steer clear of potential submission danger. But, unfortunately, she wasn’t able to use those defensive skills to turn the tables on her opponent and go on the offense.
It meant that Egger found herself on the wrong end of a shutout unanimous decision as her UFC career got off to a losing start.
Result: Tom Breese def. K.B. Bhullar via TKO (punches) – Round 1, 1:42
Record: 8-1 MMA, 0-1 UFC
K.B. Bhullar may have entered the UFC with an unbeaten record, but the leap up to the top promotion’s stacked middleweight division is a big jump to make, as he found out in painful fashion against Tom Breese.
Bhullar struggled to make any headway against Breese, who dominated him with his boxing, before finishing him with some heavy strikes to score a hugely impressive first-round TKO victory.
It meant Bhullar’s short-notice UFC debut was over virtually before it had begun, and he’ll wish he could have started a little faster and established himself a little better in the opening exchanges. Whether he succumbed to the famed octagon jitters or not, Bhullar will have plenty to prove when he steps back into the cage for his next performance.
Hopefully, he’ll be given the chance to have a full camp, and face a similarly-experienced foe next time around to give him the chance to get a foothold in the UFC’s middleweight class, as his first assignment looked too much, too early for the Canadian fighter.
Result: Ilia Topuria def. Youssef Zalal via unanimous decision (29-28, 29-28, 29-28)
Record: 9-0 MMA, 1-0 UFC
Ilia Topuria’s mastery on the mat proved crucial as he produced an impressive display of grappling to defeat the exciting Youssef Zalal on eight days’ notice and score a notable victory on his UFC debut.
Topuria went toe to toe with Zalal in a relatively even contest on the feet, but crucially, he made his superiority on the ground count as he dominated matters on the mat, though he couldn’t quite find the submission he was hunting throughout the first two rounds.
Things got a little dicey in Round 3 when his gas tank appeared to run dry in the final 90 seconds of the fight. It meant Topuria had to enter survival mode in the final exchanges of the fight, but he showed his grit to reach the final buzzer for the first time in his career as he picked up an impressive division win over a fellow prospect and make a winning start to life in the super-stacked 145-pound division.
Result: Tom Aspinall vs. Alan Baudot
Record: 8-1 MMA, 0-1 UFC
Alan Baudot received a baptism of fire on his UFC debut as he was fed to an in-form and firing Tom Aspinall, who blew him away inside a round in a one-sided battering.
Baudot struggled to get his offense off against Aspinall, who controlled the range well before stepping into the pocket and unleashing heavy shots. Once Baudot tasted Aspinall’s power, he turned away against the cage, then attempted to lock up a muay Thai plum to fire back from the clinch. But he had nothing for the Englishman, who continued his attack and eventually claimed the first-round TKO finish.
It was a nightmare assignment for someone stepping in on short notice, and meant we didn’t really get to see Baudot at his best as he suffered the first defeat of his professional career. As we said about Bhullar above, hopefully Baudot will get the chance to compete after a full camp next time around.
Dricus Du Plessis
Result: Dricus Du Plessis def. Markus Perez via knockout (punches) – Round 1, 3:22
Record: 15-2 MMA, 1-0 UFC
Former EFC and KSW champion Dricus du Plessis arrived in the UFC with a bang with a superb first-round knockout of Markus Perez and announced himself as a rising threat to the world’s best at 185 pounds.
Du Plessis was given no time to settle as Perez came out aggressively from the start and forced the South African onto the back foot as he put the pressure on “Stillknocks” in the opening exchanges. But, despite looking a little edgy and perhaps a touch nervous, Du Plessis found a regular home for his leg kicks and, as things started to settle, he began to effectively counter the Brazilian.
Then, as Du Plessis countered another Perez attack, he knocked the Brazilian off balance and, as Perez half-turned, he caught him on the side of the head with a short left hook that sent his man face-planting into the canvas.
It gave Du Plessis a dream start to life in the UFC after his short-notice call-up, and almost certainly set him up for a high-profile second fight as he looks to make his way toward the division’s biggest names.