Welterweight contender Kamaru Usman wanted to make a statement when he stepped in the cage against his most high-profile opponent to date in his first main event.
He had to settle for just another victory in the main event of UFC Fight Night 129 in Santiago, Chile, the organization’s first event in the South American country.
Usman captured a unanimous decision over veteran grappling star Demian Maia, cruising to a dominant 50-45, 49-46, 49-46 win on the scorecards.
It was his 12th consecutive win overall and eighth straight in the UFC, the second-longest streak in UFC welterweight history behind only Georges St. Pierre’s 12 consecutive wins.
“For the longest time, all I heard was I had not fought a Top 10 guy,” said Usman, who accepted a change of opponents to Maia just three weeks ago. “Demian Maia is a legend, a two-time title challenger, and I just dominated him.”
Still, it wasn’t the kind of performance that will have fans clamoring to see him in a title fight.
Usman never allowed Maia to get the fight to the mat, stuffing all 15 takedown attempts. He didn’t attempt any of his own despite a wrestling game that has overwhelmed most of his previous opponents.
He did enough on his feet to win the fight, even knocking Maia down once. Usman cited several reasons he fell short of a more impressive performance, including his belief he broke both hands in the fight on Maia’s “hard head.”
“This was my first time going five rounds and it’s definitely a change from three rounds,” Usman said. “Three rounds I can just go at it, sprint all the way through but five rounds I definitely felt different. It’s a learning experience, next time I will be more decisive. Demian was tougher than I expected, he showed why he is a true veteran. He does a good job blocking shots. Much respect to him.”
Maia has now lost three straight fights, the longest skid of his career. He is 0-for-49 on takedown attempts over that span.
Suarez beats Grasso
Top women’s strawweight prospect Tatiana Suarez remained undefeated by making quick work of Alexa Grasso.
Suarez, an elite wrestler who won Season 23 of “The Ultimate Fighter,” got the fight to the mat quickly and submitted Grasso with a rear-naked choke midway through the first round.
“It just feels good to get a win, because my team and coaches put so much time into me,” said Suarez, who improved to 6-0 as a pro and 3-0 in the UFC. “I really like to make them proud and my family as well, my teammates and friends. I’m really happy.”
Grasso is now 2-2 in the UFC after entering the organization as an undefeated prospect with high expectations in 2016.
Light heavyweight Dominick Reyes also remained undefeated with quick victory on the card.
Reyes landed a pair of uppercuts to knock out Jared Cannonier at 2:55 of the first round and improve to 9-0 overall and 3-0 in the UFC.
“It feels amazing keeping my unbeaten record,” he said. “There aren’t really words to describe how I’m feeling. I’m so proud and honored. My plan is always to knock my opponent out right away, first round preferably, but to actually get it and for all the things to come to fruition as I dreamed, all the hard work, all the sacrifice, to go down the way you imagine, the best possible scenario – a first round knockout – is a dream come true.”
He’s made a habit of it.
Eight of his nine wins as a pro have come in the opening round.
Vicente Luque had the only other stoppage on the main card as he knocked out welterweight Chad Laprise in the first round.
Bantamweight Guido Cannetti earned a unanimous decision over Diego Rivas and Andrea Lee made a successful UFC debut by winning all three rounds over Veronica Macedo in a women’s flyweight bout.
“My UFC debut felt incredible,” she said. “This is the UFC, obviously the biggest stage I have fought on and also the most people I have ever fought in front of. The crowd was just like so exciting and welcoming, they were cheering for me and I loved it. Obviously it wasn’t my best or favorite performance. I wanted to come out here and be more exciting than I was, but it was an incredible feeling.”
Gabriel Benitez highlighted the preliminary card by knocking out featherweight Humberto Bandenay with a slam initiated to break an armbar attempt.
Poliana Botelho needed just 33 seconds to knock out women’s strawweight Syuri Kondo.
Alexandre Pantoja won all three rounds of a flyweight bout against Brandon Moreno and welterweight Michel Prazeres took a split decision over Zak Cummings.
Enrique Barzola, Frankie Saenz and Claudio Puelles all picked up wins on the untelevised portion of the preliminary card.