- Brett Okamoto, ESPN Staff Writer
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LAS VEGAS -- Whether or not Jose Aldo cemented his place alongside the likes of Anderson Silva, Georges St-Pierre and Jon Jones this weekend is debatable, but he did conquer his greatest challenge to date.
Aldo successfully defended the UFC featherweight title for the fourth time Saturday, defeating former lightweight champion Frankie Edgar via unanimous decision in the main event of UFC 156 at the Mandalay Bay Events Center.
An accurate portrayal of the fight was perhaps the fact that Edgar was never out of it, but Aldo was always in control. Judges scored the contest 49-46, 49-46 and 48-47. ESPN scored it 48-47.
"It was a difficult fight," said Aldo, through a translator. "Frankie Edgar is a great fighter. I knew I had to work step-by-step, round-by-round."
Aldo (22-1) jumped to a commanding lead early. It was immediately clear the speed advantage Edgar enjoyed when competing at 155 pounds was gone. Aldo landed a quick left jab almost at will and bloodied Edgar's nose with a straight right.
The Brazilian's confidence grew in the second round, especially after stuffing an Edgar takedown. Edgar (15-4-1) did surprise him by catching a leg kick and firing a counter right, but Aldo recovered quickly and went on to win the round.
One of the hardest shots of the fight came in the third, when Aldo planted a front kick straight to Edgar's face. The blood that had trickled out in the first started to pour at that point. By the fourth round, Edgar's left eye was nearly swelled shut.
That didn't stop the New Jersey native, though. Edgar continued to move forward in the fourth and fifth rounds, mixing in uppercuts and tagging Aldo multiple times with a right hand at the tail end of combinations. He brought the crowd to its feet with a huge body slam in the fourth round, his first clean takedown of the fight.
Edgar continued to grow stronger in the final round, but Aldo found answers when he needed to. The 26-year-old champion ended the fight with a spectacular Superman punch, which he vaulted himself into by jumping off the cage.
It was yet another Edgar title fight that went the distance. Unlike a controversial loss to Ben Henderson at UFC 150, however, it did appear Edgar came up short.
"It was a close fight," Edgar said. "I keep finding myself in these situations. It is what it is. Congrats to Jose."
Evans drops the ball against Nogueira
Nogueira outclassed Evans in their light heavyweight bout. The Brazilian defended key takedown attempts while landing effective combinations, especially in the third round. All three judges scored the bout in his favor, 29-28.
"I think that this is one of my biggest victories because Rashad Evans is a big champion," Nogueira said. "I just trained very hard and I came with good boxing and great wrestling. I was able to make it hard for him to take me down."
Fighting for the first time since a unanimous decision loss to 205-pound champion Jon Jones at UFC 145, Evans looked tentative throughout the 15-minute fight. He managed to win the first round based on level changes and a well-timed takedown on a lead hook by Nogueira, but failed to carry any of that momentum further.
After giving up the one takedown in the opening frame, Nogueira showed tremendous takedown defense against one of the best wrestlers in the division.
He continually walked Evans down with two-punch combinations. By the third round, Evans seemed bothered by considerable swelling over his left eye.
The Las Vegas crowd grew restless multiple times throughout the fight. The lack of action was usually attributable to Evans, who seemed uncomfortable letting his hands go and attempted few takedowns even when it was clear he was behind.
Silva storms back, topples Overeem
Silva shocked the world on Saturday, knocking out the heavily favored (and cocky) Overeem 25 seconds into the third round of their heavyweight bout.
He stunned Overeem with a series of short punches in the clinch before uncorking a heavy flurry along the fence. Basically out on his feet from two right uppercuts, Overeem finally fell to the floor as referee Herb Dean dragged Silva away.
Silva resisted Dean at first, not to continue hitting Overeem but to scream at him. The loss snapped a 12-fight unbeaten streak for Overeem.
"After I knocked him out, I was yelling at him, 'Let's go, I want more!' " Silva said.
Silva warned Overeem to start showing respect in the buildup to the fight. His words, clearly, went unheard, as Overeem literally danced his way to the Octagon.
The former Strikeforce champion, making his first appearance since December 2011 due to a failed drug test, had been promised a title shot against Cain Velasquez with a win on Saturday.
That title shot looked safe early in the fight. Showing no respect for Silva's striking, Overeem kept his hands low in the opening round. He tagged him with a counter right hand late in the round as Silva threw a body kick.
The second round continued to go Overeem's way. He threw Silva to the floor after a lengthy clinch in the center of the cage and spent the majority of the frame throwing punches and elbows from top position, although Silva defended himself well.
Silva, apparently, saved his offense for the final round. The crowd started to roar when Overeem staggered back from the first shots and went into a full frenzy as Silva unloaded against the cage.
"It really bothered me [that] he hasn't respected me in interviews," Silva said. "He talked a lot of trash, and I told him that I'd make him respect me tonight."
Maia grinds his way past Fitch
Many wondered how Fitch's wrestling would stack up against the world-class Brazilian jiu-jitsu skills of Maia. They certainly got their answer on Saturday, as Maia dominated Fitch for an entire 15 minutes.
From the opening bell, Maia refused to allow Fitch to breathe. In the same manner he dispatched welterweights Rick Story and Dong Hyun Kim, Maia closed the distance, shot a single leg and went about improving position.
He took Fitch's back in every round, in which he consistently locked the veteran welterweight in a body triangle he was helpless to escape. Fitch was successful in thwarting multiple attempts at a rear-naked choke, but managed no offense.
"The game plan was to control him," Maia said. "I thought when I got his back I was going to submit him but he has very good defense. I think when I went for the takedown, he was surprised. I kept him off his game, and that's what won me that fight."
Visibly frustrated in the final round, Fitch came out with a wild kick aimed at Maia's head. He managed to gain top position midway through the round, but did nothing with the opportunity. All three judges scored it a sweep for Maia, 30-27.
Maia (18-4) improves to 3-0 since dropping to 170 pounds last year. The Brazilian has now won 11 fights under the UFC banner. Fitch (24-5-1) has only one win since the start of 2011.
Benavidez marches past McCall
Benavidez outpointed McCall over the course of three rounds to take a unanimous decision win. It was his first appearance since suffering a split decision loss to Demetrious Johnson for the inaugural 125-pound title in September.
"Finishing a guy in the first doesn't necessarily teach you a lot," Benavidez said. "You learn way more going the distance with a guy like Ian McCall."
Benavidez got off to a fast start, wobbling McCall multiple times in the first round, mostly with the lead hook. McCall responded in the final minute with a flurry that opened a cut on Benavidez's forehead, but it wasn't enough to steal the round.
Things changed in the second round, when McCall briefly took Benavidez's back as he attempted to stuff a takedown. Benavidez rolled out of the position, but ate a string of hard right hands as he turtled up in the center of the cage.
With the fight up for grabs in the third, Benavidez came out aggressively, catching McCall immediately with a right hand. McCall would smile after each exchange, but his face started to show damage, mostly swelling around the left eye.
"My corners didn't sugarcoat it," Benavidez said. "They told me very clearly I had to go get the third round. It was one to one going into the final five minutes, and I had to go out and take it."
All three judges scored the contest the same, 29-28 for Benavidez.
Benavidez (17-3) has won five of his past six. His only losses have come at the hands of current UFC champions: once to Johnson and twice to bantamweight champion Dominick Cruz. McCall (11-4-1) remains winless in the UFC through three fights.
Dunham scrapes by Tibau
Dunham rallied to a dominant final round, after struggling with Tibau's pressure. Neither fighter had consistent success establishing his range early in the fight, leading to several even exchanges in the first two rounds.
Those exchanges seemed to have a greater effect on Tibau, however, heading into the final round. While he continued moving forward, the looping haymakers he landed early started to miss their mark, as Dunham's cardio advantage showed.
Two judges scored the fight 29-28 for Dunham, while the third had it 29-28 in favor of Tibau. ESPN.com scored it for Tibau, 29-28.
"Whenever I don't finish a fight, the decision is up in the air," Dunham said. "Gleison was very strong. It took me a few shots before I woke up and really started getting into a rhythm out there.
"He's a very muscled guy, and it takes a lot to feed those muscles. Going into the third round, I think he tired a lot, and I was pretty sure I had him."
Tibau came close to a submission in the first, catching Dunham in a guillotine as the two scrambled for position. Dunham would escape and eventually own the third round, including a flying knee under Tibau's chin in the final 20 seconds of the fight.
Dunham (14-3) gets back in the win column, following a decision loss to TJ Grant in his last performance. Tibau (26-9) loses for the seventh time in the Octagon, five of which have come via decision.
Woodley chops downs Hieron
Tyron Woodley, ladies and gentlemen.
A longtime standout in the Strikeforce welterweight division, Woodley definitely turned heads in his UFC debut, knocking out Jay Hieron in less than one minute.
Known as a wrestler first, Woodley showcased his hands on Saturday. He knocked Hieron down with a big overhand right early. Hieron attempted to recover, but Woodley followed with a flurry of punches that knocked him out cold.
Referee Herb Dean waved off the action just 36 seconds into the fight. It was just the second knockout win of Woodley's career and the first time Hieron's been finished since 2007.
"My trainers and I planned to go out there and be explosive," Woodley said. "People in the welterweight division need to know I'm here. My last few fights have been wars, so I was due for a knockout."
It's a major rebound for Woodley (11-1), who suffered a knockout loss to Nate Marquardt in a bid for the Stirkeforce title in July. The former collegiate wrestler holds notable decision wins over Paul Daley and Tarec Saffiedine.
Hieron (23-7) has now dropped three of his past four fights. The 36-year-old is 0-2 since re-signing with the UFC last year. He lost a unanimous decision to Jake Ellenberger in October.