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Fans still get plenty of fireworks at UFC 215

By Robert Tychkowski

Amanda Nunes won a split decision after five rounds over Valentina Shevchenko in the Women's Bantamweight Title bout at UFC 215 at Rogers Place in Edmonton on September 9, 2017.

Amanda Nunes won a split decision after five rounds over Valentina Shevchenko in the Women's Bantamweight Title bout at UFC 215 at Rogers Place in Edmonton on September 9, 2017.

The show must go on, and a sold out Rogers Arena was glad it did Saturday at UFC 215.

Despite a troubled lead up in which two of the three main bouts were cancelled, fans in Edmonton still showed up in full force to take in the spectacle of an 11-fight card that, for the most part, sent them home happy.

The star power wasn’t the same after Demetrious Johnson-Ray Borg got scrapped Thursday night because of an illness to Borg and the heavyweight showdown between Francis Ngannou-Junior Dos Santos got washed away in mid August because of a potential doping violation for Dos Santos, but nobody seemed to care when the punches started flying.

OK, they cared a little bit when women’s bantamweight champion Amanda Nunes and challenger Valentina Shevchenko fought a little too tentatively for their liking, but that sometimes happens when two very technical opponents with a very healthy respect for each other step in a cage.

Nunes, who just destroyed two legends in Ronda Rousey and Miesha Tate, had to deal with a pro-Shevchenko crowd, not to mention the toughest opponent she has ever faced, in winning a split decision victory that was booed loudly.

“That’s normal,” she said. “I know the crowd wants to see a knockout, but this was not for the crowd. I mean, I want to fight for the crowd, but this fight was for me to show I can go five rounds, to prove that I’m improving.

“The (booing) is normal. You’re not going to be able to make everybody happy.”

Shevchenko landed more significant strikes in the final three rounds, but Nunes landed a take down in the fifth and controlled the centre of the octagon for most of the fight.

“She did not hit me one time, not one punch,” said a bitter Shevchenko, who dislocated her finger in the first round. “And she’s still the champion? I don’t understand why. She didn’t win the fight.

“I won three rounds. The second, third and fourth were mine, and more than half of the fifth. She only had one takedown and she didn’t do anything, she just held her position, nothing more.

“You can see on her face and on my face who landed more punches. I have stitches on my shin because of all the kicks I landed. I won this fight.”

The UFC loved its first visit to Edmonton.

“This is one of the best arenas we’ve ever been to,” said David Shaw, senior vice president of UFC North America, adding they’d like to come back. “We’d love to for a variety of reasons.”

While some fans asked for refunds after the main event was cancelled, the seats didn’t stay empty long.

“There were some (a few hundred) refunds,” said Shaw. “But we had sales to overcome those.”

In the co-main event, 10th ranked welterweight Rafael Dos Anjos made short work of sixth ranked Neil Magny, submitting him in the first round.

Dos Anjos kicked the legs out from under Magny early on and then submitted him at 3:43 with an arm triangle.

“Thank you Canada,” Dos Anjos told a deafening crowd that included Connor McDavid Milan Lucic and a handful of other Edmonton Oilers. “I’m coming for the welterweight belt.”

• While Demetrious Johnson didn’t get to fight, fans still got to see some flyweight fireworks when second ranked Henry Cejudo dropped fifth ranked Wilson Reis with a right hand early in the second round and rained about six more power shots while Reis was on the ground before they stopped it at the 25-second mark.

“We need fights like this,” said Cejudo, who improved to 23-7 and won a $50,000 performance of the night bonus. “We need knockouts in the flyweight division. I hit hard; I’m a little tank.”

• It was a good night for the shorter guys all around as five-foot-10 light heavyweight Ilir Latifi showed why they call him the Sledgehammer, using using his brute force power and advanced wrestling skills to maul his six-foot-two opponent.

Latifi scored takedowns in each round, dropping Pedro on his head in the second, en route to a unanimous decision.

• Gilbert Melendez, trying to forge a new path for himself at featherweight after losing three in a row at lightweight, had a tough night of it against eight-ranked Jeremy Stephens.

Stephens cut the legs out from Melendez, literally, dropping him half a dozen times with leg kicks and dominated him in the standup as well.

“I’ve got great leg kicks,” said Stephens, who won a lopsided unanimous decision. “People worry about my hand so much they forget about my leg kicks.”

• Sarah Moras of Kelowna looked outstanding in submitting bantamweight Ashlee Evans-Smith was a nasty arm-bar that Ronda Rousey would have been proud of.

Moras improved to 5-3 with the biggest win of her career, capping a very emotional night. She walked out to her walked out to her dad’s favourite song — Sweet Things by Danny Michele — to honour his memory

“He passed away six years ago,” she said, fighting back the tears. “It was super emotional walking out. Then I got the win so I’m over the top.”

• Edmonton’s Mitch Clarke suffered a second round TK loss to Alex White, then announced his retirement.

“It was great to fight here in Edmonton in my adopted hometown,” said Clarke. “Tonight, you saw my final fight.” … In the shocker of the night, 13th ranked bantamweight Ketlen Vieira took down sixth ranked Sara McMann with a second round submission…Vancouver lightweight Kajan Johnson opened the card with a shocking third round knockout of Adriano Martins, dropping the Brazilian with a shot behind the ear 49 seconds into the third… Arjan Bhullar became the first fighter of Indian descent to fight in the octagon, making the most of it in a unanimous decision over Luis Henrique.

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rtychkowski@postmedia.com