Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) lightweights Leonardo Santos and Efrain Escudero fought for their place in the division last night (Sat., Sept. 13, 2014) at UFC Fight Night 51 on Fight Pass from inside the Nilson Nelson Gymnasium in Brasilia, Brazil.
Escudero entered in desperate need of a victory. Having been cut twice already due to his 4-5 UFC record, Escudero really needed to make a statement and show that he had improved since his past runs inside the Octagon.
Though his career is in an earlier stage than Escudero's, Santos also needed to prove that he belongs. He may have won The Ultimate Fighter (TUF) in Brazil, but his sophomore performance was less than spectacular.
Both men chased the victory hard, but Santos emerged as the better fighter.
Santos opened the bout with a sense of aggression, mixing together kicks and punches well. After the two exchanged, Santos moved into the clinch and soon secured a takedown directly into side control. When Santos attempted to move to mount, Escudero was able to latch onto a half guard.
After Santos landed some hard ground strikes, he forced his way into the mount, causing Escudero to give up his back. Santos was looking for his signature arm-triangle choke, but Escudero was wary of it. Though Escudero's submission defense held strong throughout the round, he did very little except absorb ground strikes.
The Brazilian was off to a strong start in front of his home crowd.
Escudero opened the second round with some pressure and a nice combination. However, he was having difficulty with Santos' length and missing many of his punches. Santos then landed a step knee and a hard left hook. Escudero countered with a hard right overhand.
Once again, Santos looked for the clinch. This time, however, Escudero managed to repel the clinch and land a knee out of the clinch. Just as Escudero seemed to be gaining momentum as Santos slowed down, the MMA-Lab trained fighter dropped Santos with his overhand.
Escudero let Santos back to his feet but did not press the issue, allowing Santos to recover a bit. Though Santos was back on his feet, Escudero was now in control of the exchanges. With Santos slowing badly, Escudero continued to out-strike Santos from within the pocket until the bell rang.
It all came down to the third round, and Escudero was carrying the momentum.
Both men entered the third fairly fatigued, but Santos looked as though he was moving through molasses. No longer able to hold Escudero at range, Santos continued to absorb numerous right hands and clubbing blows to the body.
Though Escudero continued moving forward, his volume declined sharply after a hard leg kick landed for the Brazilian. Escudero kept the pressure on but was no longer through strikes, so Santos simply changed levels and finished a double leg takedown, using Escudero's momentum against him.
Santos quickly moved onto the mount. Though he looked sluggish on the feet, his grappling remained fluid as ever. Soon, Santos was on his back and locked in a body triangle. For the remaining minute of the bout, Santos hunted for the rear-naked choke but was unable to finish the submission.
Still, Santos gutted out a tough second half of the fight to earn the decision in front of his home crowd.
This is a devastating loss for Escudero. His opponent was certainly beatable, but Escudero failed to capitalize or even pursue the finish with any vigor. If UFC decides to keep him around, he's certain to get a low-level lightweight or debuting fighter.Perhaps fellow struggling TUF veteran Ramsey Nijem could force Escudero to let loose.
Though Santos did not look like a world beater, he was able to showcase his excellent grappling skills. Plus, his striking looked greatly improved in the first round, and the Brazilian was aggressive throughout the match. It wasn't always pretty, but Santos secured his future inside the Octagon for at least a couple fights.
In his next bout, Santos is likely to get a fellow middling lightweight. He's certainly nowhere near a ranked opponent. Expect Santos to get matched up with someone like Mitch Clarke, a contest which could produce some exciting scrambles.
After a competitive decision victory over Efrain Escudero at UFC Fight Night 51, how far can Leonardo Santos' excellent grappling take him in the talent-rich lightweight division?
For complete UFC Fight Night 51: "Bigfoot vs Arlovski" results, including blow-by-blow coverage of the entire Fight Pass event, click here.