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UFC Fight Night North Carolina: Almeida reigns supreme, Walker pips Smith and Gary train has no stops

UFC Fight Night travelled to the Spectrum Centre in Charlotte, North Carolina on Saturday with the main event containing a heavyweight bout between Jairzinho Rozenstruik and Jailton Almeida, as Dana White looks to continue shortlisting potential threats to the seemingly indomitable Jon Jones. 

Down in light heavyweight, two veterans who have enjoyed recent revivals at 205 in Johnny Walker and Anthony Smith faced off to advance up the rankings and further staple their resurgence in the UFC. 

Also, Ian Garry looked to show that there are no stops on the hype train as the young Irishman faced off against arguably his toughest opponent yet in Daniel Rodriguez.  

The repercussions were pivotal as always- here are all the major talking points from UFC Fight Night: Rozenstruik vs. Almeida. 

Jailton Almeida def. Jairzinho Rozenstruik by submission 

The contender list in the heavyweight division has a new member in Jailton Almeida- who dismantled Jairzinho Rozenstruik in the first-round courtesy of a rear naked choke.  

Remember, Rozenstruik moaned in the build-up to the fight that he wanted to fight a higher-ranked opponent. 

Well, in his first appearance at a UFC main event and just his third at heavyweight, Almeida made light work of a seasoned pro in Rozenstruik- who was on his back less than a minute into the fight with a double leg takedown by the Brazilian. 

From there, Almeida cantered towards victory as he moved into mount and forced Rozenstruik to surrender his back, which allowed the Brazilian to clamp in a rear-naked and force the tap- registering his fifth straight stoppage since arriving in the UFC.

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Sergei Pavlovich’s similar battering of Curtis Blaydes propelled him to contender status a few weeks ago but the same now can be said for Almeida. Making light work of fighters with the pedigree of Rozenstruik and Blaydes takes some doing.  

Winning, especially in the heavyweight division, must be visibly one-sided and produce a stoppage for Dana to take notice. 

Will Jon Jones still be around to fight both Almeida and Pavlovich? That remains to be seen. 

Stipe Miocic is widely accepted to be Jones’ next challenger but with Cyril Gane still the number-ranked contender in the division- a date with the rising heavyweights of Almeida and Pavlovich may be on the cards. 

Johnny Walker def. Anthony Smith by unanimous decision 

For a brief few moments after Johnny Walker’s hand was raised on Saturday, the dejected body language of Anthony Smith and the removal of his gloves indicated he was prepping his retirement speech. 

The man they call ‘Lionheart’ has embodied his nickname ever since his debut in 2013 and following a one-sided defeat to Walker, a decisionto hang up the gloves would have been justified. 

However, having given everything to the sport, Smith still has a lot to offer and revealed yesterday on the ‘Believe You Me’ podcast that he wasn’t going anywhere and that he needed to address a ‘glaring hole’ in his game. 

He is referring of course to leg kicks, which is something that has been a kryptonite for Smith throughout his career.  

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He came into the fight with an ongoing leg injury that he picked up in a TKO loss to Magomed Ankalaev last July and Walker took full advantage of this- hacking away at his opponent’s legs at every opportunity and landing 51 leg kicks out of his 192 strikes in total. 

“We’ve changed my stance, we’ve changed my movement, we’ve changed the block, we’ve changed the defence, I do it in practice, and for whatever reason, I get in the fight, and I can’t do it in the fight. I don’t know why”, Smith said on a podcast earlier in the week. 

Full credit must be given to Walker for capitalising on this self-diagnosed handicap that Smith has highlighted. He dominated the fight and has now recovered from four losses in five to win three on the bounce as his eyes are cast on the hierarchy of the light heavyweight division. 

As for Smith, it is now two losses in two following a three-game fight win streak as he heads back to the drawing board to reassess his game once again. 

Ian Garry def. Daniel Rodriguez by TKO

In arguably his toughest test yet against his first-ever ranked opponent, Ian Garry delivered his best performance to flatten Daniel Rodriguez with a stunning head kick midway through the first round- leading to an eventual ground and pound. 

Posing a 17-3 record before the fight and having fought some of the best in the business, nobody has ever been able to swat aside Rodriguez which such ease and dominance. 

The victory means for the first time in his career, the 25-year-old is now ranked at #13 in the welterweight division as his rapid rise through the UFC continues. 

As Garry’s credibility rises so too does the level of his opponents, as the Irishman labelled Neil Magny as potentially his next opponent. Magny possesses a 27-10 record and own’s the UFC’s record for most wins at 170 pounds with 20.  

Magny is tipped to fight Phil Rowe at UFC Jacksonville, but Garry explained how he is now the money fight for Dana. 

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“I think, regardless — and this is no disrespect to Phil Rowe — I think a lot of people know who Neil Magny is and don’t know who Phil is, Gary said on The MMA Hour. 

“So, I still think that Neil Magny is the bigger name and the one that the fans will notice more.” 

Garry has already dished out two knockouts this year and he hopes to end 2023 with at least two more fights on his record. 

“I believe the most important thing for me now is let’s see what happens with this Magny fight and once that’s done and over and we see what’s happened, if anyone has the balls to call me out in between there in the top 15 then maybe we can make it happen, but I would like to fight probably two more times this year”, he told The MMA Hour. 

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