The Top 5 moments from FOX UFC Saturday

Chicago delivered plenty of epic moments at FOX UFC Saturday: Henderson vs. Thomson. Here are the Top 5.

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For the third year in a row, the UFC spent a frosty Saturday night in January inside the United Center, bringing the action from the Octagon to a network television audience with the first FOX UFC Saturday event of 2014.

From dazzling finishes to disputed decisions, there was a lot to talk about from last night’s fight card, but these are the top performances and takeaways.

This is The Hit List.

Cowboy KA-BOOM!

Donald Cerrone has been a perennial contender in the UFC lightweight division since migrating over from the WEC three years ago, but inconsistency and self-doubt have kept him from maintaining momentum and reaching his full potential.

Saturday night, he turned in his best performance to date.

After getting stung with a body kick early in the opening round, “Cowboy” found his range and started to go on the offensive, peppering Adriano Martins with an assortment of kicks to the legs and body. Late in the first round, the long-time contender went upstairs with a right high kick, and in an instant, the fight was over.

Cerrone placed his shin square on the neck of Martins, sending him crashing to the canvas in a state of instant, temporary rigamortis. It was a perfectly timed, well set-up strike that showed how dangerous the lightweight bonus hunter can be when he’s focused and fighting to the best of his abilities.

Technique + Conditioning = Contender

Stipe Miocic is officially one to watch in the UFC heavyweight division.

The Cleveland, Ohio-based emerging talent collected his second-consecutive unanimous decision win Saturday night, rebounding from a slow first round to out-strike former title challenger Gabriel Gonzaga in the co-main event. Now 5-1 in the UFC and 11-1 overall, Miocic is the kind of fundamentally sound athlete that could pose problems for some of the established names ahead of him in the rankings going forward.

A former collegiate wrestler and Golden Gloves boxer, Miocic pressed forward behind a steady stream of jabs, picking apart the Brazilian veteran, turning up his output and intensity in the final frame. With a well-rounded skill set and the ability to keep a fast pace for the heavyweight ranks, Miocic has the potential to emerge as a title threat by the end of the year.

Featherweight Hellion

Stephens steamrolled the No. 10-ranked Elkins in Chicago.

Following a 15-fight run in the lightweight division that yielded a sub-.500 record, Jeremy Stephens decided to make the move down to featherweight, and in the three fights since, “Lil’ Heathen” has quickly established himself as a dark horse contender in the deep and talented 145-pound ranks.

Saturday night, Stephens picked up his third-straight win, battering durable wrestler Darren Elkins over the full 15 minutes to take home a unanimous decision, placing himself on the periphery of the title picture.

With legitimate one-punch finishing power and a wealth of experience under his belt already, the 27-year-old is an intriguing addition to the stacked featherweight class. Turning back the challenge of a Top 10-ranked opponent like Elkins should put Stephens in line for a step up in competition next time out, and with a couple more victories, the newest hellion in the 145-pound weight division could be in line for a title shot.

Bruce Leroy is a Bad Man

‘Bruce Leroy’ gladly handed Anthony Pettis’ little brother his first professional MMA loss.

 

When Alex Caceres was on Season 12 of The Ultimate Fighter, he was a 22-year-old kid with a catchy look and nickname, heaps of charisma, and only a sprinkling of experience. Four years and nine fights later, “Bruce Leroy” is developing into someone to watch in the UFC bantamweight division.

Caceres walked out of Chicago with another victory on his resume and $100,000 in his pocket, picking up a pair of bonuses for his third-round submission win over unbeaten prospect Sergio Pettis in the final bout of Saturday’s preliminary card.

In a back-and-forth contest that garnered Fight Of The Night honors, the 25-year-old with the blown-out Afro and ever-present smile collected the Submission Of The Night bonus as well, sinking in a rear-naked choke on the undefeated up-and-comer late in the final round. It was Caceres’ most complete and impressive performance to date, one that pushes his unbeaten streak to five.

With the winds of change sweeping through the bantamweight ranks, a fighter like Cacaeres — with his reality TV background, made-for-TV personality and current run of success — could receive a major push in 2014, especially after handing the hyped younger Pettis his first professional loss.

From Russia Without Love

UFC Fight Pass fans were treated to a quick KO courtesy of Krylov.

Technically, Nikita Krylov is from the Ukraine, but “From Ukraine Without Love” doesn’t capture the James Bond reference and just doesn’t sound as awesome.

In Saturday night’s opener, the 21-year-old Ukrainian heavyweight made quick work of Walt Harris, blasting “The Big Ticket” with a nasty headkick right out of the gate. From start to finish, the whole thing took 25 seconds.

It was an impressive finish, and until Cerrone went all “Anything you can do, I can do better” on the main card, the young Ukrainian was probably leading the Knockout Of The Night chase.

It’s hard to get an accurate read on Krylov.

He looked unpolished and out his depth in his UFC debut — a loss to Soa Palelei at UFC 164 last August — but Krylov slimmed down to 218 pounds for his sophomore appearance this weekend, and showed the kind of first-round finishing skills that highlight his resume and prompted the organization to sign him in the first place.

Here’s the thing: he’s 21, could feasibly fight at either light heavyweight or heavyweight, and already has 19 fights under his belt, which makes him shorter version of Stefan Struve, the always entertaining Dutch heavyweight who was developing into a potential contender before a heart condition put his career on hold.

Given his age and lack of top-end experience, there is no need whatsoever to rush Krylov up the ranks in whichever division he decides to settle into going forward. Let him continue to develop and see what you get.

Two fights into his UFC career, the 16-3 newcomer is already pretty fun to watch.