UFC Vegas 51: Strong Second Half Leads to First Win for Sam Hughes, Over Istela Nunes

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Istela Nunes and Sam Hughes, UFC Vegas 51
LAS VEGAS, NEVADA - APRIL 16: (L-R) Sam Hughes punches Istela Nunes of Brazil in a strawweight fight during the UFC Fight Night event at UFC APEX on April 16, 2022 in Las Vegas, Nevada. (Photo by Jeff Bottari/Zuffa LLC)

Istela Nunes made her sophomore trip to the UFC octagon on Saturday, paired up against fellow strawweight Sam Hughes — in search of her first win in what was her fourth fight with the promotion.

Their UFC Vegas 51 match-up featured early on the evening’s preliminary card.

Hughes, in must-win territory, started on the outside, but was soon coming forward to meet Nunes at center. Nunes fired a kick, and Hughes worked her jab. Nunes showed some stance switches, and fired a left hook that found success. She mixed up her kicks, but while moving in for a knee, Nunes’ fingers wound up in Hughes’ eye, briefly halting the fight.

Back underway, Hughes, bloodied, circled, looking for an opening while Nunes moved in-and-out, trying to draw her opponent in. Another kick was launched by Nunes; Hughes fired a jab. She finally found a home for her left hand, then closed the distance and latched on with a body lock. What Hughes could not do was land the takedown; Nunes broke free, and back at distance continued to outwork the American.

The first five minutes belonged to Brazil’s Istela Nunes. Round two saw Hughes looking to close the distance, but Nunes’ movement and takedown defense was serving her well. Hughes was eating a significant amount of strikes any time she pressed forward, and the damage was showing. Nunes, meanwhile, remained in her comfort zone. In the second half of the round, Hughes found her range, which coincided with Nunes slowing and eating a few shots herself. Hughes then drove her opponent into the fence, but Nunes circled out.

Still, Hughes found some more success in the last two minutes of the second round than she had in the entire fight, going to the body at times, and upping her output at her corner’s behest. By the end of the round, Hughes had landed a late takedown, landing in side control and peppering Nunes with punches from a crucifix position.

Sam Hughes connected with a right hand early in the third, and that punch would be there again a moment later. Hughes then ducked a punch and closed the distance, but had to bail on a possible takedown. Hughes appeared to be picking up where she left off in the second, and while Nunes was still firing back, there was a lot less behind those punches. A second eye poke from Nunes then halted the action — and the ref took a point.

When the fight resumed, Hughes moved in for a body lock, took Nunes to the fence, and worked on a takedown. Nunes defended, but Hughes was still in control, pinning her, and finally just muscled her to the mat. Hughes moved to mount; Nunes bucked her off but Hughes held on and wound up in half guard. Short punches to the head by Hughes followed; she worked the body and tried to move to side control, though Nunes had her leg trapped. That still allowed Hughes to land some nasty elbows, and with the point deduction and a strong second half, Hughes had her first UFC win secured.

Official Result: Sam Hughes def. Istela Nunes by majority decision (29-27, 29-27, 28-28)

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