A rare fight in the women’s featherweight division — on life support following the retirement of Amanda Nunes earlier this month, with UFC President Dana White suggesting the division might be on its way out — arrived at UFC Vegas 76, with Yana Santos taking on Karol Rosa.
Both fighters had competed at bantamweight previously, making this match-up essentially a bantamweight fight minus the weight cut.
An early clinch didn’t lead to much, and the pair broke, re-engaged, and clinched again. Santos was in the driver’s seat, putting Rosa’s back to the cage and working in knees. Try as she might, Santos could not get the fight down, however, and Rosa reversed, only for Santos to reverse again and move off the fence.
With 90 seconds left in the opening round, Santos ripped a kick to the body, which was followed a moment later by a teep kick to the midsection. Santos then clinched, pushed Rosa to the fence, fired a couple knees, then backed off.
Round two saw more clinch work initiated by Yana Santos. The first two minutes saw her sneak in some knees and elbows; off the break, Rosa would have a chance to walk the former Invicta FC champ down, and fought off another clinch attempt. Santos circled to one side, then the other, not all that interested in fighting out in the open. Rosa did find a home for her right hand, and sat down on a couple of somewhat heavy swings. Santos, however, had the edge in volume in addition to winning the clinch battles.
Towards the end of the round, the pair traded kicks. Rosa then punched her way into a clinch, but was out-muscled by Santos, who reversed and put her opponent against the fence to wrap up the frame.
In the third, Rosa managed to avoid an early clinch, then walk forward, looking to land a right hand on the taller, rangier Santos. For her part, Santos was still the more mobile, fresher-looking fighter. A brief clinch didn’t lead to either woman getting the upper hand. Santos flashed a front kick that was just shy of the mark, and didn’t have much on it. Yana then moved in, clinched, fired a knee, and backed off. A kick to the body landed for Santos, but a counter-right hand connected for Karol Rosa.
Rosa’s counters became more of the factor as the round wore on. Despite her physical advantages, it was Santos closing the distance, and getting clipped, if ever so slightly. The more the pair stayed off the fence, the more things favored Rosa. Towards the final minute, Rosa fired a combo punctuated with a kick, but she then found herself clinching Santos, exactly where she didn’t want to be. Yet in the following sequence, Rosa landed a takedown, finishing the round on top in what might have been the biggest moment in the fight for the Brazilian.
That may have, in fact, won her both the round and the fight. Two of three judges gave Karol Rosa 29-28 scores in what turned out to be a split decision victory for her. Santos, who had come into the fight on a two-fight skid that included a loss to former champ Holly Holm, now falls to 0-3 on her current run.
Official Result: Karol Rosa def. Yana Santos by split decision (28-29, 29-28, 29-28)