Recap: The Entire Bantamweight Division Shines at UFC 299

The UFC returned to Miami tonight for a loaded pay-per-view card headlined by a Bantamweight Championship bout to remember. But it was so much more than just the main event. The bantamweight division shined up and down this card, which was loaded with great fights in other divisions as well.

Let’s take a look at some of the highlights of the night and break down the three fights we looked at in our UFC 299 preview.

Prelim Highlights

One of the most impressive performances of the night came in one of the first fights. Kyler Phillips faced off against perennial bantamweight contender Pedro Munhoz, likely with a spot in the top 15 on the line, and he stepped up in a big way. Phillips had Munhoz hurt about halfway through the first round, landing several big punches and knees. Unfortunately, an accidental eye poke temporarily halted the action and allowed Munhoz to recover. Phillips didn’t slow down much after that, utilizing his length and relentless pressure to score a big decision victory. Kyler Phillips looks like a force the rest of the bantamweight division is going to have to figure out.

It was a high-stakes prelim when 4th-ranked Katlyn Cerminara met 6th-ranked Maycee Barber. Cerminara had the clear reach advantage and used it well in the early going, keeping Barber at a distance with her strikes. It didn’t take long for Barber to closes the distance though and when she did, she was able to bully Cerminara up against the fence. Both fighters landed some big shots, but Barber’s persistence in the grappling game resulted in ome big takedowns and eventually, a decision victory. It was a strong showing from both competitors but Barber proved she belongs at the top of the women’s flyweight class.

In the featured prelim, fans were treated to an absolutely wild heavyweight showdown between Jailton Almeida and Curtis Blaydes. Almeida is one of the top grapplers in the class and Blaydes is one of the most dangerous strikers so we had a clear clash of styles in this matchup. And it didn’t take long for that stylistic clash to show up as Almeida immediately took Blaydes to the floor and went on to secure a UFC record nine takedowns in just the first round. While he didn’t inflict much damage, it was a dominant round for Almeida. Then, in the second, he almost immediately shot for another takedown but this time Blaydes stuffed it. Almeida recklessly held onto a leg while Blaydes rained down hammer fists. While it typically looks like the fighter looking for the takedown is safe in this position, the heavy hands of Blaydes actually put Almeida out after a few more strikes. It was a shocking knockout and just the latest on the impressive record of Curtis Blaydes.

Main Card Highlights

In one of the best fights in recent memory, Song Yadong and Petr Yan opened up the main card with an instant classic. In the early going, it was Song who had the clear speed advantage as he was constantly putting the former champion on his heels. He also had Yan reacting in a big way to his takedown fakes, which only gave Song even more of an advantage in the striking game. The tide turned in the second though as Yan started to stand his ground and dig in with his own striking game. Working both the body and the head, Yan started to put on a clinic and even eventually scored some takedowns of his own. Song never went away though and it was a very entertaining back-and-forth battle for the full 15 minutes. Both guys showed out in this meeting but it was Yan who scored the decision victory. Yan may have looked better than he ever has before, with a brilliant mix of striking and grappling, which is a scary thought for the bantamweight division.

It was a very exciting UFC debut for Michael “Venom” Page, who is known for his highlight reel knockouts outside the octagon. Welcoming him to the octagon was welterweight contender Kevin Holland, who proposed an interesting challenge for the world-class striker. However, it was clear right away that Page’s striking advantage was even greater than we all anticipated. Page was able to dart in and out from a seemingly impossible distance, inflicting damage and escaping in a blink. He also closed out the first round by landing a baffling back elbow that will show up in highlight reels for a long time. In the second round though, Holland was able to score a takedown and it looked for a moment like he would lock in a choke to win the fight. Page escaped but not before Holland landed some big shots from the top position. In the third round, Page got right back to working his unbelievable striking en route to a decision victory. It was as impressive a UFC debut as I can remember and there are a lot of fans who are excited to see what’s next for Page.

Gilbert Burns vs. Jack Della Maddalena

In another interesting stylistic matchup, world class grappler Gilbert Burns faced off with talented striker Jack Della Maddalena. It was clear where each guy had their advantage right from the beginning and they each had their moments. Burns took Maddalena’s back early on but he managed to escape. Maddalena landed the smoother strikes and combinations, but Burns managed to avoid taking any serious damage. The second round saw more of the same, but Burns began to press the grappling more and saw more time in control. That trend would carry into the third as Burns scored a couple more takedown and appeared to be coasting to a decision victory with a little over a minute to go. Maddalena managed to scramble though and get back to his feet. Anticipating another immediate shot from Burns, Maddalena landed a huge knee that rocked his opponent and led to a thrilling knockout victory in the closing seconds of the fight. It was a huge win and afterwards, Maddalena called out Shavkat Rakhmonov, which would be an incredible title eliminator.

My pick: Burns via decision

Result: Della Maddalena via 3rd round knockout

Dustin Poirier vs. Benoit Saint Denis

This was a very risky fight for the established Dustin Poirier to take on the up-and-coming Benoit Saint Denis. Right away, the pressure from Saint Denis was the story of the fight as he was immediately in Poirier’s face. It also didn’t take long for him to get to the grappling game, scoring multiple takedowns. Poirier tried a couple of times to look for a guillotine but each time Saint Denis was able to escape and get the dominant position. In between rounds, Poirier’s corner was prophetic in saying he had the much better striking and instructing him not to look for the guillotine. Well, the latter didn’t work as he once again looked for the choke and gave the dominant position to Saint Denis. It looked bad for Poirier for a moment as Saint Denis had his back and appeared multiple times to have a choke locked in. However, the former champ managed to fight back to his feet and quickly landed some big punches, rocking Saint Denis. A big right dropped him and one more punch ended the fight, securing another huge win for Poirier and halting the momentum of Sain Denis.

My pick: Saint Denis via 3rd round submission

Result: Poirier via 2nd round knockout

Sean O’Malley vs. Marlon Vera

The atmosphere was electric for this main event, with the Miami crowd getting behind both of these guys. Determined to prove their first meeting was a fluke, O’Malley showed his advantage in the striking game right away. The champ was masterful at dictating the range at which this fight would take place, keeping Vera at his range. Vera’s toughness was on display as well though as O’Malley landed a knee up the middle that sounded like the crack of the bat at a home run derby. The challenger would not be stopped though and he just kept coming. Vera found some success when he was able to blitz the champ and pressure him with strikes, but O’Malley’s movement proved to be the difference maker and he was always able to escape pressure without sustaining too much damage. O’Malley put on an absolute striking clinic for five full rounds, winning all five on each of the three judges’ scorecards. After officially retaining his championship, O’Malley called for a superfight with Featherweight Champion Ilia Topuria, which would be one for the ages.

My pick: O’Malley via decision

Result: O’Malley via decision

The UFC will return to ESPN+ on Saturday, March 16 for UFC Fight Night: Tuivasa vs. Tybura. Be sure to check back for a preview of the event.

Mike Mack
Mack is the Editorial Director for Marvel and ESPN content and he has covered comic cons, theme park events, video game showcases and other fun events. He is a fan of theme parks, sports, movies, Marvel Comics and is a self-proclaimed "nerd."