More often than not, when a No. 4 ranked fighter faces a No. 10 ranked fighter, there is a strong likelihood the winner could get a shot at a title in his next fight.
Not so with Raphael Assuncao and Bryan Caraway at UFC Fight Night 54 in Halifax, Nova Scotia, Canada, on Saturday night. Assuncao, ranked No. 4, entered the fight riding a six-fight winning streak, while Caraway had won five of his last six. The best the winner could hope for though was etching his name near the top of the list of title contenders, as the recently returned Dominick Cruz is expected to get the next shot at UFC bantamweight champion TJ Dillashaw.
There may not have been an immediate title shot on the line, but both men were keenly aware that a loss would be a major step backwards, and they fought like it.
From the start, Assuncao looked confident, taking the center of the Octagon, landing power punches and thunderous leg kicks. Caraway, however, had his own tack, bursting in on Assuncao throughout the opening frame, trying to get inside of the Brazilian’s power to do some dirty boxing.
Bot men had their moments in the opening round, but Assuncao stuffed Caraway’s lone takedown attempt, while landing a couple of his own to add to the sting of the leg kicks.
Even though Caraway scored a couple takedowns in the second round, Assuncao quickly returned the fight to standing both times and established that he was the power striker in this fight. His punches landed with much more sting than what Caraway could manage, and with much more frequency. Assuncao also diversified his kicking strategy in the second frame, landing a spinning hook kick to the head, as well as a couple of jumping knees.
Caraway wouldn’t go away, unwilling to give up on his opportunity to try and upset Assuncao and take a leap up the bantamweight rankings and plant his name into the title mix.
It wasn’t to be, however, as Assuncao continued to punish Caraway throughout the final round, pummeling him with punch combinations and several more knees to the body and head. Caraway’s face was a painting of Assuncao’s punishing efforts, but he kept moving forward, albeit at an ever-slowing pace.
Assuncao nearly locked up a guillotine choke in the final minute, but Caraway escaped that as well, and managed to survive to the final horn. He certainly earned a lot of respect for his toughness and heart, but he didn’t earn the coveted slot as a top contender.
Assuncao secured a unanimous nod from the judges, furthering his winning streak to seven consecutive bouts, and firmly established himself as the most worthy bantamweight contender not named Dominick Cruz.
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