UFC on ESPN+ 31 rookie report: Grading the newcomers in Las Vegas

UFC on ESPN+ 31 rookie report: Grading the newcomers in Las Vegas

LAS VEGAS, NEVADA – AUGUST 01: (R-L) Cody Durden punches Chris Gutierrez in their bantamweight fight during the UFC Fight Night event at UFC APEX on August 01, 2020 in Las Vegas, Nevada. (Photo by Chris Unger/Zuffa LLC via Getty Images)

Division: Bantamweight
Result: Chris Gutierrez vs. Cody Durden ends in a unanimous draw (28-28, 28-28, 28-28)
Record: (11-2-1 MMA, 0-0-1 UFC)
Grade: C

In the lead up to his octagon debut at UFC on ESPN+ 31, Cody Durden tweeted, “Whatever you do, don’t count me out.” His performance against the dangerous Chris Gutierrez showed exactly why he sent that message, as he highlighted his toughness in a gritty showing in the opening fight of the night.

Durden was clearly wary of Gutierrez’s reputation for his debilitating leg kicks, and he smartly closed the distance and took his man to the mat with a well-executed takedown inside the opening 45 seconds. Durden wasn’t finished there, however, as he went on the offensive and took Gutierrez’s back and worked for a rear-naked choke.

With both hooks in and his back against the fence, Durden was perfectly positioned to work his way to a finish and, when the choke didn’t present itself, he attempted to end the fight via a face crank, but he eventually abandoned the hold. The finish didn’t materialize, but Durden stayed composed and kept the pressure on, dominating his first round as a UFC fighter.

Durden experienced a much tougher time in Round 2, as Gutierrez managed the range better and connected with a series of powerful leg kicks. Then Durden was caught by a foot to the groin when a Gutierrez knee fell short. The short-notice debutant took his time, then resumed the action as he pushed the pace once again. But he struggled to secure the takedown he wanted and started to take some punishment from the Team Elevation man’s strikes.

Durden’s pursuit of the takedown saw him get Gutierrez to the mat with 45 seconds of the round to go, but the debutant ended up in a tricky armbar predicament and was forced to defend the remaining seconds of the round.

It meant Durden faced a pivotal round in the final stanza, and the Atlanta-based prospect struggled to maintain the pace of the earlier rounds. He walked onto a lot of Gutierrez’s strikes, while his takedown attempts were more labored than we saw in the previous two rounds. It meant he spent most of the round on the receiving end of Gutierrez’s punches and kicks, and he was dropped by a knee to the head as the debutant’s gas tank started to run dry in the final moments.

Durden’s durability saw him go all the way to the scorecards, where he earned a unanimous draw verdict, with all three judges scoring his dominant first round 10-8. He may have lost two of the three rounds on the cards, but Durden’s big opening round proved crucial and, for a man who stepped in on short notice just two weeks after his last fight, the 29-year-old delivered a solid showing against dangerous, respected opposition.


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