Huntington’s Matt Frevola flew to Abu Dhabi to fight against an up-and-coming knockout specialist at UFC 257 on Saturday night.
After that opponent was cut from the UFC for a health and safety protocol violation and another fighter was deemed unable to compete — both of which occurred on Friday morning during weigh-ins — Frevola found himself fightless at first and then in a fight with an up-and-coming grappler.
A significant change in styles in a significantly short amount of time. Still, Frevola fought gamely in the lightweight bout, losing to Arman Tsarukyan by unanimous decision. The three judges scored it 30-27, 30-27, 30-26.
"I watched Matt’s fights and decided, like, I have a new opponent, I have to do a new game plan and I’m really happy I won," Tsarukyan said after the fight.
The loss ended a two-fight win streak for Frevola (8-2-1, 2-2-1 UFC), who hadn’t fought since 2019 as three scheduled bouts in 2020 were canceled because of the coronavirus pandemic, a positive COVID-19 test from a cornerman and an injury.
Tsarukyan (16-2, 3-1) pressured Frevola from the start of the bout with his grappling and body control. Frevola defended well in the first round and landed two good shots in the closing seconds.
But Tsarukyan continued to show his grappling advantage as the fight went on, landing 10 of 12 takedowns and mixing in some effective striking. Frevola, who trains at Gracie Tampa South at Longo and Weidman MMA, fought back in the second round, connecting on a big right hand while standing on one as Tsarukyan held his other leg in the air. That shot opened a cut on the 24-year-old Russian, but he again used his grappling to minimize any further damage.
The third round opened up with Tsarukyan slipping under a right hand from Frevola and taking him down. Frevola got back to his feet rather quickly. On another successful takedown by Tsarukyan midway through the round, Frevola attempted a guillotine choke. He needed a finish to get the win, but his opponent was able to slip out and end up in top position.
"I wanted to choke him, but this guy, he has a very good Brazilian jiu-jitsu, he’s a brown belt, he’s not easy," Tsarukyan said of Frevola. "I tried sometimes, but he has good defense. It was very hard, but my freestyle wrestling is better and so was my control, my striking, and I can do everything.
Tsarukyan, winner of three straight by decision, was scheduled to face Nasrat Haqparast, who was deemed unable to compete and did not weigh in on Friday. Tsarukyan also missed the 156-pound limit for lightweight and forfeited 20% of his purse to Frevola. Frevola’s original opponent was Ottman Azaitar, who was pulled from the card and then released by the UFC after his violation of the health and safety protocols in place on Fight Island.
Tsarukyan said he wants to fight a top-15 lightweight next and then called out Frevola's teammate, Wantagh's Al Iaquinta.
"I want to fight with Iaquinta because he doesn’t have a fight," he said. "All guys in the top 15 have fights, except him. If he doesn’t want to fight or… then get out of the top 15, I want to take his place."