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LAS VEGAS (AP) — Rose Namajunas finished Paige VanZant with a modified rear naked choke midway through the fifth round of a grueling UFC Fight Night bout on Thursday night.
Namajunas (5-2) largely dominated every round, but VanZant repeatedly escaped trouble. After surviving innumerable big strikes and several submission attempts, VanZant (6-2) couldn't escape the final choke.
Michael Chiesa finished Jim Miller with a choke in the second round of an entertaining lightweight fight at the Chelsea venue in the Cosmopolitan hotel.
Touted teenage lightweight Sage Northcutt also won his second UFC fight as the promotion kicked off an MMA extravaganza on the Las Vegas Strip with the first of three packed fight cards in three days.
Featherweight contenders Frankie Edgar and Chad Mendes meet in a main event Friday night at the Cosmopolitan. UFC 194 at the MGM Grand Garden Arena on Saturday night features Jose Aldo's featherweight title defense against Conor McGregor and unbeaten Chris Weidman's middleweight defense against Luke Rockhold.
UFC champions Holly Holm and Joanne Jedrzejczyk watched from cageside as Namajunas and VanZant put on a thriller in the first non-title women's fight to headline a UFC card.
Namajunas controlled VanZant from the opening minutes of the meeting between top strawweight title contenders, but Thug Rose had to go deep into the final round to earn her second win in just over two months.
VanZant got dropped on the canvas early in the first round, and Namajunas opened a major cut on VanZant's right cheek with a flurry of elbows. Namajunas nearly finished late in the third when she leaped on VanZant's back and pulled them both backward to the ground, but VanZant escaped with a completely bloody face.
Namajunas nearly landed two armbars in the fourth round, but VanZant wriggled out of both submission attempts despite getting dominated again.
Namajunas had 10 months of inactivity after losing her title shot in the finale of "The Ultimate Fighter" last December. But the skilled 23-year-old could be closing in on another title shot after thrashing the 21-year-old VanZant, one of the UFC's most heavily promoted prospects.
While she was outclassed, VanZant showed remarkable toughness in a bout that left the fighters embracing afterward.
Chiesa (13-2) extended his rise with a resourceful win over the veteran Miller (25-7). Chiesa turned the fight with style, warding off Miller's kneebar attempt and landing several huge head shots before the finishing choke.
Chiesa celebrated his fourth win in five fights by scaling the cage and yelling, "I love you, Mom!"
"I'm not the prettiest and I sure fight dirty but I get the job done," he said.
Northcutt, the fast-rising 155-pound prospect with formidable athleticism, finished Cody Pfister with a guillotine choke 41 seconds into the second round. Pfister kept Northcutt on his back for much of the first round, but Northcutt took control after the referee curiously stood them up.
Thiago Santos opened the main card with an entertaining decision over previously unbeaten Canadian middleweight Elias Theodorou, who fought through an alarmingly large forehead cut over his right eye.