It was the slugfest that wasn't. Despite what was expected to be a striking fan's delight, Siyar Bahadurzada and John Howard instead fought a workman-like affair with the American eventually coming out on top.
Both fighters opened the first round orthodox, but it was Howard who took center of the cage, a theme that would resurface over the course of the fight. The first few minutes were spent exchanging single strikes. Howard threw leg kicks and single body shots while Bahadurzada pumped the jab and tried to score with hooks. They eventually clinched along the fence, but Bahadurzada was able to force separation. Howard tried a pair of takedown attempts, but they went nowhere. It wasn't until a third attempt that Howard caught a knee perfectly timed from a strike the Afghan fighter threw. Bahadurzada nearly gave up his back as he stood, but was able to create separation.
The second round started with Howard landing a monster left hook only for Bahadurzada to return the favor. The two clinched against the fence trading short shots, but Bahadurzada was able to stuff a takedown attempt only to execute one of his own. Howard moves his back against the fence and tried to posture for a triangle, but the Afghan backed out of it. Both fighters were able to land solid strikes before separating. At this point, the two showed visible signs of exhaustion, and had a hard time generating any form of momentum. Before the round expired, Bahadurzada locked up a kimura grip trying to defend a Howard takedown along the fence only for Howard to scoop Bahadurzada onto his shoulders, carry him across the cage and dump him in a thudding slam. The round ended with the two in the clinch after scrambling directly after the slam.
In the final frame, Howard returned to his bread and butter, starting the round with a leaping left hook that cracked the Afghan fighter. Howard failed on a takedown attempt, but scored instead with a series of punches as the two separated. Bahadurzada literally put his hands on his hips prior to Howard eventually dragging him to the mat still early into the frame. From top position and postured up, Howard absolutely bombed on Bahadurzada, but the Afghan was able to roll back into butterfly guard. On top of an exhausted Bahadurzada, Howard moved to mount only to take his back when Bahadurzada rolled. Howard wasn't able to put Bahadurzada away, but ended the round in the dominant position.
The judges scored it 30-27, 30-27, 30-27, giving Howard the unanimous decision win. It's Howard's sixth victory inside the UFC. His record moves to 22-8 while Bahadurzada slides to 21-6-1.