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UFC Fight Night: Aspen Ladd falls flat in featherweight debut with loss to Norma Dumont

Isn’t this the way things always seem to play out in mixed martial arts? Fans got hyped to watch one of the sport’s most enduring stars perform — in this case, former women’s bantamweight champion Miesha Tate — but it turned into a letdown when she ended up having to pull out weeks before the UFC Fight Night main event after she contracted COVID-19.

Tate was replaced by another ex-champ in the main event, but before fans could get their hopes too high, Holly Holm was forced to pull out of her fight versus Norma Dumont due to injury. Enter Aspen Ladd, fresh off a bantamweight fight canceled just two weeks ago after she missed weight, making her featherweight debut.

The UFC ended up with a third-fiddle main event slated for the same night as Bellator 268 in Phoenix, as MMA’s second-tier promotion featured the two semifinals of that company’s glittery Light Heavyweight World Grand Prix — one of them a title fight and the other involving the reigning champ at heavyweight.

The storybook ending would have seen Ladd and Dumont put on a performance for the ages.

There was no storybook ending. There was a bedtime story.

Dumont did perform efficiently in winning a unanimous decision in this snoozer of a main event at UFC Apex, but even in dominating for her third consecutive victory, the 31-year-old Brazilian did nothing to suggest that she could make the featherweight champ, Amanda Nunes, break a sweat.

If Nunes was watching the fight in her Florida home, one hopes she was holding her baby in her arms, because that would have made bedtime in the Nunes household a piece of cake. This fight was not an advertisement for a rejuvenated women’s featherweight division. It was a lullaby.

This was supposed to be Ladd’s showcase, really. Who gets put in a main event two weeks after missing weight and having a fight canceled? The UFC was uncharacteristically forgiving with her, perhaps because the company was hoping to ultimately have a 145-pound contender to throw in with the champ. As it stands, the featherweight division is basically a mirage. Nunes also reigns and mostly fights at bantamweight, and there are practically no 145-pound contenders on the roster to chase her.

But given the opportunity to step up in a major way, Ladd did next to nothing. It was certainly not Dumont’s fault that in Round 1, Ladd landed three strikes; in Round 2, she connected with four. Ladd spent those first 10 minutes, and much of the 15 that remained, plodding stiffly in front of her opponent. Sleepwalking.

Between rounds, as she sat in her corner with her coach yelling at her, Ladd wore a glazed look, as if hypnotized. And even during the five minutes between those breaks, when the fight was supposed to be taking place, the 26-year-old Californian looked only slightly more awake.

Dumont, who recorded her third consecutive win, might be the next woman up for a 145-pound title shot after her third straight win. But after this loss, it’s back to the drawing board as Ladd searches for a way to get back on track. 

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