CHICAGO | After 14 months on the sidelines recovering from a broken jaw, Eddie Wineland returned to the UFC ring on Saturday — but came up short against a gritty Bryan Caraway.
Caraway took a unanimous decision with a pair of 29-28 scores and a 30-27 in the three-round fight on the preliminary card of UFC on Fox 16 at United Center in Chicago.
Wineland (21-11-1, 3-5 UFC), a Westville resident, said concern about the takedown attempts from Caraway (20-7, 5-2 UFC) kept him from opening his striking game up.
"I didn’t let loose enough," Wineland said. "I was too tentative on his takedowns. I knew he was a good grappler and a good wrestler. I should've just let loose more. I had over a year layoff, but that's no excuse. I had a 10-month layoff and came back and fought Scott Jorgensen, and I had never felt better. He was the better man tonight — simple as that."
Caraway, who trains in Las Vegas, scored just one takedown against Wineland, and it came early in the fight. Wineland stuffed Caraway's attempts the rest of the way, but the threat of the fight going to the canvas was enough to keep Wineland out of his boxing attack, which is regarded by many as one of the best in the bantamweight division.
With his takedown attempts largely nullified by Wineland, Caraway was more solid in his striking attack than may have been expected, given his credentials in the wrestling and grappling department.
"I wasn't really surprised how things went down," Caraway said. "I'm a mixed martial artist. Just because I have high-level ground game and submissions doesn't mean I don't have anything else. I knew I was landing quite a bit of strikes. I was trying to keep him honest with takedowns and when he dropped his hands, I was going to shoot."
Wineland, likely believing he was down the first two rounds, did better striking work in the third, which was enough to get him the round from two of the three judges – but it was too little, too late.
Caraway said Wineland, a former bantamweight champion in World Extreme Cagefighting before moving to the UFC, commanded his respect. In addition, his longtime girlfriend, Miesha Tate, was set to fight in the co-main event on the same card.
"I was nervous tonight," Caraway said. "I was fighting Eddie Wineland who is ranked sixth in the world, and Miesha is fighting later this evening. I had to put on a good show because I didn't want a bad performance to weigh on her mind. I didn't even want her to come out with me, but she said, 'If you're there for me, I'm there for you.' To have that dedication and loyalty and support means a lot."
Wineland has dropped back-to-back fights and three of his past four.