UFC Vegas 67: About What Happened on Saturday

Detailing the results and ramifications from the inaugural UFC event of 2023, headlined by Sean Strickland and Nassourdine Imavov.

Short Notice? No Problem

LAS VEGAS, NEVADA – JANUARY 14: (R-L) Sean Strickland punches Nassourdine Imavov of Russia in a light heavyweight fight during the UFC Fight Night event at UFC APEX on January 14, 2023 in Las Vegas, Nevada. (Photo by Chris Unger/Zuffa LLC via Getty Images)

Sean Strickland stepped off the couch on Monday to take a main event assignment against Nassourdine Imavov, and on Saturday, he got himself back into the win column with a unanimous decision victory.

The Top 10 middleweight landed on the wrong side of the scorecards int he final main event of 2022, losing a decision to Jared Cannonier in a fight where he didn’t let his hands go as much as usual, but that wasn’t the case against Imavov. Strickland took the fight to the ascending talent, using his pressure and greater variety to out-work the MMA Factory representative and start the year with a clean sweep of the scorecards.

Imavov will grow from this fight — it was his first main event opportunity and his opponent changed at the last minute, from a compact southpaw to a bigger, high output fighter, and he still had positive moments, but this is Strickland’s moment. He made the adjustments that were needed after his loss to Cannonier and got to what carried him to the brink of contention in the past.

If this is a harbinger of what is to come in 2023, we’re in store for an entertaining year inside the Octagon.

Walk-Off Win to Snap the Skid

LAS VEGAS, NEVADA – JANUARY 14: (L-R) Dan Ige punches Damon Jackson in a featherweight fight during the UFC Fight Night event at UFC APEX on January 14, 2023 in Las Vegas, Nevada. (Photo by Chris Unger/Zuffa LLC via Getty Images)

Dan Ige halted a frustrating three-fight slide in spectacular fashion on Saturday, landing a walk-off knockout win over Damon Jackson to get back into the win column and make good on his “50k” nickname.

This was one of those matchups where you had to look beyond the results themselves and pay closer attention to whom each man had been sharing the Octagon with during that time. Ige’s losses came against ranked talents Josh Emmett, Chan Sung Jung, and Movsar Evloev, while Jackson’s four-fight winning streak was built on good wins over less established foes, and that difference in competition showed through on Saturday.

After opening a cut on Jackson’s head early the second, Ige walked it off with a clean left hook to the chin in the final minute. It was a “no doubter” and should serve as a reminder that the Hawaiian is an excellent fighter and perfect veteran test in the middle of the Top 15 in the 145-pound weight class.

We See You, Roman Kopylov

LAS VEGAS, NEVADA – JANUARY 14: (L-R) Roman Kopylov of Russia punches Punahele Soriano in a middleweight fight during the UFC Fight Night event at UFC APEX on January 14, 2023 in Las Vegas, Nevada. (Photo by Chris Unger/Zuffa LLC via Getty Images)

Whatever Roman Kopylov has switched up ahead of his last two fights, the Russian middleweight needs to stick with it because after an 0-2 start to his UFC career, he’s now earned consecutive impressive stoppage wins.

After finishing Alessio Di Chirico last time out, the mop-topped middleweight put it on Punahele Soriano on Saturday, earning a second-round finish. He was clearly the quicker of the two and more willing to throw variety, eventually hurting Soriano to the body, first with a spinning back kick that landed flush, followed by a kick that thudded home moments later. While the Hawaiian tried to tough it out, Kopylov stayed on him and got him out of there, pinning him against the fence and finishing him with a torrent of strikes.

We didn’t see much of this from Kopylov in his first two outings, each of which resulted in setbacks, but whatever has changed is clearly working. He looked sharp throughout this one and should garner another step up in competition whenever he returns later this year.

Pennington Pushes Through

LAS VEGAS, NEVADA – JANUARY 14: (L-R) Raquel Pennington punches Ketlen Vieira of Brazil in a bantamweight fight during the UFC Fight Night event at UFC APEX on January 14, 2023 in Las Vegas, Nevada. (Photo by Chris Unger/Zuffa LLC via Getty Images)

Raquel Pennington pushed her winning streak to five with a hard-fought split decision win over Ketlen Vieira.

The Brazilian started well, landing with more power and force in the opening stanza, but from that point forward, Pennington was able to find her range and have success. She drew level with a strong second frame, taking the fight to Vieira, and while the third was close, the Ultimate Fighter alum’s activity seemed to swing things in her favour. While not the emphatic result she was hoping for, this was still a very good win for Pennington.

Now on a five-fight winning streak, “Rocky” has to be viewed as the clubhouse leader in the championship chase. There are few fresh options for Amanda Nunes at the moment, with Irene Aldana being the lone Top 5 fighter yet to face the Brazilian standout, though she currently doesn’t have a fight booked.

With Pennington already in the win column, it will be interesting to see how things shake out at the top of the 135-pound weight class later this year.

Still Undefeated

LAS VEGAS, NEVADA – JANUARY 14: (R-L) Umar Nurmagomedov of Russia punches Raoni Barcelos of Brazil in a bantamweight fight during the UFC Fight Night event at UFC APEX on January 14, 2023 in Las Vegas, Nevada. (Photo by Chris Unger/Zuffa LLC via Getty Images)

Umar Nurmagomedov made a statement in Saturday’s first main card bout of the year, knocking out Raoni Barcelos with a nasty left hook in tight.

The two spent the whole of the round on the feet, trading shots, with the undefeated Nurmagomedov getting the better of things heading into the final minute of the opening stanza. After missing a stepping knee, “Cousin Umar” followed with a short left hand in tight, finding Barcelos’ chin with a shot that sent the Brazilian crashing to the canvas in a heap.

Raising your stock when you’re undefeated and already regarded as one of the top prospects in the sport is difficult, but Nurmagomedov managed to do that here. This was a jaw-dropping effort against an exceptionally skilled veteran opponent, and showed that wherever you thought the ceiling rested for Nurmagomedov, it needs to be a little higher. He is the real deal, and he continues to prove that every time out.

Preliminary Card Thoughts

LAS VEGAS, NEVADA – JANUARY 14: (R-L) Javid Basharat of Afghanistan battles Mateus Mendonca of Brazil in a bantamweight fight during the UFC Fight Night event at UFC APEX on January 14, 2023 in Las Vegas, Nevada. (Photo by Chris Unger/Zuffa LLC via Getty Images)

Javid Basharat closed out the prelims by securing his third consecutive UFC victory and 14th straight win overall, dispatching Mateus Mendonca from the ranks of the unbeaten in the process.

The 27-year-old avoided the big, explosive attacks of Mendonca in the opening stanza, picking at him where he could and doing his best to stay technical and patient. Over the final two rounds, the elder member of the Basharat Brothers showed his class, bloodying Mendonca when they hit the canvas, and out-working him through the last 10 minutes. The Brazilian showed toughness and resilience, but Basharat’s experience and savvy showed through.

While reluctant to call anyone out in his post-fight interview with Paul Felder, he eventually mentioned Chris Gutierrez as a potential dance partner, and that sounds like a brilliant matchup. Basharat has done enough to graduate from the middle tier, and a “let’s see where he stand” test against the streaking veteran Gutierrez would be an instructive contest that should produce fireworks as well.

LAS VEGAS, NEVADA – JANUARY 14: (L-R) Claudio Ribeiro of Brazil and Abdul Razak Alhassan of Ghana trade punches in a middleweight fight during the UFC Fight Night event at UFC APEX on January 14, 2023 in Las Vegas, Nevada. (Photo by Chris Unger/Zuffa LLC via Getty Images)

Abdul Razak Alhassan reminded everyone of the kind of menacing power he possesses on Saturday night, waiting until the opening moments of the second round to dispatch DWCS grad Claudio Ribeiro.

Alhassan fought more patiently and showed more diversity than in previous efforts, pinning Ribeiro to the fence and controlling him there for long stretches over the opening five minutes. While he landed some sharp elbows in close late in the round, the Elevation Fight Team member was happy to primarily wear on Ribeiro and work into the middle frame. But as soon as the round began, Alhassan unloaded and put Ribeiro on the deck, putting himself back into the win column.

Alhassan is always going to be limited at middleweight because of his size and limited weaponry, but he has serious power that will always serve as a difference-maker for the 11-fight UFC veteran.

LAS VEGAS, NEVADA – JANUARY 14: (R-L) Mateusz Rebecki of Poland punches Nick Fiore in a lightweight fight during the UFC Fight Night event at UFC APEX on January 14, 2023 in Las Vegas, Nevada. (Photo by Chris Unger/Zuffa LLC via Getty Images)

You never want to judge an athlete off one performance, and I won’t make that mistake here, but what I will say is that a great deal of the hype that accompanied Mateusz Rebecki into his debut on Saturday has now dissipated.

Paired off with short-notice replacement Nick Fiore, who many expected would get steamrolled, Rebecki started hot, but couldn’t maintain that pace, dominating the opening stanza before turning things into a grind over the final two stanzas en route to a unanimous decision win. Fiore didn’t offer much in return, getting put on his back and kept there for long stretches, but for someone that was a colossal favourite, this wasn’t as impressive an effort as people thought Rebecki would deliver.

Now, debuts are a different animal, and opponent changes can create issues, so let’s see if Rebecki can dial up something more next time out. As for Fiore, he’s going to need a big outing in his sophomore showing in order to maintain his spot on the roster.

LAS VEGAS, NEVADA – JANUARY 14: (L-R) Allan Nascimento of Brazil battles Carlos Hernandez in a flyweight fight during the UFC Fight Night event at UFC APEX on January 14, 2023 in Las Vegas, Nevada. (Photo by Chris Unger/Zuffa LLC via Getty Images)

All week, I talked about how I thought Allan Nascimento had the potential to be a dark horse in the flyweight division this year. Saturday afternoon, the Brazilian made me look real good.

Nascimento trucked Carlos Hernandez, securing the rear-naked choke finish a little more than three minutes into the opening round. He stung Hernandez with a front kick up the middle, worked to a waist lock, and then dragged the DWCS grad into his lap. From there, it was academic, as he put Hernandez belly-down and fished his forearm under the neck when he looked to scramble back to his feet.

Nascimento dominated British prospect Jake Hadley last year after battling Tagir Ulanbekov to a close split decision in his debut, and now he kicks off 2023 with a dominant first-round submission win. He’s experienced and dangerous, especially in the grappling realm, and could be a real impact performer at 125 pounds this year.

LAS VEGAS, NEVADA – JANUARY 14: (R-L) Dan Argueta punches Nick Aguirre in a featherweight fight during the UFC Fight Night event at UFC APEX on January 14, 2023 in Las Vegas, Nevada. (Photo by Chris Unger/Zuffa LLC via Getty Images)

The second fight of the night showed the importance of a full camp and how valuable even a little bit of quality competition can be in these early UFC encounters.

Dan Argueta got the better of things against short-notice replacement Nick Aguirre, out-hustling him at every turn to earn his first victory inside the Octagon. A contestant on Season 29 of The Ultimate Fighter, “Dan the Determined” lost his own short-notice debut last time out against Damon Jackson, and competed under the LFA and Combat banners before that, gaining valuable experience in two of the better second-tier promotions in the sport.

There was nothing special about Argueta’s performance — it was simply a workmanlike effort from a guy that had a full camp to prepare, had been in the Octagon before, and knew how to execute effectively inside the UFC cage.

LAS VEGAS, NEVADA – JANUARY 14: (R-L) Charles Johnson punches Jimmy Flick in a flyweight fight during the UFC Fight Night event at UFC APEX on January 14, 2023 in Las Vegas, Nevada. (Photo by Chris Unger/Zuffa LLC via Getty Images)

Charles Johnson looked like a man to keep close tabs on to kick off 2023, running through the returning Jimmy Flick in the first fight of the year inside the Octagon.

The former LFA champ mixed up his strikes and levels in the early stages and quickly worked back to his feet when Flick looked to get the fight to the floor. He starting stinging the DWCS grad with shots midway through the round, and when Flick got too high on a back-take attempt, Johnson dumped him to the canvas and pounded out the finish. It was the most impressive showing so far in his three-fight run in the UFC, and gives the 32-year-old a little bit of an intriguing edge as the year gets underway.

E. Spencer Kyte is a veteran MMA content creator based in Abbotsford, British Columbia. He's written for numerous outlets, including FOX Sports and The Province, British Columbia's leading newspaper, and has been a freelance contributor to the UFC website for more than a decade. Follow him on Twitter: @spencerkyte.