Thursday, December 1, 2022

4 Positives & 3 Negatives From UFC Vegas 65

On Saturday night, the MMA leader returned for its latest Fight Night event, UFC Vegas 65.

After the wild events of UFC 281 at Madison Square Garden last weekend, which included two championships changing hands, the promotion closed out its November schedule with a much more low-key event from home base in Las Vegas.

While last Saturday saw belts on the line and contenders vying for shots, the stakes at UFC Vegas 65 sat lower down on most divisional ladders, but there were still some notable names promising to deliver entertaining action from the Apex.

That was meant to include the UFC’s most prolific knockout artist, Derrick Lewis, who was set to headline against urging heavyweight Serghei Spivac before illness forced him out. Nevertheless, the likes of Ion Cuțelaba and Muslim Salikhov were still in action, as well as exciting prospects like Jack Della Maddalena and Natália Silva.

So, on the heels of action all around the MMA scene this weekend, including from Bellator and ONE Championship, were fans treated to an entertaining fight card inside the Octagon to keep the ball rolling? Let’s find out with the positives and negatives from UFC Vegas 65.

Positive – A Newcomer Impresses, Again…

How enjoyable is it to watch Natália Silva going to work on the feet?

The Brazilian opened Saturday night’s card in what was her sophomore UFC outing. The newcomer arrived at UFC Austin this past June, delivering what can only be described as a masterclass. From pillar to post, Silva used her technically sound striking to dominate Jasmine Jasudavicius.

Having established her name on the sport’s biggest stage and expanded her fanbase, the 25-year-old was looking for her second impression to be similarly impressive. Safe to say, she accomplished that and more.

This time, Silva’s success wasn’t without adversity, as she had to defend a prolonged triangle choke and seemingly tight armbar from Tereza Bledá in round one. But having drained the Czech flyweight’s spirit through her early resolve, Silva went about doing what she does best in round two.

And having leveled the score on the cards in the second frame, the Brazilian prospect ensured they wouldn’t be needed by landing a truly vicious spinning back kick to Bledá’s face as she changed levels.

It seemed like that sort of shot was on offer given her opponent’s approach; a knee or front kick perhaps — but a spinning back kick? Get outta here.

While much of the focus and acclaim for the UFC’s female roster is centered on the strawweight division, through Silva’s two performances and potential alone, flyweight isn’t one to sleep on.

Negative – Take Action

If there’s one thing that the sport hasn’t successfully standardized in regards to officiating, it’s fence grabs. Of all the fouls in MMA, grabbing the cage is perhaps the only one that pretty much eliminates any doubt about intention.

So why isn’t it punished?

At UFC Vegas 65, Kevin Natividad and Ricky Turcios collided in an entertaining bantamweight bout (more on that shortly). Towards the end of the second round, the 2021 TUF victor blatantly grabbed the fence to reverse position before a burst in the final seconds.

It’s always said, especially in terms of fouls that see knees or kicks to a downed opponent, that intention is key. Turcios’ intention was to cheat to gain a favorable scenario. So why is he allowed to do so without losing a point? Had Turcios secured a knockdown or notable blow following the foul, he’d have cheated to potentially swing a round his way.

Suffice to say, that’s not fair.

I rarely choose to criticize referees because of how difficult their job is, but it wouldn’t be surprising if fighters are beginning to see Mark Smith as particularly lenient with fence grabs.

Earlier this year, Smith actually rewarded a fence grab. When Felipe Colares used an illegal grip on the cage to stop Chase Hooper dragging him into a compromising position on the ground, Smith, for some reason, stood them up — the outcome Colares originally sought after by cheating.

Ricky Turcios & Mark Smith
Image Credit: Chris Unger/Zuffa LLC

Positive – Turcios Redeems Himself

If the reason for Turcios’ defeat earlier this year was a passive approach, he certainly ensured that wouldn’t be the problem at UFC Vegas 65.

After winning last year’s edition of The Ultimate Fighter with a victory over Brady Hiestand, which looks even better following the runner-up’s own win on Saturday, a decent number of eyes were on Turcios for his first post-TUF appearance. But against Aiemann Zahabi, something looked off with “Pretty,” who displayed low urgency and limited activity.

That was not the case this time around.

Against Kevin Natividad, Turcios played his part in an ultra-exciting affair, both on the feet and the ground. In the end, the 29-year-old fell on the right side of a split decision, marking a quick rebound for the charismatic bantamweight.

After a disappointing performance in his prior outing, seeing Turcios back to his unique self was a positive.

Negative – A Cancelled Headliner

Nothing can kill the mood of an event quite like a main event falling through late in the day.

Early on at UFC Vegas 65, reports began to emerge that the headliner might have been in danger, with one Twitter user claiming to have been offered a refund at the Apex owing to the showdown between ranked heavyweights being scrapped.

While it took a couple of hours to be confirmed, the bad news eventually came, with Brendan Fitzgerald announcing that an illness on the side of Derrick Lewis had forced the bout at the top of the slate to be cancelled.

It goes without saying that it marked a negative for numerous parties. For the fighters, a lot of hard work wasn’t given the opportunity to be rewarded. And for many fans, the card’s main attraction never reached the cage.

In a miraculous turn of events, Ion Cuțelaba had a main event spot — who’d have thought it? *insert Paul Rudd on Hot Wings GIF*

Negative – Foul City

And the award for the longest three-round fight in history goes to…

On what was a fairly low-key and unspectacular card on paper, the flyweight scrap between former LFA champion Charles Johnson and former Fight Nights Global titleholder Zhalgas Zhumagulov stuck out as one of the more intriguing pairings.

While it somewhat lived up to that when it got going, the fight was constantly stalled by foul after foul after foul. From low blows to eye pokes, the main card-opening flyweight bout was about as stop-start as a football game (sorry not sorry Americans).

Charles Johnson & Zhalgas Zhumagulov
Image Credit: Chris Unger/Zuffa LLC

Positive – JDM Rolls On

If it wasn’t already known (it was), UFC Vegas 65 firmly showed that Jack Della Maddalena has hands.

By hands, I of course mean, a pair of bricks.

Prior to Saturday night, those weapons had been felt by 12 victims consecutively, including Pete Rodriguez and Ramazan Emeev inside the Octagon. We can now add the name of England’s Danny Roberts to that list.

Fighting out of Perth, Australia, Della Maddalena would have no doubt been targeting a quick night with little damage taken in order to set up a fast turnaround for an appearance at UFC 284 next February — mission accomplished.

After sitting down Roberts early, it appeared only a matter of time until the Aussie struck again. And with just less than two minutes of the first round remaining, Della Maddalena began a vicious onslaught, ripping to the head and body of “Hot Chocolate” en route to a TKO stoppage.

As one of the top prospects at 170 pounds, seeing Della Maddalena extend his winning run was certainly a positive.

Positive – African Savage

We may not have had the advertized power on display in the UFC Vegas 65 headliner, but the elevated pairing certainly did their best to make up for it.

Closing out the card in style, light heavyweight prospect Kennedy Nzechukwu secured the biggest scalp on his growing UFC résumé to date. And after five minutes of his three-round main event with Ion Cuțelaba, it looked like he’d have a tough task on his hands to do so.

But after being controlled for the majority of the opening frame, “African Savage” came out in the second and let his weapons go, starting with a perfectly timed knee as his Moldovan counterpart changed levels.

Soon after, a flying knee rocked Cuțelaba before Nzechukwu swarmed him with strikes for the stoppage, which came after “The Hulk” had drifted in and out of consciousness about three times.

While it may not have been ranked heavyweights and the UFC’s most prolific knockout artist in action, Nzechukwu was still able to provide an impressive and entertaining culmination to an up-and-down card.

What were your positives and negatives from UFC Vegas 65?