On Saturday night, the MMA leader returned for its first event of 2023, UFC Vegas 67.
A new year is here, and that means a fresh schedule of fights and intriguing possibilities inside the cage. For the UFC, that started with a small crowd inside its home base of the Apex facility.
While the headliner was initially scheduled to see the return of Kelvin Gastelum, an injury left us with the familiar face of Sean Strickland, who closed out the promotion’s 2022 in defeat against Jared Cannonier. Looking to rebound from that, “Tarzan” shared the Octagon with surging Frenchman Nassourdine Imavov.
While, as well as Gastelum, a welterweight clash between Geoff Neal and Shavkat Rakhmonov fell of the card, it still boasted some notable contenders and exciting prospects, including Dan Ige, Punahele Soriano, Ketlen Vieira, Umar Nurmagomedov, and Javid Basharat.
So, did all those names come together to provide an entertaining — and violent — opening to the year? Well, for the first time in 2023, let’s find out with all the positives and negatives from UFC Vegas 67.
Negative – Opening The Year At, The Apex…
It’s been a while since I’ve complained about the continued Apex shows, and seeing as they appear to be here to stay for the time being, we’ll get it out of the way early in 2023.
After the UFC 282 pay-per-view at the T-Mobile Arena, UFC Vegas 66 felt like somewhat of a lackluster end to 2022, especially leading into a near-month break during the holidays. With that in mind, returning to action in the same serene surroundings wasn’t exactly the bang you’d hope the promotion to come back with.
While the likes of Bellator, Cage Warriors, and ONE Championship all brought action to capacity crowds in recent weeks, the UFC schedule opened with a low three-figure attendance and an environment not too far removed from a gym.
Ultimately, fights are fights, and I still do enjoy the enhanced listening experience when it comes to corners and strikes. But nowadays, with borders open and arenas available to host again post-COVID-19, those no longer feel like welcome benefits — it’s more a consolation.
Positive – The Chute Boxe Squeeze
One thing seemed apt for the opening UFC event of the year — a Chute Boxe-trained fighter notching the first submission of 2023.
While the promotion’s all-time submission leader, Charles Oliveira, was in the corner and not the cage at UFC Vegas 67, his man’s first-round finish was certainly of a caliber that even the former lightweight king would have been proud of.
After Charles Johnson and Dan Argueta opened the card with wins, Allan Nascimento upped the ante with a mightily impressive victory over newcomer Carlos Hernandez. After latching on to the Illinois native’s back. “Pure Osso” locked in a tight rear-naked choke, sealing the deal with a slick grip adjustment to bypass Hernandez’s defensive efforts.
With a squeeze and technique reminiscent of his teammate’s win over Dustin Poirier in 2021, Nascimento opened the year on the right foot for Diego Lima’s Chute Boxe gym.
Positive – A Different Kind Of Power
If the first UFC submission of the year came through an appropriate source, the opening standup knockout of 2023 followed suit.
There’s power, and then there’s Abdul Razak Alhassan. At UFC Vegas 67, the Ghanaian maintained his 100% finishing rate with a 12th career knockout. This time, the victim was Claudio Ribeiro, who joined the likes of Alessio Di Chirico and Niko Price on the list of Alhassan’s victims.
During a losing skid across 2020 and 2021, the 37-year-old was criticized for a one-dimensional approach that was essentially victory or defeat based on a quick throw of the kitchen sink.
But Alhassan bore a patient figure against Ribeiro, biding his time until an opening came early in the second round. After stunning the Brazilian, “Judo Thunder” picked his shots, with one particular right hand that sent Ribeiro’s head crashing against the fence being particularly violent.
Having failed to record a win streak since 2018, Alhassan will be hoping to build some consistency this year. Suffice to say, that goal began in the perfect fashion at UFC Vegas 67.
Positive – No Khabib, No Problem
There’s one for the 2023 highlight reel…
The Umar Nurmagomedov train continued on its dominant path at UFC Vegas 67, and its latest stop was brutal.
Prior to Saturday, the tale of the bantamweight prospect’s UFC tenure had been displaying a grappling and submission game often associated with the Dagestani contingent of UFC fighters, and those related to the great Khabib Nurmagomedov.
Despite “The Eagle” not being in his corner, Umar delivered perhaps his most impressive showing to date, viciously knocking out talented striker Raoni Barcelos. The finishing sequence was the epitome of violence, with the Brazilian’s head bouncing off the canvas after a sneaky left hook separated him from consciousness.
While a follow-up hammerfirst certainly wasn’t required, Nurmagomedov showed class by seemingly stabilizing his opponent’s head prior to Jason Herzog’s intervention and apologizing for the shot during his post-fight interview.
The conclusion here is that Umar Nurmagomedov is the real deal and a real problem for the rest of the bantamweight division. And the fact he’s still adding wrinkles to his game is a scary prospect.
Let it be known, the Nurmagomedovs have hands…
Positive – Investing In The Body
Roman Kopylov provided some finishing variety on the main card when he stopped Punahele Soriano courtesy of some grimace-worthy body shots.
While knockouts like the kind Nurmagomedov provided earlier in the night are always more notable, there’s something satisfying about a fighter being rewarded for consistent investment into the body.
At UFC Vegas 67, Kopylov did just that with some brutal hooks and kicks to the right side of Soriano, who did his best to fight through pain that consistently looked close to folding him. In the end, the Hawaiian ate one shot too many, forcing referee Kerry Hatley to step in.
With the result, the Russian has overturned a two-loss start to his UFC tenure to bring his promotional record even at 2-2. The former Fight Nights Global champion initially arrived as a highly touted name, but failed to impress in losses to Karl Roberson and Albert Duraev.
Now, having recorded back to back TKOs, Kopylov is a man on a mission and a name to watch at 185 pounds in 2023.
Positive – Hook From Hell
Captain __. Fishing __. Sales __. Musical __. Picture __. Ige’s hook.
Featherweight contender Dan Ige gave a new meaning to the word ‘hook’ at UFC Vegas 67 when he flattened Damon Jackson with one.
Aside from a narrow victory over Edson Barboza, “50K” has fallen short against top-tier opponents inside the Octagon, something that’s seen his form fall off a cliff since breaking into the rankings. But after dropping bouts to Chan Sung Jung, Josh Emmett, and Movsar Evloev consecutively, the Hawaiian finally bounced back this past weekend.
As was the case when he fought Gavin Tucker following defeat against Calvin Kattar, Ige looked to defend his position against the charging Damon Jackson. And also as was the case against Tucker, Ige did so emphatically.
After consistently rocking “Action” Jackson, Ige closed the show late in the second round with a stiff left hook to the jaw. If that fight-winning shot wasn’t enough, Ige hammered home this positive with a heartfelt and open post-fight interview, during which he detailed the struggles he’s been going through during the recent losing skid.
Now back in the win column, Ige can look to revive his push up the ladder.
What were your positives and negatives from UFC Vegas 67?