Marvin Vettori was in a no-win situation on Saturday. After his initial opponent, Darren Till, dropped out of the main event of UFC Vegas 23 with a broken collarbone, the best Vettori could hope for was to hold on to his spot in the middleweight rankings against Tills replacement, Kevin Holland.
Vettori, who was the No. 6 ranked fighter in the official 185-pound UFC rankings, overwhelmed Holland. Vettori used his wrestling skills and top game to exploit the weaknesses of his No. 10 ranked opponent.
Vettori set a UFC middleweight record with 11 takedowns in the 25-minute matchup, but it’s doubtful the win will get Vettori a rematch with UFC middleweight champion Israel Adesanya. Adesanya earned a split decision victory over Vettori in the first meeting between the two, which took place in 2018. A win over Till would have been much more meaningful for Vettori.
As for Holland, it’s doubtful that he will hold on to his spot in the middleweight rankings. Holland is an impressive striker at distance, but once his opponents get in close and take him to the mat, Holland has been very ineffective.
If Holland wants to get back in the mix, he needs to work on his takedown defense and ability to get back to his feet once he hits the mat. If Holland can’t fix those issues, his star will fall as fast as it rose when he went 5-0 in 2020.
Read on for the real winners and losers from UFC Vegas 23, which took place at UFC Apex in Las Vegas.
Marvin Vettori: Marvin Vettori did exactly what he needed to do on Saturday. He scored a one-sided win over Kevin Holland, notching 11 takedowns on 17 attempts and running up 20:01 in control time. Vettori might not get himself a title shot off the win, but he didn’t hurt himself either, something which is always a danger when accepting a short-notice opponent.
Arnold Allen vs. Sodiq Yusuff: I liked everything about the matchup between Arnold Allen and Sodiq Yusuff. In this featherweight scrap you had two 27-year-old combatants on winning streaks who were next to each other in the rankings (Allen at No. 10 and Yusuff at No. 11). The winner would move up the rankings, the loser would hopefully walk away with something to grow on and with their age, the vanquished fighter would still have plenty of time to get back in the mix.
Allen was the better fighter on Saturday. He had the higher fight IQ and was the more well-rounded mixed martial artist. With the win, Allen is now 8-0 in the UFC and with the top of the division pretty well established, Allen has the chance to slowly work his way toward elite status.
The big takeaway for me with Yusuff was his coachability. When Yusuff’s corner told him to do something, he adjusted and succeeded. What he needs to work on to make it to the next level is getting those adjustments to come more naturally inside the octagon. The difference in this fight was Allen’s ability to see what his options were and act on them, while Yusuff needed his coaches to clue him in. That should come with time and reps. I expect we’ll see a lot of these two in the years to come in the 145-pound division.
Julian Marquez: Julian Marquez did not go the distance in his fight opposite Sam Alvey and true to form, Marquez won. He is now 9-2 with each of his victories coming via stoppage and both his losses came via decision.
Marquez did a nice job of keeping Alvey fighting close to the fence and his ability to cut off the cage was impressive. Even more impressive was the work Marquez did in finishing the fight via choke. Marquez probably could have wrapped things up with his strikes, instead he showed he has one hell of a squeeze when he out Alvey to sleep in the first half of the second stanza.
Mackenzie Dern: The 28-year-old Mackenzie Dern continues to mature as a fighter and work her way up the strawweight rankings. On Saturday, she earned her fourth consecutive win and seventh career submission when she stopped Nina Nunes with 12 seconds left in the first round of their 115-pound matchup.
Dern’s striking continues to need work, but let’s be honest, that striking is a means to an end and that end is getting the fight to the mat. Dern forced to Nunes to the cage with that striking and then earned herself a takedown. From there it was Dern’s impressive patience and positioning that earned her the armbar submission win.
Daniel Rodriguez: Daniel Rodriguez looked fantastic in delivering a 15-minute beating of Mike Perry. Some of that was because of Rodriguez’s striking skills from the southpaw stance, some of his success was due to Perry’s inability to adjust to his opponent’s style.
Rodriguez used his length and reach exceptionally well in this contest as he landed 90 of 191 head strikes throughout the three-round battle. The fight should earn Rodriguez some additional respect from fighters in the welterweight division and the UFC matchmakers. Don’s be surprised if Rodriguez doesn’t earn himself a ranked opponent in his next outing.
Rodriguez is 5-1 in the UFC.
Mateusz Gamrot: Mateusz Gamrot made a big statement on Saturday. The Polish fighter defeated Scott Holtzman by second-round knockout and scored himself a “Performance of the Night” bonus. Gamrot got Holtzman thinking takedown after five attempts and then scored big with his strikes to wrap things up in the second round. An excellent performance from the 30-year-old.
John Makdessi: John Makdessi looked phenomenal against Ignacio Bahamondes. Bahamondes began the fight with effective striking. He used his length and reach to his advantage, but halfway through the opening round, Makdessi turned the tide of the fight when he staggered his opponent on the feet. From that point forward, Makdessi controlled the center of the octagon and forced Bahamondes to fight while backing up. Bahamondes sustained a high output, but his landing percentage was a fairly low 35 percent as compared to Makdessi’s 53 percent landing rate. This was an excellent bounce back performance from Makdessi, who saw a three-fight winning streak ended in March 2020 with a decision loss to Francisco Trinaldo.
Jarjis Danho: If I had been told that Jarjis Danho was making his UFC debut on Saturday, I would have believed it. He wasn’t. Danho had two previous trips to the octagon. Both took place in 2016 and Danho lost both scraps by decision. On Saturday, Danho made a statement when he knocked out Yorgan De Castro with a nasty punch to the head. And when I say knocked out, I mean knocked out cold. Danho looked fresh and powerful for a heavyweight who had not fought in nearly five years.
Jack Shore vs. Hunter Azure: Jack Shore, the former Cage Warriors bantamweight champion stayed unbeaten with a split decision win over Hunter Azure on the prelims of UFC Vegas 23. This was an impressive performance from the 26-year-old Welsh fighter. Shore showed a strong wrestling game to go with his striking and that should elevate him in the 135-pound division. The 29-year-old Azure, might have picked up his second loss in three fights, but he should not lose much in the big picture as this was an exciting and well-fought contest.
Luis Saldana vs. Jordan Griffin: This was a fun featherweight scrap. Luis Saldana was the more technical fighter and had a much prettier striking style than Jordan Griffin, but Griffin’s pressure and grappling made things very interesting. Griffin used pressure on the feet to close distance and he was credited with four takedowns and two submission attempts. However, the judges gave the fight to Saldana for his striking on the feet. The loss dropped Griffin to 1-4 in the UFC, but there is a chance he’ll get another UFC fight as there was some controversy about the scoring in this one. As for Saldana, he had a good performance in this matchup, which was his UFC debut.
Da Ung Jung: The 27-year-old Da Ung Jung extended his unbeaten streak to 14 fights on Saturday when he used his wrestling and ground game to put a beating on William Knight. Jung kept Knight on the mat for most of the fight and worked him over with ground strikes. Jung’s work left the Modello logo on the mat covered in blood. Jung is still a work in progress, but he is still fairly young. The UFC should give him more reps and with the questions in the light heavyweight division, Jung should get the time to improve into a more well-rounded fighter.
Herb Dean: Herb Dean laid down a “hard warning” to Kevin Holland for the illegal kick to the groin of Marvin Vettori in the first stanza of the main event. I liked how Dean acknowledged the fact the foul was 99.9 percent on Holland by saying, “There was not much contribution (from Vettori) on that foul, get your weapon’s together.” Dean would have been justified in taking a point in that situation since Vettori’s movement did not contribute to where the kick landed, but as much as I would like to see referee’s forego the “hard warning” and go right to taking a point in some situations, I’ll take whatever win I get in these situations.
Impa Kasanganay: Impa Kasanganay went from highly hyped prospect to being a fighter on the wrong end of a highlight reel knockout against Joaquin Buckley. Instead of brooding about the loss, Kasanganay accepted the defeat and put it behind him.
On Saturday, Kasanganay fought for the first time since that October setback. The bout was Kasanganay’s welterweight debut. Kasanganay was aggressive with his striking and he hurt his opponent, Sasha Palatnikov, early in the first round. It was that aggressive striking that set up his submission win in the opening moments of the second round. This was a nice bounce back performance from Kasanganay.
Kevin Holland: I’d say the book is out on Kevin Holland, but that would be an overstatement. Fighters don’t need a book on how to beat Holland, they just need a post-it note. That note reads, “avoid the strikes and get takedowns.”
UFC commentator Dominick Cruz did a nice job of breaking down Holland’s issues when he said Holland lacks the basics for getting off the mat. That might be harsh, but it’s true. Holland needs to lock himself away for six months or so and do nothing but takedown defense drills and stand up drills. If he doesn’t do that type of training, he will become another also-ran.
Sam Alvey: Sam Alvey loves to counter. The problem with that is everyone knows Alvey’s style and that includes every member of the UFC middleweight division. Julian Marquez exploited Alvey’s propensity for counters and defeated Alvey with relative ease.
Alvey will not change his approach to the fight game, but with an 0-5-1 record going back to September 2018, it’s hard to believe Alvey will be with the promotion much longer.
Nina Nunes: Nina Nunes returned to the octagon for the first tine since sh gave birth to a daughter in September 2020. Nunes entered the bout as the No. 5 ranked fighter in the 115-pound division. She will surely drop in those rankings after Saturday.
Nunes had nothing to offer Mackenzie Dern once the fight hit the mat. Nunes didn’t panic as Dern worked her grappling skills, but the difference in talent on the mat was clear between these two as soon as Dern scored a takedown.
Mike Perry: Mike Perry had a lot of trouble dealing with the striking of Daniel Rodriguez, especially when the southpaw fought long and worked behind his jab. Perry also spent a lot of time flat footed and looked extremely slow when he attacked.
Perry had some success with his takedowns, but he didn’t pursue wrestling and ground control nearly as much as he should have, which might be because of his limited corner team.
Perry has become nothing but a tough fighter who can take an ugly amount of damage. His head movement was not good and that left him with a badly distorted nose — again.
Perry opened his UFC career at 4-1. He’s gone 3-7 since then. It wouldn’t be a surprise to see the UFC wash its hands of the problematic Perry after this setback.
Jim Miller: Jim Miller had a decent first-round against Joe Solecki, but the final 10 minutes were a nightmare for Miller, who competed in his UFC record 37th promotional contest on Saturday. Granted, Solecki wasn’t exactly aggressive on the ground, which limited Miller’s options, but the veteran lightweight struggled a great deal underneath his younger opponent. This was not a typical go for broke performance from Miller.
Scott Holtzman: Time could be catching up to the 37-year-old Scott Holtzman. After going 14-3 in his first eight years in MMA, Holtzman is on a 0-2 run after Mateusz Gamrot knocked him out in the second round of their lightweight scrap. Holtzman had never been knocked out before his 2020 first-round stoppage setback to Beneil Dariush. Now he is on the first losing skid of his career with both defeats coming by KO.
Ignacio Bahamondes: Bahamondes started out well against John Makdessi, but once Makdessi staggered and bloodied him, Bahamondes struggled to use his reach and height advantage. Makdessi stalked Bahamondes throughout the fight and forced him to fight backing up. Bahamondes did not deal well with Makdessi’s power, pressure and movement and that cost him the fight.
Yorgan De Castro: Yorgan De Castro opened his UFC career with two first-round knockouts. On Saturday he dropped his third straight when Jarjis Danho left him sprawled unconscious on the mat at 3:02 of the first round. De Castro landed just two significant strikes before Danho ended his night and possibly his UFC career.
William Knight: William Knight had some success early in his light heavyweight matchup against Da Un Jung, but he had little to offer as the fight proceeded. Jung landed eight of nine takedown attempts and had over 12 minutes of control time. Knight was over matched in almost every way in this bout. Knight is very much a work in progress and his inability to stop the same type of takedowns multiple times in this contest highlighted that fact.
Sasha Palatnikov: Sasha Palatnikov landed the same number of significant strikes as his opponent, Impa Kasanganay, but they were not nearly as significant. Perhaps a bit shook up from those strikes, Palatnikov offered no defense when Kasanganay sank in a rear-naked choke in the early going of the second round, which forced Palatnikov to tap.
FOTN: I don’t know who picks the bonuses, but the Alvey vs. Marquez fight was not “Fight of the Night.” The bout was one-way action for Marquez, yet it took home FOTN honors? I’d love to hear an explanation as to what made that bout the best of the fight card.
Daniel Cormier: Once the UFC broadcast hit the ABC airwaves, Daniel Cormier didn’t wait long to get some UFC myth building on the broadcast, “Remember when Daniel Rodriguez made his UFC debut? I feel like we called it Jon,” Cormier said to co-commentator Jon Anik, “This guy had no money. He was down and out. Now he’s four or five fights into his UFC career and he’s seasoned. Right? And he’s won bonuses. He’s doing well in his life and everything, so, it’s these types of stories that you see in the UFC all the time.” C’mon now, someone better check Cormier for a hernia because of all the UFC water he carries for the promotion.
Joe Solecki: Joe Solecki started his fight against Jim Miller with a lot of energy and pressure, but he quickly settled into a groove where he seemed happy to do just enough to secure a win. While that might have been a smart decision, it did not score Solecki points in the entertainment department and everyone knows the UFC values entertainment and excitement. Scoring 19 significant strikes in 15 minutes will having over nine minutes of control time is not a ratio that screams “fun fight.”