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UFC Vegas 65: Cutelaba vs. Nzechukwu - Unofficial awards

Get a unique rundown of all the trophies that should have been handed out at UFC Vegas 65 with Dayne Fox’s Unofficial Awards.

Ricky Turcios punching Kevin Natividad at UFC Vegas 65
Ricky Turcios punching Kevin Natividad at UFC Vegas 65
Photo by Chris Unger/Zuffa LLC

It’s not terribly unusual for the UFC to have a fight cancelled on the day of the event. It probably happens about once every four months. However, it’s exceedingly rare to see the main event cancelled as an event is proceeding. Unfortunately that proved to be the case with UFC Vegas 65, as Derrick Lewis fell ill the day of the fight—forcing the cancellation of his main event contest with Sergey Spivak.

In response, the UFC pushed Kennedy Nzechukwu vs. Ion Cutelaba into a makeshift main event. There were clues leading up to the announcement that something was amiss. Spivak started trending towards being a heavy favorite as the event progressed. Not wanting a repeat of the Darrick Minner situation from a few weeks ago, it seems the promotion opted to cancel the bout.

While the event did prove to be fun, it lacked the oomph at the top to give it something impactful. While the Lewis-Spivak situation will probably be talked about to death, there’s a whole card’s worth of action to dig into. We’ll do that with my Unofficial Awards....

For a different perspective, click here. For an audio recap of the event, click here.


Biggest Jump in Stock

UFC Fight Night: Silva v Bleda
No bigger jump than that on the night.
Photo by Chris Unger/Zuffa LLC

This is a hard spot to pick. Several fighters had nice wins, but none of the wins truly appeared to boost anyone in a significantly meaningful way. After careful deliberation, however, I believe I’m picking someone in the curtain jerker for the first time for this prize. It wasn’t a perfect performance for Natalia Silva as she arguably lost the first round, and it was against a debuting opponent, but Silva proved she could overcome adversity and still managed to deliver a highlight reel KO—blasting Bleda with a spinning back-kick to the face. Given Bleda represented a poor stylistic matchup for her, it’s impressive Silva managed to come out on top. At this point, I’d say it is fair to label Silva one of the top prospects in women’s flyweight.


Biggest Fall in Stock

UFC Fight Night: Fialho v Salikhov
Amazingly Fialho didn’t fall from that.
Photo by Chris Unger/Zuffa LLC

There’s a few names I could insert here, but given that I don’t like putting fighters I think will get cut up for this award, that narrows the list quite a bit. I do believe Andre Fialho is probably safe, so he’s my pick given his mystifying performance. Fialho started out sharp enough, blasting Muslim Salikhov in the first round. However, after Salikhov survived and landed a plethora of hard strikes on Fialho early in the second, the Portuguese fighter seemed to go on autopilot. Aside from the occasional desperation swing, Fialho stood in front of Salikhov and let him tee off. Something must have been knocked loose for the 28-year-old. There was a clear disconnect for him after Salikhov’s flurry. Perhaps he shouldn’t be docked too badly for that, but it’s hard not to question Fialho’s ability to bounce back after being compromised. That can be the type of thing that separates the pretenders from the contenders.


Best Newcomer

UFC Fight Night: Silva v Bleda
It wasn’t her night, but Bleda was scrappy.
Photo by Chris Unger/Zuffa LLC

There was only one newcomer on this card, making this an obvious choice. While Tereza Bleda ended up with the short end of the stick, she showed enough in her loss to Silva that most would agree the 20-year-old could have a very bright future. Bleda won the opening round on the strength of her wrestling and grappling, but faded hard about the midway point of the second round. Massive for the flyweight division, I have no doubt her future is at bantamweight as her body continues to mature and cutting weight gets more difficult. Given she’s already having issues with her cardio, I’d think it would be smart to make the move to bantamweight sooner rather than later.


Saved their Job(s)

Coming off his TUF victory, Ricky Turcios couldn’t have had a more disastrous sophomore UFC effort against Aiemann Zahabi. Turcios indicated he was aware of the criticism and made some good changes. Rather than launching his strikes from a mile away, he had no problem engaging in some wild exchanges with Kevin Natividad and turned in a performance worthy of $50K. If Turcios could turn in an effort like that every night, the UFC should be happy to feature him on any card he’s on. Hopefully, he continues to apply the lessons learned from his performance against Zahabi. I’d rather see the best out of everyone.

UFC Fight Night: Hiestand v Garcia
A gutsy win for Hiestand.
Photo by Chris Unger/Zuffa LLC

Speaking of Turcios’ TUF victory, the man he defeated to claim that crown, Brady Hiestand, returned to the cage for the first time since that contest and looked like the time away was well spent. Yes, there was the recovery from a major knee injury, but he also looked sharper on the feet than he ever has. There’s no doubt Hiestand won on the back of his wrestling abilities, but his work on the feet proved it can be a nice compliment to ensure he continues winning.


Start Typing a Resume

An asterisk could be inserted given that he wasn’t in the main event until hours before it was supposed to take place, but Ion Cutelaba could be one of the few to go from being in the main event to being on the cut list. The Moldovan is the ultimate exercise in frustration. He’s far better than his one win in his last seven fights indicates. However, he’s also severely compromised by poor fight IQ. I could see the UFC keeping him around since his level of competition has been relatively high, but his job is to beat who the UFC puts in front of him and he just isn’t doing that. Perhaps he’d get some leeway if the losses were controversial, but that hasn’t been the case either. I wouldn’t be upset if he’s brought back, but it seems like it’s about time he gets the boot.

I’m pissed to be writing about Zhalgas Zhumagulov in this spot. Not because I was rooting for him over Charles Johnson, but because he was on the wrong end of a BS decision. I try not to throw the word robbery around, but I do believe it would be appropriate in this case. Zhumagulov had the advantage in significant strikes over every round and while I acknowledge not all significant strikes are created equal, it isn’t like Johnson’s had that much more oomph to them. Plus, Zhumagulov found some success in the wrestling. The loss drops Zhumagulov to 1-5, the type of record that is near impossible to survive. I would have been in favor of the UFC bringing him back again, but he opted to announce his retirement after the event. Given he’s been on the short end of several close contests, I suppose he figured he’s been yanked around enough.

UFC Fight Night: Johnson v Zhumagulov
Zhumagulov just can’t catch a break.
Photo by Chris Unger/Zuffa LLC

Had he opted to fight the first two rounds against Miles Johns the way he did the third round, I wouldn’t be so sure Vince Morales would be on the chopping block. Unfortunately, Morales turned in a snoozer of a performance in rounds one and two, not letting his hands go nearly enough to make a real argument for victory. What makes it hurt even more is Morales appeared to have put in a lot of time on his takedown defense, a big part of the reason why the fight was there for the taking. I wouldn’t guarantee he’s on the way out, but a 3-5 overall UFC record with two consecutive losses at the age of 32 in a division full of youngsters champing at the bit for their opportunity? That’s a lot working against him.

There’s no doubt Natividad turned in his best UFC performance against Turcios. He hurt the TUF champion on several occasions, secured a plethora of takedowns, and showed all sorts of grit to survive Turcios’ late submission attempt. In the end though, there it wasn’t enough to overcome Turcios’ nonstop scrambling and overwhelming volume. Now sitting at 0-3, it’s likely Natividad is going to be shown the door.

Fernie Garcia isn’t exactly old at 30, but it could be argued he’s in his prime. The fact that he’s not winning fights against fighters who are at the lower level of the totem pole of the division isn’t a good sign for the Fortis MMA product, even if he turned in a competitive contest with Hiestand. He’s in the same spot as Morales and Natividad in terms of there being a plethora of youngsters looking to get their UFC opportunity. He is just 0-2, but given the UFC was willing to give up on the likes of TJ Laramie after just two performances, I don’t see Garcia hanging around.


Biggest WOW Moment

UFC Fight Night: Silva v Bleda
What a kick!
Photo by Chris Unger/Zuffa LLC

I’ve already mentioned this finish, but Silva’s spinning back-kick to the face of Bleda was the type of finish that makes it on the Baba O’Reilly reel. About the only way it could have been better is if it landed squarely on the face of Bleda as opposed to the shoulder, but it was still enough to get the job done. The level of its impressiveness is a part of the reason I opted to say Silva’s stock shot up more than anyone else.


Best at Meeting Expectations

UFC Fight Night: Della Maddalena v Salikhov
Pure domination from the Aussie.
Photo by Chris Unger/Zuffa LLC

Jack Della Maddalena has the look a future star. The only reason I didn’t give him the jump in stock award is because his dominance of Danny Roberts was expected. Roberts is a skilled striker and even got in some nice shots, delivering a couple of hard knees. However, Della Maddalena ate them like they were candy bars and continued with his attack. It culminated in his third first round stoppage in three appearances. Della Maddalena isn’t going to be a force to be reckoned with; he’s already a force to be reckoned with.


Most Unlikely Win Streak

UFC Fight Night: Demopoulos v Oliveira
She’s got a serious groove going.
Photo by Chris Unger/Zuffa LLC

I would have lost a lot of money if someone asked me whether Vanessa Demopoulos could ever secure a three-fight win streak within the confines of the UFC. Some of it may be due to getting favorable matchups, but that’s also good work on behalf of her management team. Whatever anyone wants to chalk it up to, I know I wouldn’t have been on an island doubting her paths to victory. She has the second shortest reach in the UFC and that it’s been an obvious issue. Nevertheless, she has found a way to work around it and even landed a knockdown against Maria Oliveira. I don’t see Demopoulos becoming a contender, but she has carved out a nice spot on the roster when I feared she might wash out without a single win. Kudos to her for exceeding expectations thus far.

Biggest Robberies

UFC Fight Night: Turcios v Natividad
These men went to war.
Photo by Chris Unger/Zuffa LLC

I have to say robberies as there were two. I’ve already talked about how egregious Zhumagulov’s loss was; he should have been awarded the decision. However, the performances of Turcios and Natividad were well worth a $50K bonus. I was actually shocked to see they didn’t get ‘Fight of the Night.’ I would have been more inclined to reward them than either Salikhov or Nzechukwu. Of course, I would have preferred six bonuses being given out, but the UFC can’t do that for every event, right? I’ll be happy to shut my trap if I find out they were given a locker room bonus, but I’ll do so reluctantly, The Performance Bonus awards a degree of prestige that doesn’t come with a locker room bonus.


Bonus Numbers

With the elimination of Lewis from the top of the card, there was a major shortage of fighters with a notable history of winning bonuses. Nobody else entered the card with more than two. Nzechukwu was one of those, and extended his success to three. Della Maddalena and Salikhov brought home their second, while it was the first for Silva.

Out of those who have never won a bonus? Morales extended his streak to eight fights with Zhumagulov not far off with six. In terms of longest overall streak, Cutelaba has now gone eleven fights without a bonus, extending all the way back to December 2016 when he took home FOTN with Jared Cannonier. That was a good enough fight that I don’t need a re-watch to remember how it played out, but I’m sure happy to throw it back on. If you haven’t seen it, I recommend it for a fun fight that doesn’t tend to get much attention....