The first UFC card of 2023, UFC Vegas 67, is behind us. In the main event, Sean Strickland, who also headlined the final UFC fight card of 2022, bounced back from a split decision loss to Jared Cannonier to score a decision win over Nassourdine Imavov. Strickland stepped in on short notice to replace Kelvin Gastelum on the card. As a result, Strickland and Imavov competed at light heavyweight rather than middleweight.
In the evening’s co-main event, Dan Ige ended a three-fight losing skid by ending Damon Jackson’s four-fight winning streak incredibly violently.
Before Ige’s knockout win, former UFC women’s bantamweight title challenger Raquel Pennington extended her career-high winning streak to five victories in a row by defeating the higher-ranked Ketlen Vieira.
Of course, the big news of the night came at the post-fight press conference when UFC president Dana White announced the UFC had parted ways with its heavyweight champion Francis Ngannou. White also announced that former UFC light heavyweight champion Jon Jones would face ex-interim heavyweight champ Ciryl Gane for the crown the promotion removed from Ngannou’s head before the promotion walked him out the door.
Read on for the winners and losers of UFC Vegas 67, which took place at UFC Apex in Las Vegas.
Sean Strickland: It seems Sean Strickland learned a lesson from his split decision loss to Jared Cannonier. More importantly, he put the knowledge to work on Saturday. Strickland employed a jab-heavy approach, as expected, in his fight opposite Nassourdine Imavov, but he was more active, more accurate and he seemed to throw more hooks and overhands than he did in his loss to Cannonier. Strickland also pushed the pace and kept Imavov on his back foot for much of the five-round battle.
This was a good bounce-back win for Strickland, who was in danger of slipping out of the middleweight top 10 with a loss on Saturday.
Dan Ige: Dan Ige was No. 8 on the official UFC featherweight rankings heading into his UFC Vegas 29 main event fight against Chan Sung Jung in June 2021. Ige lost that fight by decision. He then dropped his next two outings in the same manner. When Ige entered the octagon at UFC Vegas 67, he was 1-4 dating back to July 2020 and had dropped to No. 13 in the promotion’s official 145-pound rankings.
Ige ended his losing skid in a violent manner, scoring a walk-off knockout win over Damon Jackson, who had won four-straight heading into Saturday night. Whatever confidence Ige lost after dropping three straight should be restored following his first win since he knocked out Gavin Tucker in March 2021.
Roman Kopylov: Roman Kopylov has turned things around. He opened his UFC career with two losses, but bounced back with a knockout win over Alessio Di Chirico in September and followed that with a TKO win over the favored Punahele Soriano at UFC Vegas 67.
Kopylov mentioned in his post-fight speech that his win on Saturday was the final fight on his UFC contract. I’m not sure how far the 31-year-old middleweight can go in the UFC, but he deserves a new deal after his two straight stoppage wins.
Raquel Pennington: Raquel Pennington has been with the UFC since 2014. With her split decision win over Ketlen Vieira, the 34-year-old is now on a five-fight winning streak, which is the longest run of consecutive victories of her career, which began in 2012. Pennington, who fought for the bantamweight title in 2018 — losing to Amanda Nunes via TKO — entered UFC Vegas 67 as the No. 5 ranked fighter in the 135-pound division, while Vieira was No. 2.
Umar Nurmagomedov: Umar Nurmagomedov picked up the first knockout of his UFC run and second career KO when he blasted Raoni Barcelos in the first round with a left hook.
The UFC commentators said the promotion’s matchmakers have struggled to get Nurmagomedov matchups. He entered UFC Vegas 67 as the No. 11 ranked 135-pounder, Nurmagomedov needs to face a top-10 ranked opponent in his next outing.
Javid Basharat: Javid Basharat was just too good for Mateus Mendonca. Both fighters entered the bantamweight contest with undefeated records, but the 27-year-old Basharat’s overall skills were more developed and his fight IQ was higher than those of his 23-year-old opponent.
Basharat moved to 3-0 in the UFC and 14-0 overall with the win. Basharat is still getting ready for ranked bantamweight competition, but he deserves a fight against a skilled veteran foe who can put him in some dangerous spots.
Abdul Razak Alhassan: From the opening moments of his middleweight bout against Claudio Ribeiro, it was clear that Abdul Razak Alhassan was looking to land a monster right hand. He made valiant attempts during the first round but failed to connect. However, that changed early in the second stanza when he put Ribeiro down and out 28 seconds into the round.
Alhassan might have saved his job with his win, as he was 1-4 entering UFC Vegas 67.
Mateusz Rebecki: Mateusz Rebecki used a lot of energy in the first round against Nick Fiore and he paid for doing so for the rest of the fight. However, Rebecki, despite needing work on his cardio, had good takedowns and the ability to control the battle on the mat.
This was Rebecki’s UFC debut, so it’ll be interesting to see what adjustments and improvements he makes ahead of his next promotional appearance.
Allan Nascimento: Allan Nascimento showed good fight IQ by capitalizing on a front kick that stunned his opponent right to a takedown. From there, Nascimento picked up his first UFC finish with a rear-naked choke submission win over Carlos Hernández, to the approval of Charles Oliveira, who was in his corner for Nascimento, who is now on a two-fight winning streak in the UFC flyweight division.
Daniel Argueta: Daniel Argueta moved to 1-1 in the UFC with a win over Nick Aguirre, who made his UFC debut on Saturday. Argueta used serviceable striking to close distance on the feet, but he excelled on the mat. The 29-year-old displayed his grappling skills, situational awareness and a mix of ground strikes and submission attempts on his way to a dominant win.
Charles Johnson: Charles Johnson got the first UFC fight card of 2023 started by putting on a dominant performance. Johnson, who is now on a two-fight UFC winning streak, overwhelmed Jimmy Flick in this flyweight contest. The 32-year-old mixed up his techniques and targets well while switching stances smoothly. Johnson used kicks at distance and his boxing in close to hurt Flick and when the fight went to the mat, he wrapped things up with an onslaught of ground strikes that left Flick doing little more than covering up.
UFC: If the UFC wanted to bring in 2023 with a bang, the promotion failed in a big way with UFC Vegas 67. The prelims had the depth of a quickly evaporating puddle and the main card — even before the main event change — was not much deeper.
After a long break between events, UFC fans deserved better than a card that came across as little more than the promotion crossing out the first of the number of events it owes ESPN for 2023.
The UFC, primarily due to its relentless schedule, has a quality problem. Unfortunately, the promotion and its broadcast partner, ESPN, do not seem all that interested in correcting that problem. Saturday’s fight card was another example of the promotion showing content is king.
Sean Strickland: Sean Strickland claimed that the “UFC paid me a lot of f–king money to take this fight on short notice. I didn’t want it, but you paid me and I thank you... I’m a company guy, you pay me, I’ll fight Francis Ngannou.”
Strickland then turned around and said that old and retired fighters usually leave the sport with no money. He then encouraged fans to support “these old dogs that retire. It sucks teaching cardio kickboxing classes after a career in the UFC.”
I would posit it’s not the fans who need to support the fighters after they retire, at least not financially. The promotion that leaves them with no option but to take on employment as cardio kickboxing trainers to make ends meet after the UFC has squeezed everything it can from them should fill that role. In this case, that is the UFC.
Nassourdine Imavov: Nassourdine Imavov did not have a lot of time to prepare for Sean Strickland. However, anyone who has seen Strickland fight knows his style and what to expect from him inside the octagon. That Imavov’s team did not have him ready for Strickland’s approach is not a great sign for the 27-year-old.
With that being said, Imavov is young. There’s a great deal he can take away from the loss to Strickland. If he learns from the defeat and returns in his next outing improved in his fight IQ and cardio, Saturday’s setback will not be a total loss.
Raquel Pennington: Following her win over Ketlen Vieira, Raquel Pennington could have called for a title shot against Amanda Nunes. She didn’t. That felt like a mistake considering the run Pennington is on and the fact that Nunes is not booked for her next title defense at this time.
Ketlen Vieira: Ketlen Vieira’s lack of aggression hurt her in her fight opposite Raquel Pennington. Had she moved forward more, upped her output and not settled for being in the clinch against the fence, Vieira might have earned the nod from the jud
ges on Saturday.
Mateus Mendonca: The 23-year-old Mateus Mendonca made his UFC debut on Saturday. The Brazilian bantamweight was a game opponent for the victorious Javid Basharat, but he could not keep his unbeaten record intact at UFC Vegas 67. As Basharat said after his win, Mendonca is a tough customer and a fighter who could develop into someone to watch at 135.
Nick Fiore: If Nick Fiore, who had never been past the first round in his 6-0 pro-MMA career, had the cardio, he might have been able to capitalize on the fading cardio of his UFC Vegas 67 opponent, Mateusz Rebecki. He did not; because of that, he fell to 6-1.
Jimmy Flick: Jimmy Flick returned to the octagon for the first time since he defeated Cody Durden in December 2020. Things did not go well for Flick as Charles Johnson and his striking overwhelmed Flick.
I’d like to see the UFC give Flick another chance after being out of action for more than two years.