There’s a good chance this was the least watched UFC Fight Night in quite some time. The first few contests were competing with Fedor Emelianenko’s retirement fight – which I have to admit I switched to myself without missing any of the UFC action – and it had a horrible time slot. How bad? The main card started at 1:00 AM on the east coast. Perhaps it was a good thing for many as perennial fan favorite Derrick Lewis suffered perhaps the most humiliating loss of his career. Win or lose, Lewis has typically been competitive except with the most elite of the division. While Serghei Spivac is a good fighter – and still improving – I don’t think anyone is about to label him elite.
As to the reason for the late start, several promising talents out of Asia were crowned winners from the Road to the UFC tournament. The quality of the contests was a mixed bag, but it would ultimately be a shocker if the tournament winners proved to be the only talent from the tournament who end up on the UFC roster.
Read on for the complete list of winners and losers.
Serghei Spivac: While I do believe Lewis’ decline had something to do with Spivac’s dominance, Spivac deserves credit too for implementing the perfect game plan. Being aware of the heavy hands of Lewis, Spivac never gave the Black Beast an opportunity to land something big on him. Instead, Spivac took down Lewis at will, dragging Lewis down as soon as he got back to his feet on several occasions. One could visibly see the energy leaving Lewis’ body more and more as he labored to get back up. Once Spivac realized how depleted Lewis was, he wasted no time looking for the finish. Spivac isn’t the athlete that those who populate the top of the division are, but he’s proven he’ll give them fits at the very least as he’s proven to have one of the highest fight IQ’s in the division.
Devin Clark: It was a big possibility Clark was going to end up on the chopping block if he dropped his contest with Da Un Jung. It would have been the fourth loss in his last five contests. Clark fought like a man with his back against the wall, fighting with energy and fire. Most importantly, he didn’t allow the much larger Jung to fight at range. Instead, Clark made his reach disadvantage a moot point, fighting in the clinch and scoring several takedowns. It was rarely pretty, but it was what Clark needed to get done and maintain his roster spot.
Adam Fugitt: Fugitt may not remember being kicked in the head, but he ate that kick from Yusaku Kunishita for breakfast. It wasn’t much longer after that he turned the tables, dominating the youthful native of Japan on the mat. Fugitt began landing heavy punches, the activity level in Kinoshita slowly dwindling before the referee jumped in. At 34, Fugitt may have racked up the only UFC win of his career. Regardless, it was a hell of a moment for journeyman, one that most observers were happy to see happen for him.
FUGITT SHOWED NO MERCY #UFCVEGAS68 pic.twitter.com/Sc5SarHzCj— ESPN MMA (@espnmma) February 5, 2023
Anshul Jubli: Perhaps the most ready-made product from the Road to the UFC, Jubli fought with a maturity that you wouldn’t expect from someone from India. Only the second fighter to step foot in the Octagon from the second most populous country in the world, Jubli had a plan and executed it to perfection. I do worry about Jubli’s ceiling as he doesn’t have an abundance of physical skills, but he’s big for 155 and knows his strengths. That might allow him to stick around longer than anyone would think.
Jeong Yeong Lee: Lee’s a winner because he earned a contract. He didn’t have the best performance, earning his contract by the skin of his teeth in a split decision over Yi Zha. What put Lee over the top is he did more damage with his strikes as opposed to Yi’s emphasis on wrestling and control. It wasn’t the type of performance that is going to inspire Uncle Dana to give him a push. He did mention he had a bad wheel in his post-fight interview, so perhaps Lee will prove himself to be a keeper once that heals up.
Rinya Nakamura: Nakamura’s position here comes with a bit of a caveat given he fought stupidly. Fortunately for him, his superior physical skills allowed him to find a brutal KO over Toshiomi Kazama. A more disciplined approach may have allowed Nakamura to secure a cleaner win, but he probably wouldn’t have picked up an extra $50K either. Regardless, Nakamura picked up the contract and appears to have the highest ceiling of all the newcomers on this card. Keep in mind his base is his wrestling and he didn’t bother to pull that out.
NAKAMURA SLEPT HIM #UFCVegas68 pic.twitter.com/GTLhTUIfP1— ESPN MMA (@espnmma) February 5, 2023
Hyun Sung Park: It took him a bit longer than usual to get going, but Park eventually found the finish in the third round. The first one to earn a UFC contract on the evening, Park showed a real killer instinct, aggressively pursuing a finish after being put on his ass in the second round by Seung Guk Choi. I do worry about Park’s ceiling given he’s been fighting professionally since 2014, but there does appear to be some fights he can win in the UFC even if he doesn’t make any large strides. At the very least, he appears to be a fun addition.
Jun Yong Park: Park isn’t elite in any one area, but he knows what he can do. More importantly, he knows where his opponent is weak. As soon as he got Denis Tiuliulin down, he began slicing the Russian up with his elbows, Tiuliulin exposing his back to escape further punishment. Park quickly sunk in an RNC, putting Tiuliulin to sleep within a matter of seconds. Park’s upside is limited, but he looks like someone who could flirt with the official rankings. With three consecutive victories – and six wins in his last seven appearances – he should get an opportunity to prove that.
Tatsuro Taira: Some may say that Taira was in trouble for the first couple of minutes of his contest with Jesus Aguilar, but Aguilar never had the correct angle on the guillotine. Thus, Taira showed a lot of maturity in biding his time to escape before being able to go on the offensive. Once Taira got his grappling game going, he put on a clinic on Aguilar, eventually finding the armbar. Taira is still just 23, but he’s shown maturity beyond his years in trucking over his first three UFC opponents. At this pace, it’ll only be a matter of time before he’s fighting for the flyweight title.
That Armbar was slick #UFCVegas68 pic.twitter.com/CE6a2EKtBA— ESPN+ (@ESPNPlus) February 5, 2023
Derrick Lewis: Based on his personality, Lewis is probably going to be a Fight Night headliner as long as he wants to be. Based on merit, Lewis is done as a main eventer. Lewis did look slimmer, showing a greater emphasis on conditioning. Unfortunately, it ultimately didn’t matter as Spivac proved to have the perfect strategy to avoid Lewis’ power and wear down the big man. Was Spivac able to do that because he really is that good? Or is it because Lewis is washed? As it usually is, the truth is probably somewhere in the middle. Regardless, Lewis’ days of being a contender are clearly a thing of the past. His chin can’t handle the other heavy hitters of the division and he didn’t show the explosive get ups he’s displayed in the past. Look for him to hover around the ten spot in the rankings for a few years before he either retires or fades out of the rankings all together.
Da Un Jung: Jung’s loss to Clark wasn’t the worst loss in the world. Jung had some nice moments and is young enough that this loss should be a nice learning moment. Unfortunately, given how heavy a favorite Jung was, it’s hard to say he wasn’t a loser in the grand scheme of things. While I didn’t think Jung should have been favored as heavily as he was, the odds were what they were because better things were expected of him. I expect Jung will come back stronger, but he’s flirting with disaster now that he’s on a two fight losing streak.
Marcin Tybura and Blagoy Ivanov: It wasn’t a surprise to anyone that these two heavyweights put on the most miserable fight of the evening. Tybura scored the only clear round between these two, which consisted of him using wrestling and control to take the third round. Otherwise, it was a punch of glancing punches that were thrown sloppily over the course of the first ten minutes of the fight. What both men needed more than anything was an entertaining contest. That didn’t happen, meaning both men are left with their wheels spinning.
Doo Ho Choi: Choi had victory in his hands when he threw a meaningless head butt on Kyle Nelson just past the midway point of the third round. All he had to do was ride things out, which shouldn’t have been too difficult given Nelson had no energy to do anything other than drive him against the fence. Instead, Choi decided he didn’t want to pick up his first win since 2016, having a point deducted for the head butt. It may not have resulted in a loss, but scoring a draw based on a stupid point deduction might as well be a loss. Nelson was about as favorable of a matchup as Choi could have received. Given that, I’m ready to give up on Choi at this point.
Yusaku Kinoshita: I was worried about the ground game of Kinoshita. Those worries proved to be well-founded. Kinoshita was a fish out of water once Fugitt got him to the mat. Only 23, Kinoshita has plenty of time to grow and the talent to be something special. Unfortunately, his ground game appears to be a way away from where he needs to be and the UFC isn’t the place he should be learning these things. If Kinoshita can keep his fights standing, he’s got a good chance of winning. Unfortunately for him, he’s going to have a target on him to go to the mat.
Yi Zha: Uncle Dana has never been a fan of fighters primarily utilizing control in pursuit of victory. That was about the only thing Yi had going for him. He never came close to threatening with a finish. Given he was the one who exercised more control and never made a real attempt at a submission, that’s not a good indication he’ll get further consideration to be brought back around.
Denis Tiuliulin: If given the opportunity to stand and trade, Tiuliulin is a lot of fun to watch. He didn’t get that chance against Park, the Korean wasting little time in his attempts to get Tiuliulin to the mat. While Tiuliulin appears to have improved his takedown defense, there doesn’t appear to be any improvement from his back. Park left Tiuliulin a bloody mess. While Tiuliulin didn’t officially give up, he pretty much threw up the white flag when he gave up his back. Regardless, Tiuliulin left the cage a broken, bloody mess.
Park put him to sleep #UFCVegas68 pic.twitter.com/1KQJkZUCiP— ESPN MMA (@espnmma) February 5, 2023
Kyle Nelson: Barring a win, it seemed highly unlikely Nelson was going to be on the UFC roster at the end of the event. Well, I get the feeling I was wrong. It wasn’t a winning performance, nor did it deserve to be. To be fair to Nelson, he did have the most complete performance of his UFC career, hurting Choi a couple of times and not completely gassing down the stretch. Still, I don’t expect he’ll be given a pink slip, which is a good thing for him.
Toshiomi Kazama: Sure, Kazama woke up looking at the lights. But he also fought the best fight he could in hopes of securing the win over the heavily favored Nakamura. He snapped Nakamura’s head back with a couple of his strikes, turning in the most exciting contest of the evening in the process. If he’s willing to fight like that every time out, I’d expect Uncle Dana to be more than happy to send him a contract at some point.
Seung Guk Choi: Choi didn’t earn the flyweight contract, but he had the most valiant effort of all those who came up short of winning a contract. Choi was the more measured fighter than Park, jumping out to an early lead and scoring a knockdown in the second. Park stormed back to secure the win and the contract, but Choi looks like he could be someone the UFC has interest in signing anyway. Training with the Korean Zombie is probably another feather in his cap. I’d be shocked if this is the last we see of Choi in the UFC.