UFC Vegas 65: About What Happened on Saturday

Working through what transpired inside the Octagon on Saturday at the UFC APEX with an eye towards the lessons learned and ramifications of those results

Main Card Talking Points

Comeback Kennedy

LAS VEGAS, NEVADA – NOVEMBER 19: (R-L) Kennedy Nzechukwu of Nigeria punches Ion Cutelaba of Moldova in a light heavyweight fight during the UFC Fight Night event at UFC APEX on November 19, 2022 in Las Vegas, Nevada. (Photo by Chris Unger/Zuffa LLC)

Kennedy Nzechukwu just needs a round or two in order to wake up, it seems.

After getting stung out of the gate and controlled in the grappling department by Ion Cutelaba in the opening round, the Fortis MMA light heavyweight came out of the corner firing to start the second, and quickly put Cutelaba away. A perfectly timed knee started the eventual finishing barrage, with Nzechukwu waving off a nasty low blow in order to not allow the Moldovan time to recover when he was hurt.

This was an excellent comeback effort for “The African Savage,” who turned in a couple similar efforts last year. He’s now won consecutive efforts, and continues to round into form. He has all the foundational pieces to be an intriguing member of the light heavyweight ranks, and it’s starting to show now that he’s putting it together and letting go of his weapons.

The 30-year-old is continuing to grow up in the Octagon, and while he’s still not there, Nzechukwu is starting to really round into form.

Can We Be Done With These Now?

LAS VEGAS, NEVADA – NOVEMBER 19: (L-R) Waldo Cortes-Acosta of the Dominican Republic punches Chase Sherman in a heavyweight fight during the UFC Fight Night event at UFC APEX on November 19, 2022 in Las Vegas, Nevada. (Photo by Chris Unger/Zuffa LLC)

Waldo Cortes-Acosta and Chase Sherman went the full 15 minutes in the penultimate fight on Saturday’s main card, with the Dominican newcomer collecting a second straight decision win to begin his UFC career. It was sloppy heavyweight fighting where Sherman’s ability to take a punch was the biggest talking point, and it needs to be the last time we see fights like this jammed into the middle of a main card.

The idea makes sense — put big thumpers on the main card in hopes getting a knockout finish that gets everyone hyped — but there has been just one first-round finish from these pairings this year, and it came in January. Most of them have gone the distance, shifting from entertaining to ugly as each minute ticked off the clock, and this fight was no different.

Additionally, Sherman is now 3-10 in the UFC, so… there’s that too.

A lot of people still see the main card fights as being the best of the day, even though that hasn’t been the case for quite some time. But constantly showcasing middling heavyweights that aren’t even close to contention remains a odd decision when there are clearly more impressive and intriguing fighters and matchups that would benefit greatly from that kind of real estate.

Salikhov Shines

LAS VEGAS, NEVADA – NOVEMBER 19: (R-L) Muslim Salikhov of Russia kicks Andre Fialho of Portugal in a welterweight fight during the UFC Fight Night event at UFC APEX on November 19, 2022 in Las Vegas, Nevada. (Photo by Chris Unger/Zuffa LLC)

Muslim Salikhov went from being the nail in the opening stanza to closing the show early in the third midway through Saturday’s main card, dispatching Andre Fialho with an impressive barrage of strikes over the opening minute of the final round.

Fialho stung Salikhov late in the first, landing a good right hand that had the veteran striker a little shaken, but the “King of Kung Fu” shifted the momentum in his favour with a Superman punch in the second that put the Portuguese fighter’s equilibrium. After a 10-8 round in the second, Salilkhov didn’t waste any time getting after Fialho to start the second, pinning him to the fence and prompting referee Chris Tognoni to step in and stop the contest.

This is a great bounce-back effort for the 38-year-old Salikhov, who lost to Li Jingliang last time out, snapping a five-fight winning streak. As for Fialho, he’s now 2-3 in the UFC this year and on a two-fight skid, deadening all early talk about him being a potential contender in the welterweight division for the time being.

Three-for-Three for Della Maddalena

LAS VEGAS, NEVADA – NOVEMBER 19: (R-L) Jack Della Maddalena of Australia punches Danny Roberts of England in a welterweight fight during the UFC Fight Night event at UFC APEX on November 19, 2022 in Las Vegas, Nevada. (Photo by Chris Unger/Zuffa LLC)

Jack Della Maddalena continued his impressive rookie campaign in the UFC, collecting a third consecutive first-round stoppage win on Saturday by boxing up Danny Roberts in less than four minutes.

The Australian, who debuted with a quick win in January and finished Ramazan Emeev last time out, got on top of Roberts right out of the gate, connecting with a clean right hook. It was pretty well one-way traffic from that point forward, as the Dana White’s Contender Series grad stayed in the British veteran’s face, battering him with punches, kicks, and knees.

While Roberts survived the first wave of offence lobbed at him, he was swept under by the second wave. This profiled as a showcase opportunity for Della and turned out to be even more one-sided and impressive than expected, setting the stage for a potential quick turnaround and a home game for the Australian in Perth in February.

Weirdest Fight in Some Time

LAS VEGAS, NEVADA – NOVEMBER 19: (R-L) Charles Johnson punches Zhalgas Zhumagulov of Kazakstan in a flyweight fight during the UFC Fight Night event at UFC APEX on November 19, 2022 in Las Vegas, Nevada. (Photo by Chris Unger/Zuffa LLC)

Charles Johnson and Zhalgas Zhumagulov engaged in the weirdest UFC fight in quite some time to open Saturday’s re-worked main card, with Johnson earning a split decision win after 15 foul-filled, action-packed, bonkers minutes.

This fight had an eye-poke that wasn’t an eye-poke, Zhumagulov trying to call for another that referee Keith Peterson waved off (rightfully so), and a couple low blows on either side, plus Johnson trying to stomp out a dead leg in the third round after eating a kick on the common peroneal nerve behind his right knee.

Close fights like this — and this was a close fight — always make me think about the need to take points when fouls occur, whether they’re intentional or not. Zhumagulov took a couple kicks to the groin, and those things take something out of you. Johnson took one too, and so if we operate on a “the first one is free” system, Johnson loses a point for the second low blow and we get a different result.

Some will argue against that, but honestly, losing because he didn’t do a proper job of managing his weapons sounds right to me. Obviously, all of this remains subjective, and Peterson was right to not take any points on Saturday, but the general idea still holds.

Cancelled Main Event is Crushing

LAS VEGAS, NEVADA – NOVEMBER 18: Derrick Lewis poses on the scale during the UFC Fight Night weigh-in at UFC APEX on November 18, 2022 in Las Vegas, Nevada. (Photo by Chris Unger/Zuffa LLC)

Midway through the prelims, the broadcast team announced that Derrick Lewis was unable to compete due to a non-COVID, non-weight-cutting medical issue, scuttling his main event matchup with Serghei Spivac, which instantly shifted the tone of the event.

Any time you lose a main event, the fight card suffers, but it’s even tougher to navigate on cards like this, where the headliners are doing all the heavy lifting.

While there were still compelling and competitive bouts on the main card, Lewis and Spivac were the clear main attraction, and the lone fight of interest for those that don’t care about unranked talents and intriguing matchups between lesser known competitors.

The interesting thing here (as always) is that folks react as if the UFC isn’t disappointed to lose this fight or should have built this card with the expectations that the main event would be lost. Yes, a bigger co-main event could have been pencilled in here or pulled from the loaded UFC 281 prelims last week — Dominick Reyes and Ryan Spann would have been great — but that wasn’t the case, and Saturday’s event suffered as a result.

One last thing: the “I can’t believe they’re making me watch this” crowd continues to be the best…

Preliminary Card Thoughts

Veteran Contender Topples Ascending Talent

LAS VEGAS, NEVADA – NOVEMBER 19: (R-L) Jennifer Maia of Brazil punches Maryna Moroz of Ukraine in a flyweight fight during the UFC Fight Night event at UFC APEX on November 19, 2022 in Las Vegas, Nevada. (Photo by Chris Unger/Zuffa LLC)

Jennifer Maia worked behind bigger power and superior ring craft to snap a two-fight slide and hand Maryna Moroz her first loss in the flyweight division.

The Brazilian was happy to engage on the feet throughout, landing bigger shots over the course of the 15-minute affair to get back in the win column. Despite previously challenging for championship gold — and garnering a ton of praise for taking a round off Valentina Shevchenko — the veteran entered as the underdog against the streaking Moroz, who had won three straight since moving up to the 125-pound ranks, and returned a profit for those that backed her on Saturday.

This was one of those cases where recency bias seems to have dictated the thinking and betting lines, but experience and strength of schedule once again proved to be pivotal in the final prelim. Maia has been a Top 10 fixture for a number of years, and solidified that position with this one, while Moroz is sent back to the drawing board to figure things out.

Johns Wins, Krause Suspended… Interesting

LAS VEGAS, NEVADA – NOVEMBER 19: Miles Johns punches Vince Morales in a bantamweight fight during the UFC Fight Night event at UFC APEX on November 19, 2022 in Las Vegas, Nevada. (Photo by Chris Unger/Zuffa LLC)

Miles Johns earned a unanimous decision win over Vince Morales in his first fight since moving back to the Midwest and shifting his training to Glory MMA & Fitness, but the biggest takeaway from the contest was what “Chapo” had to say in his post-fight interview.

Johns, who was cornered by his brothers and his father, told Michael Bisping that his new head coach, James Krause, was pulled on Friday night and will be suspended by the UFC. This is likely tethered to the Darrick Minner line movement a couple weeks ago, coupled with Krause maintaining an MMA betting Discord and how that runs against what the UFC is trying to do to combat perceptions about coaches and athletes continuing to bet on fights.

Here’s the thing: this is something the UFC should have announced at the outset of the broadcast if true, rather than have it be something Johns discloses in annoyed fashion after win. Get out in front of it, speak to the issue and the punishment, and then move on.

Instead, this lands like a bomb that now has people scurrying to figure out what’s happened, and getting control of the narrative again is going to be difficult.

Ricky Turcios is Exhausting

LAS VEGAS, NEVADA – NOVEMBER 19: (L-R) Ricky Turcios punches Kevin Natividad in a bantamweight fight during the UFC Fight Night event at UFC APEX on November 19, 2022 in Las Vegas, Nevada. (Photo by Chris Unger/Zuffa LLC)

Watching Ricky Turcios feels like a workout, so imagine sharing the Octagon with him.

TUF 29’s bantamweight winner got back to being a chaos agent on Saturday, leaving the low-output, uncharacteristic performance from his last fight at home in his matchup with Kevin Natividad. He came out of the chute like a mad bastard and never let off the gas, even fighting back quickly when Natividad cracked him with a clean left hand. He’s just always active, always urgent, always making you work, and it’s exhausting.

Natividad landed a clean jumping knee on Turcios a couple times in the third, and each time, “Pretty Ricky” kept marching forward. His pace, toughness, and tenacity are legitimate weapons, and should allow him to remain a consistently entertaining part of the bantamweight roster for a number of years.

Demopoulos Keeps Rolling

LAS VEGAS, NEVADA – NOVEMBER 19: (L-R) Vanessa Demopoulos punches Maria Oliveira of Brazil in a strawweight fight during the UFC Fight Night event at UFC APEX on November 19, 2022 in Las Vegas, Nevada. (Photo by Chris Unger/Zuffa LLC)

Vanessa Demopoulos ran her winning streak to three with a hard-fought, hold-steady effort against Maria Oliveira.

“Little Monster” used timely takedowns in the first and second to neutralize Oliveira’s massive reach and striking advantage, climbing into mount each time and hurting her with elbows. She also flashed some pop of her own, putting the Brazilian down with reaching right hand in the second. Oliveira turned up the pressure, pace, and success rate in the third, but it was too little, too late.

This was a textbook example of an inexperienced fighter not understanding how to play to her strengths and dictate the terms of engagement. Oliveira didn’t throw enough volume to keep Demopoulos honest, yet alone defensive, in the first two rounds, and it gave the former LFA champ a way inside. “Spider-Girl” clearly has some upside, but until she learns how to be a long, rangy fighter, she’s to continue to struggle against anyone that doesn’t simply stand in front of her and trade.

Hiestand Has Intangibles

LAS VEGAS, NEVADA – NOVEMBER 19: (L-R) Brady Hiestand punches Fernie Garcia in a flyweight fight during the UFC Fight Night event at UFC APEX on November 19, 2022 in Las Vegas, Nevada. (Photo by Chris Unger/Zuffa LLC)

Brady Hiestand finally made his sophomore appearance in the UFC on Saturday, grinding out a grimy victory over Fernie Garcia.

After getting clocked right out of the chute with a right hand, Hiestand really turned to his wrestling, working to chain together attempts and mat returns, spending a great deal of time on the back hunting for chokes, and doing what was needed in order to get the victory. It wasn’t pretty, but it as a solid victory for the TUF 29 bantamweight silver medalist.

What really stands out about Hiestand at this point are his intangibles. He’s clearly tenacious, can take a shot, and knows how to grind through mistakes to find what works. Those things are going to serve the 23-year-old well as he continues to work on developing the rest of his game.

Another Impressive Flyweight Prospect

LAS VEGAS, NEVADA – NOVEMBER 19: (R-L) Natalia Silva of Brazil punches Tereza Bleda of the Czech Republic in a flyweight fight during the UFC Fight Night event at UFC APEX on November 19, 2022 in Las Vegas, Nevada. (Photo by Chris Unger/Zuffa LLC)

Natalia Silva is now officially part of the emerging pack of young talents climbing the ranks in the flyweight division.

The Brazilian moved to 2-0 in the UFC and extended her winning streak to eight with a third-round stoppage win over newcomer Tereza Bledá, ending the fight with a spinning back kick to the face. Yes, you read that correctly: a spinning back kick to the goddamn face! Bledá controlled things in the opening stanza and was close to a submission finish, but once Silva figured out to keep things at range, she dominated, and it seemed like only a matter of time before she found a way to get the Czech debutant out of there.

After dominating Jasmine Jasudavicius in her debut and sending Bledá to the Shadow Realm, the 25-year-old has officially put herself on the radar another outstanding prospect to track in the 125-pound weight class.

E. Spencer Kyte is a veteran MMA content creator based in Abbotsford, British Columbia. He's written for numerous outlets, including FOX Sports and The Province, British Columbia's leading newspaper, and has been a freelance contributor to the UFC website for more than a decade. Follow him on Twitter: @spencerkyte.