Another UFC card has passed us by and with it comes a host of talking points and lessons.
The UFC Vegas 23 card had some memorable moments. On the prelims, Impa Kasanganay rebounded with a submission victory to start the night. An impressive grappling display from the promising Jack Shore pushed him further up the bantamweight division. In perhaps the highlight of the night, a brutal KO from the returning Jarjis Danho had us all in shock.
On the main card, another Mackenzie Dern masterclass shot her into title contention and a dominating main event win for Marvin Vettori might have set the Italian up for a meeting with Israel Adesanya.
The card showed all the hallmarks of being a good watch in the build-up and largely delivered. In action were prospects vying to make a name for themselves, contenders looking to make the next step up the rankings, and veterans showing they haven't lost a step.
With that said, here are five things we learned from UFC Vegas 23.
#5 Inactivity isn't an excuse
Inactivity isn’t an excuse and Jarjis Danho showed that.
‘Man Mountain’ unleashed four years of inactivity with one fight-ending strike delivered to the head of Yorgan De Castro. The word 'unconscious' has rarely been so relevant. The Luso-Cape Verdean was sleeping.
Danho boosted his record to 7-1 with the unforgettable KO victory. UFC Vegas 23 produced some entertaining moments and great fights leading up to the only heavyweight bout on the card, but what the 37-year-old did changed the game. He obliterated De Castro. His right hand would have sat most fans up in their seats.
Much of the discussion and debate in the aftermath of Conor McGregor’s defeat to Dustin Poirier in January was whether the Irishman’s inactivity was behind his lackluster performance. The defeat was his first knockout loss in MMA.
Perhaps an argument can still be made that against a world class opponent like Dustin Poirier, a long spell away from the cage can have an impact. But Danho showed what he is capable of, even after over four years between fights.
#4 Daniel Rodriguez needs a ranked opponent
Daniel Rodriguez is a dangerous welterweight. He broke Mike Perry’s nose with one of the first jabs he landed. If we were given money every time Perry broke his nose, we’d be millionaires, so that might not be saying much. But Rodriguez does have the striking and the power to damage anyone.
At UFC Vegas 23, Rodriguez showed he needs to fight a ranked opponent. Against a dangerous opponent, he was dominant. ‘D-Rod’ brought slick striking and impressive power to the cage on Saturday night. For 15 minutes, the 34-year-old battered and bloodied ‘Platinum’ Perry.
With the win, Rodriguez moved to 4-1 in the UFC. The one defeat on his record was a decision loss to Nicholas Dalby, in what was a controversial decision. If Rodriguez had been given the nod on the scorecards, as many thought he should have, he’d be unbeaten in the UFC and on an 11-fight winning streak.
With the impressive performances he’s put on against the likes of Perry, Dwight Grant and Tim Means on debut, Rodriguez has certainly earned a fight with a ranked opponent.
#3 Kevin Holland hasn't got the ground skills to be a UFC title contender
One thing we learned at UFC Vegas 23, is Kevin Holland is one of the most game fighters in the UFC. For the second time in the space of just three weeks, Holland fought for 25 minutes against one of the division's best. But it's clear his poor takedown defense is a fundamental issue that, as it stands, will stop him ascending the division.
The result was largely the same as what we witnessed three weeks ago. Holland was constantly taken down and controlled on the mat. As with UFC Vegas 22, the 28-year-old had success during the limited time the bout spent on the feet, but he didn't have enough of an opportunity to utilize his striking.
Ultimately, although he had some success on the feet, it was far too easy for Vettori to change levels and bring Holland to the ground. It was the same story against Brunson. Against the top contenders, it appears the simple way out against Holland when he's looking dangerous standing up is a takedown. He simply doesn't have the defense to hang with the division's best.
But at 28-years-old, Holland has time to make adjustments and improvements to his grappling. It was clear 'Trail Blazer' came to play this time and he seemed more interested in listening to his corner in between rounds and focusing on the fight. That's at least some progress from his previous main event.
Perhaps a spell under the tutelage of Khabib Nurmagomedov will set him up nicely moving forward...
#2 Mackenzie Dern is ready for a title shot
Mackenzie Dern is a serious, serious threat to the rest of the strawweight division. If anyone doubted that before she added a fourth win to her streak, they certainly can’t now.
With just five seconds left in the opening round, Dern locked in an armbar and forced an instant tap from Nina Nunes. It was a history-making submission. The Brazilian-American now boasts the most submission finishes in UFC strawweight history and is tied for most finishes. She just keeps getting better.
Now on a four-fight winning streak, it's impossible for anyone to deny Mackenzie Dern's UFC title credentials. It wouldn't be a stretch to say she should face the winner of Zhang Weili's title defense against Rose Namajunas at UFC 261.
2021 could be a big year for Mackenzie Dern.
#1 Marvin Vettori has earned a rematch with Israel Adesanya
With dominant wins over Jack Hermansson and now Kevin Holland, Marvin Vettori has earned a title shot against the middleweight king Israel Adesanya. That’s not to say he will get the next shot, but if he did, he wouldn’t be unworthy of it.
Talk is always about late notice opponents stepping up, while little consideration is made for the fighter whose opponent has withdrawn and who has to prepare for a new challenge. Marvin Vettori risked a lot by accepting Kevin Holland’s offer to step in for the injured Darren Till. I didn’t think a win against Holland would be as much of a slingshot into contention as a win over Till would have. In hindsight, I was wrong.
Vettori wants Adesanya next, and that's understandable. But Robert Whittaker might have something to say about that. Should the former champion defeat Kelvin Gastelum next week, there's no denying he deserves the next shot at middleweight gold. After that it would be hard to deny Vettori the next opportunity.
Should the Italian need to fight again, a victory over Paulo Costa when the Brazilian is ready to fight would leave no doubt over his potential credentials as a champion.