Another UFC Fight Night has passed us by. Jon Anik, Daniel Cormier and Dominick Cruz called the action from the commentary tables and Bruce Buffer provided enthusiastic introductions that never fail to get us hyped for the action inside the octagon.
Once again held at the UFC Apex, fans were treated to 13 matchups, featuring exciting debutants, prospects looking to make a name for themselves and contenders looking to edge closer to a title shot.
After a two-week break, UFC Vegas 23 followed on from a memorable main event at UFC 260 in March. Culminating in the crowning of the UFC’s first African heavyweight champion, Francis Ngannou brutally knocked out the consensus greatest heavyweight of all time, Stipe Miocic.
This weekend represented a card with a great variety of top names and future stars.
Despite the late change to the headliner and some fight cancelations, we were still treated to a solid card with some great action and a five-round main event. With that said, here are the positives and negatives from UFC Vegas 23.
Positive - The Venum era
Putting aside people’s opinions on UFC fighter's sponsors not being allowed on fight-wear and the disappointingly small increase in the ‘fight week incentive pay’ structure, the Venum apparel looks good, very good.
The pictures released by the UFC throughout the week had impressed me, but I wasn’t crazy about the new design. Seeing fighters enter the octagon sporting the Venum kit convinced me.
Daniel Cormier said it best on commentary -
"I just keep finding myself looking at the shorts."
Ultimately, with these fighters putting their bodies on the line every weekend to entertain us, what they wear isn't particularly important. But when the kit is as easy on the eye as the new Venum range is, I certainly won't be complaining...
Positive - Another Mackenzie masterclass
She's only gone and done it again. Mackenzie Dern is a monster. In her last fight against Virna Jandiroba we saw her improved striking, against Nina Nunes at UFC Vegas 23 she went back to the mat. In doing so, Dern showed she is perhaps the best on the ground in the world at women's strawweight.
With just five seconds left in the opening round, the Brazilian-American locked in an armbar and forced an instant tap from Nunes. It was a history-making finish. Dern now boasts the most submission finishes in UFC strawweight history and is tied for the most finishes at 115lbs.
With four wins in a row, Dern has firmly put her name in the mix as a title contender. It wouldn't even be a stretch to have her fight the winner of the UFC 261 title fight between Zhang Weili and Rose Namajunas.
Mackenzie Dern is a serious problem for the rest of the UFC strawweight division.
Positive - Impa Kasanganay rebounds in style
Impa Kasanganay opened the card against Sasha Palatnikov, a fighter who took part in one of the best UFC prelim fights of 2020, defeating Louis Cosce in an absolute war. He did not do the same against Kasanganay.
When a fighter is as humble as 'Tshilobo' it's hard to see them lose. Seeing them beaten in as brutal a fashion as Kasanganay was against Joaquin Buckley makes it that bit worse. In Abu Dhabi, the 27-year-old was rendered unconscious by a vicious spinning kick.
I think most fans were keen to see him rebound in 2021 and he did exactly that at UFC Vegas 23.
With an impressive display of grappling, Kasanganay was able to control a dangerous opponent in what was his welterweight debut. He secured his third submission win with a second-round rear-naked choke. At 9-1, with an incredible knockout the only blemish on his record, Kasanganay remains a top prospect in the UFC.
Hopefully, he's gone some way to ensuring fans remember his name for his great performances inside the octagon, rather than his one loss.
Positive - Who said the Welsh can't wrestle?
Impressive, controlling and statement-making. Jack Shore’s performance at UFC Vegas 23 fulfilled every criteria. The face of Welsh MMA arrived on US soil with an impressive grappling display against Hunter Azure. Both men’s stock experienced a rise after the bout.
Shore seemed a fairly clear winner and the 29-28 scorecard in favor of Azure surprised me. Nevertheless, it was a competitive 15 minutes with some great exchanges against the fence and on the mat. It was tiring to watch so goodness knows how worn out the two bantamweights were at the fight's conclusion.
Having moved to 14-0 and added a solid name like Azure to his win column, Shore has certainly got his name established as one of the most promising prospects in the UFC bantamweight division.
Michael Bisping gave the Welshman high praise before the fight, and it stands to reason Shore's performance has made most agree.
"Let me tell you about Jack Shore, this kid is technical, he's unbelievable. I'm gonna blow your mind, I'm gonna compare him to Georges St-Pierre. That sounds like too high a praise but I'm telling you, this man can wrestle, he's got excellent Jiu-Jitsu, he's very, very composed and he's a very articulate man when it comes to martial arts."
Positive - Mountainous heavyweight power
Jarjis Danho unleashed four years of inactivity with one punch to the head of Yorgan De Castro. The word 'unconscious' has rarely been so relevant. The Luso-Cape Verdean was sleeping.
'Man Mountain' moved to 7-1 with the destructive KO victory at UFC Vegas 23. The card produced some good moments and entertaining exchanges up to the heavyweight matchup, but what Danho delivered changed the game. His right hand would have had most fans upright in their seats.
Positive - A UFC veteran and a prospect throwing hands
DWCS standout Ignacio Bahamondes looked to use veteran John Makdessi as a stepping stone in his UFC debut. The Canadian didn't let that happen.
The fight was a three-round brawl. Both men landed more than 30 significant strikes in every round. Makdessi looked close to a finish early on and we can be thankful he didn't find it, because we were treated to another 10 minutes of hard and fast swinging.
Both men wore the strikes. Makdessi's face was swollen, and one eye was almost shut. But it was Bahamondes who looked worse for wear. Sporting a crimson mask, the beaten and bloody Chilean continued pushing forward, throwing strikes right up until the final horn.
Despite the defeat, Bahamondes made a memorable impression. With some adaptation and development, he's certainly one for the future. Makdessi, meanwhile, showed he hasn't lost a step inside the cage.
Negative - Missing names and the Covid curse
Even with the great action we witnessed, it was still a shame we didn't get to see Darren Till feature. Not only that, but a couple of intriguing bouts that had been scheduled up until fight week fell through.
The first was the debut of Erin Blanchfield. A few weeks back, Sportskeeda broke the story of her debut. Following the withdrawal of Bea Malecki, the 21-year-old agreed to step in for her first appearance in the promotion. 'Cold Blooded' Blanchfield is one of the most promising women in MMA. With Norma Dumont missing weight (again...), she'll have to wait a little longer before making her first walk to the octagon.
A bout between Kyle Daukaus and Aliaskhab Khizriev was also axed from the card earlier in the week, in what was another case of the Covid curse. With a combined record of 23-1, including 15 finishes, the middleweight matchup looked set to be one of the best on the card.
The biggest omission from the night was Darren Till. 'The Gorilla' was set to face Marvin Vettori in what would have been a clash of middleweight behemoths. Despite Kevin Holland saving the main event, watching the card knowing Till wasn't entering the octagon for the headliner was a real shame. The Englishman has a considerable spell on the sidelines ahead of him and that is a big negative for us fans.
Negative - Questionable judging
We’ve seen worse judging and worse decisions, that’s for sure. But nonetheless, anytime we are left questioning scorecards, something isn’t right.
Although we didn’t see an utterly ridiculous scorecard on the same level as Paul Felder apparently beating Rafael Dos Anjos (Chris Lee, what were you watching?), there were consistent scorecards throughout the night that had fans, fighters and the commentators confused.
Perhaps the worst of the night was one judge awarding Joe Solecki the first round of his fight against Jim Miller. The right result was the correct one but it’s still worth questioning calls on individual rounds, because eventually a fighter is going to wrongfully lose a fight because of it.
A split decision in the fight between Jack Shore and Hunter Azure added to the lengthy list of debatable scorecards across the night. Many on social media, including Jordan Griffin himself, were questioning his loss against Luis Saldana. Although I scored the fight for Griffin myself, I think that one could have gone either way.
We never want to be discussing judges during or after a UFC card. If we are, it's a negative.