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Monday MMA Round-Up: The Battle of the Rafael’s

LAS VEGAS, NEVADA - JULY 09: Rafael Fiziev of Kazakstan celebrates after his knockout victory over Rafael Dos Anjos of Brazil in their lightweight fight during the UFC Fight Night event at UFC APEX on July 09, 2022 in Las Vegas, Nevada. (Photo by Chris Unger/Zuffa LLC)

Hello, fight fans, and welcome to this week’s edition of the Monday MMA Round-Up, where we look back at the week that was and look ahead to the week that is in the world of mixed martials arts. UFC held another event this past week, but, outside of that, it was a pretty quiet week. Let’s get into all of the happenings.

UFC on ESPN 39 Recap

  • The Battle of the Rafael’s at UFC on ESPN 39 on Saturday saw Rafael Fiziev score a fifth-round knockout of Rafael Dos Anjos in the main event. It was an impressive showing from Fiziev as he was the better man on the feet and was defending the takedown attempts of Dos Anjos all throughout the fight. He was on his way to a win when the fifth started, barring a finish by Dos Anjos, but Fiziev left no questions in dropping Dos Anjos with a left hand early in the fifth and getting the finish. Fiziev should move close to the top five in the lightweight rankings, and it’s his sixth straight win. He should be in the mix when it comes to discussing who is fighting for the vacant UFC Lightweight Championship.
  • The rest of Saturday’s UFC on ESPN 39 card was so-so. There were a couple of exciting fights, notably between heavyweights Jared Vanderaa and Chase Sherman, and between lightweights Michael Johnson and Jamie Mullarkey, but there were some dull fights as well. These shows also have to get out of the UFC Apex, it just feels like it’s getting worse and worse every time they hold an event there. It felt like there was hardly anyone there and nothing was getting much of a reaction, and there were moments where if this card was in front of even about 7,000 people where there would’ve been big reactions. There’s only one more Apex show booked, but, as I’ve noted, don’t be surprised if there’s a handful of events there every year.
  • A fight that did fall off of Saturday’s show was a women’s flyweight bout between Cynthia Calvillo and Nina Nunes. Nunes had to pull out on the morning of the fight due to a stomach virus. The fight has since been re-booked for the August 13 card in San Diego.
  • There’s been a little bit of jumbling to the UFC schedule that may change pay-per-view dates. It was expected that UFC 279 on September 10 would be in Atlanta, and that what would be UFC 280 would be on October 8 in Las Vegas. However, it is now possible that UFC 279 will take place in Las Vegas and that there will not be a UFC 280 on October 8, and that the Abu Dhabi show on October 22, would be changed to UFC 280 and turned into a pay-per-view event. The reasoning is that it seems like there might not be enough headline fights to fill the pay-per-view events. That is an issue if they have all of these stars and all of these championships, yet they’re having trouble getting fights to headline shows. It could be a combination of a lot of things, including pay, injuries, stubbornness on many sides, a lot of different things. This is a situation that we’ll be monitoring over the weeks.
  • An interesting main event was made for the UFC event on October 1 as Mackenzie Dern will take on Yan Xiaonan in the headline bout. No location has been announced. The winner could be in line for a title shot in the strawweight division.
  • This week’s Nate Diaz update: he said on social media that July 30 would be a nice departure date, indicating he wants to fight at UFC 277 in a few weeks. That ain’t happening, folks.
  • Alexander Volkanovski suffered a broken thumb during his title defense against Max Holloway at UFC 276 on July 2, and he’ll have to undergo surgery to repair it. He said the recovery time will be 12 weeks, so any plans of a quick turnaround are now on the shelf. I’d like to think he’ll fight in December if he’s able to return then, so this will give some time for everyone to figure out who and what is next for him.
  • UFC Women’s Strawweight Champion Carla Esparza announced that all of the MRI’s performed on her came back clean and she won’t have to undergo any surgeries for her undisclosed injuries. That’s good news and she should be defending against Zhang Weili before the end of 2022.
  • Darren Till was forced out of his upcoming bout against Jack Hermansson at the UFC event on July 23 in London. That was going to be a pivotal bout for both men, but especially for Till, as a win could’ve put him quickly into title contention. Hermansson will stay on the card and fight surging middleweight Chris Curtis, who has been one of the best stories to come out of MMA over the last year.
  • Updates on two UFC fighters who had announced retirements: Felice Herrig, who retired from MMA following a loss to Karolina Kowalkiewicz in June, will continue her career in combat sports as she’s signed with Bare Knuckle Fighting Championships. Jimmy Flick, who retired in 2021 for several reasons, including no pension and concerns about pay, will return as he’s re-entered the USADA testing pool in order to make a UFC comeback.
  • It has yet to be formally announced, but it is expected that the finals of season 30 of The Ultimate Fighter will take place at the UFC event on August 6.
  • There’s already been a shake-up to one of the divisions in the 2022 PFL Playoffs, as defending PFL Light Heavyweight Champion Antonio Carlos Junior was forced out of the playoffs due to an ACL injury that will require surgery. He’ll be replaced in the playoffs by Josh Silveira, who was fifth in the light heavyweight standings.
  • The XMMA promotion, which has run four events featuring mainly former UFC fighters, announced their fifth event, which will take place on July 23 in Columbia, South Carolina, and will again feature a lot of former UFC alumni, as well as former Bellator and PFL champions. Among those fighting on the card include Will Brooks, Jared Gooden, Impa Kasanganay, Jesse Taylor, Andre Harrison and Luis Pena.

The Crystal Ball

There were eleven fighters at UFC On ESPN 39 on Saturday who were victorious, and we look at what could be next for them in The Crystal Ball:

  • Rafael Fiziev scored an impressive win in the main event on Saturday, finishing Rafael Dos Anjos in the fifth round to score his sixth straight win, getting himself close to the top five at lightweight and into the title picture. He was calling for a certain opponent next, and when looking into the crystal ball, it tends to agree. I’d like to see him fight Justin Gaethje next.
  • Caio Borralho was in his second appearance inside the Octagon, and he’s now gone two-for-two in wins with a decision win over Armen Petrosyan. It was a lackluster fight, but Borralho is showing some improvement. He’s fought a lot in the last year and said he wants some time off. He was calling out Dricus Du Plessis after the fight, but that is too far a step up for him right now. The crystal ball sees him fighting Marc-Andre Barriault next.
  • Said Nurmagomedov continued him climb up the bantamweight ladder with an impressive showing on Saturday, scoring a decision win in a tough fight over Douglas Silva de Andrade. It marked Nurmagomedov’s third straight win, and he is now 5-1 during his UFC career. He’s knocking on the door of the bantamweight rankings and he’s ready for a big name next. The crystal ball sees him against Adrian Yanez next.
  • Chase Sherman had his back against the wall when he walked inside the Octagon on Saturday night. He’s in his third UFC tenure, but had lost four straight fights, and he was looking at potentially being cut with a loss. However, he got the job done in scoring a third-round stoppage of Jared Vanderaa in a really fun fight. It gives Sherman some new life on the roster. He’s not going to be a title contender, but he can have fun fights. I see him fighting Josh Parisian next.
  • Aiemann Zahabi was fighting for the first time in 17 months on Saturday, and it showed despite scoring the decision over Ricky Turcios. It was a clear win for Zahabi, but it wasn’t an impressive showing with ring rust likely playing a factor. It marked Zahabi’s second straight win. The crystal ball sees him fighting Sergey Morozov next.
  • Jamie Mullarkey got back into the win column on Saturday in the best fight on the card, edging out a close split decision over Michael Johnson. It was a back-and-forth fight that could’ve gone either way, but it was a win for Mullarkey, who has now won three of his last four. I’d love to see him in a fight against Jim Miller next.
  • Cody Brundage made a statement on Saturday that he should be in the mix of middleweight prospects looking to climb the ladder with a first-round knockout of Tresean Gore. It was his best showing to date and gives Brundage two straight wins. He’ll be getting a step up on the ladder next. The crystal ball sees him fighting Aliaskhab Khizriev next.
  • Antonina Shevchenko got herself back into the win column on Saturday, but it was by the narrowest of decisions. She scored a split decision over Cortney Casey that could’ve gone either way, and she’ll be looking for her second straight win next time out instead of being on a three-fight skid. The crystal ball sees her fighting Natalia Silva next.
  • David Onama showed that he has the potential to be a threat in the featherweight division in the future with his second-round finish of Garrett Armfield on Saturday. He showed great skills all around and came up big despite a late change in opponents. He’s won two straight and is 10-1 overall. I’d like to see him fight Ricardo Ramos next.
  • Kennedy Nzechukwu was in a must-win situation on Saturday, and he got the job done with a third-round TKO of Karl Roberson. It got him back into the win column, ending a two-fight losing skid. The crystal ball sees Nzechukwu matched up with Ovince Saint Preux next.
  • Saidyokub Kakhramonov got the night going in a fairly entertaining fight with Ronnie Lawrence, which saw Kakhramonov pick up the unanimous decision over three hard-fought rounds. Kakhramonov is now 2-0 during his UFC stint and has four straight wins overall. The crystal ball sees him fighting Mario Bautista next.

The Chopping Block

Conversely, there were eleven fighters at UFC On ESPN 39 on Saturday who came up short, and we look at whether they should be worried about their future in The Chopping Block:

  • Rafael Dos Anjos was trying to keep his name in the title picture and score his third straight win, but he ended up on the wrong end of a fifth-round knockout loss to Rafael Fiziev in the main event on Saturday. He still looked good on Saturday, just a step behind Fiziev all the way. He doesn’t have anything to worry about as far as roster spot as he’s SAFE. I don’t know what’s next for him coming off a loss, but perhaps he could get that fight against Conor McGregor next.
  • Armen Petrosyan was in only his second appearance inside the Octagon, but he’s now 1-1 following a decision loss to Caio Borralho in the co-main event. The loss showed Petrosyan what he needs to work on, but he’s still solid on his feet. His roster spot is SAFE and I’d like to see him booked against Albert Duraev next.
  • Douglas Silva de Andrade has been in some hard-fought battles during his UFC tenure, and Saturday was no different as he brought the fight to Said Nurmagomedov, but, unfortunately, he didn’t do enough as he dropped the decision. It ended his two-fight win streak. While his UFC run has been up-and-down, his roster spot is SAFE FOR NOW and the crystal ball has suggested he fights Nate Maness next.
  • Jared Vanderaa was involved in a really fun heavyweight fight, which is words that don’t often go together, but it didn’t go his way as he was finished in the third round by Chase Sherman. It was Vanderaa’s fourth straight loss, and he’s just 1-5 during his UFC run. Despite his willingness to fight on short notice and even though this was an entertaining fight, I’m expecting him to be CUT but also be a candidate to be brought back as a late replacement in the future.
  • Ricky Turcios was the season 29 winner of The Ultimate Fighter and he was fighting for the first time since winning the show last August, but he turned in a showing that was weird and just bad all around. He looked like he had regressed as a fighter in dropping a decision to Aiemann Zahabi in a disappointing showing. With his status as a TUF winner, his roster spot is SAFE, but he can’t have many fights like that. Perhaps a fight against Fernie Garcia could help him bounce back.
  • Michael Johnson has been on the roster for a long time and he’s experienced about as much as anyone has inside the Octagon. Saturday night might’ve been the first time he lost a fight that many thought he won as he dropped a split decision to Jamie Mullarkey in a very close fight that won Fight Of The Night. The majority of media scores had Johnson winning, but it was a close fight. Instead of being on a win streak, Johnson will now be fighting with his back against the wall as he’s now 1-5 over his last six. With this result, I think his roster spot is SAFE FOR NOW and the crystal ball sees him fighting Joaquim Silva next.
  • Tresean Gore was looking to show that he’s ready to fight at this level, despite his experience, when he stepped inside the Octagon on Saturday. However, Cody Brundage had different ideas, and Gore was on the wrong end of a first-round knockout. The TUF veteran is now just 3-2 in his career, and 0-2 inside the Octagon. He’s not ready for this level, so I see him being CUT so he can gain more experience at the regional level.
  • Cortney Casey was involved in yet another close fight on Saturday, and, as the majority of her career has gone, she came up just in dropping a split decision to Antonina Shevchenko. It was the fourth time Casey has lost by split decision. She tends to let herself be in too many close fights, and it’s cost her a lot. I expect her to REMAIN on the roster, but she needs a win. The crystal ball sees her against Jasmine Jasudavicius next.
  • Garrett Armfield wasn’t even on UFC’s roster a week ago, but he made a short-notice appearance, signing on Tuesday, against David Onama. He put up a solid showing before being finished in the second by Onama. Armfield will definitely be GETTING ANOTHER FIGHT and he’ll likely drop to bantamweight, his natural weight class. I’d expect him to fight a debuting fighter next, but, for the sake of the column, a fight against Brady Hiestand next would be good.
  • Karl Roberson was trying to end a losing streak on Saturday when he stepped into the Octagon against Kennedy Nzechukwu. However, it didn’t go so great for Roberson as he was finished in the second round by Nzechukwu. In more bad news for Roberson, that is his fourth straight loss, and it is very likely he’ll be CUT from the roster.
  • Ronnie Lawrence had started his UFC run out with two solid wins in his first two fights, and he was looking for three straight when he kicked off the card on Saturday. However, he suffered his first UFC loss, dropping a decision for Saidyokub Kakhramonov. It was a tough fight and I don’t think Lawrence lost much with the loss. He’ll GET ANOTHER FIGHT but it’ll likely be a must-win fight. I see him fighting Johnny Munoz next.

Fight Announcements

  • Bill Algeo vs. Herbert Burns — UFC Fight Night — July 16
  • Jack Hermansson vs. Chris Curtis — UFC Fight Night — July 23
  • Cynthia Calvillo vs. Nina Nunes — UFC Fight Night — August 13
  • Nassourdine Imavov vs. Joaquin Buckley — UFC Fight Night — September 3
  • Jamie Pickett vs. Denis Tiuliulin — UFC 279 — September 10
  • Chad Anheliger vs. Alatengheili — UFC 279 — September 10
  • Giga Chikadze vs. Sodiq Yusuff — UFC Fight Night — September 17
  • Mackenzie Dern vs. Yan Xiaonan — UFC Fight Night — October 1 (MAIN EVENT)
  • Piera Rodriguez vs. Sam Hughes — UFC Fight Night — October 15
  • Belal Muhammad vs. Sean Brady — UFC 281 — October 22

The Cut List

It’s a small list this week, but there is a fighter who will be searching for a new home next. Here is The Cut List for the week:

  • Tony Kelley is looking for a new place to fight after his UFC contract was not renewed following his first-round knockout loss to Adrian Yanez at UFC on ESPN 37 on 6/18. That’s a real shame. Honestly, this is a good thing. Kelley had been a lightning rod for controversy over the past few months, first with calling Viviane Araujo a “dirty f**king Brazilian”, then his missing weight for the Yanez fight and treatment towards the crowd and everyone. He’s not going to be anything more than a journeyman, so it was right to let him go explore free agency.

Coming Up This Week

Here are some of the notable MMA events taking place this upcoming week:

  • UFC On ABC 3 takes place on Saturday, July 16, from the UBS Arena in Long Island, New York. The main card airs at 2 p.m. ET on ABC & ESPN+, while the prelims air at 11 a.m. ET on ESPN & ESPN+. Brian Ortega takes on Yair Rodriguez in the main event.
  • CFFC 110 takes place on Thursday, July 14, from Tampa, Florida, airing at 7 p.m. ET on UFC Fight Pass.
  • LFA 136 takes place on Friday, July 15, from Sao Paulo, Brazil, airing at 9 p.m. ET on UFC Fight Pass.

In The Clinch

This week on In The Clinch, myself and Paul Fontaine will look back at UFC On ESPN 39. We’ll also look at TUF, look ahead to UFC On ABC 3, talk all of the news and fight announcements and more. In The Clinch is part of The Fight Game Media Network, will all podcasts available FREE on Apple Podcasts and Spotify. You can also support us thru our Patreon page.

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