The Real Winners and Losers From UFC Fight Night 215
So much for the best-laid plans, eh?
The UFC learned that firsthand at its Saturday show from the Apex facility, which lost its main event about 30 minutes before the main card was set to begin at 4 p.m. ET.
Former heavyweight title challenger Derrick Lewis was pulled from a scheduled five-rounder against Serghei Spivac "due to illness," according to the UFC, which elevated a would-be co-main between 205-pounders Kennedy Nzechukwu and Ion Cutelaba to the top slot.
"We have some unfortunate news to share with you," blow-by-blow man Brendan Fitzgerald said on the ESPN broadcast. "Our main event was to be against Derrick Lewis and Serghei Spivac. There is a non-COVID, non-weight-cutting illness on the Derrick Lewis side. So our main event today has been canceled. You hate to see it."
Despite the promotion, the light heavyweights stayed locked in for a pair of rounds.
Fitzgerald, Michael Bisping and Paul Felder held down the announcer's table for the ESPN production while Heidi Androl worked the room for breaking news and feature pieces. The B/R combat team was in position for coffee and violence, too, and took in all the action while constructing the definitive list of the show's real winners and losers.
Scroll through to see what we came up with, and drop a thought or two in the comments.
Winner: Validating a Promotion
He wasn't scheduled for a main-event position.
But that didn't stop Kennedy Nzechukwu from delivering a main-event performance.
The 30-year-old Nigerian-born light heavyweight was on the short end of a clinching and grappling clinic through the first round of his elevated bout against Ion Cutelaba. However, he went back to his corner, heeded his team's advice and quickly put an end to things in Round 2.
"We made the right adjustments," he said. "I wasn't ready [when I arrived to the UFC], but I'm growing up in the cage."
The between-rounds counsel came in the form of an urging to use jumping knees against Cutelaba, an already a wrestling-heavy foe who was emboldened by his early success.
He was again coming forward with an eye on changing levels when Nzechukwu delivered a precisely timed left knee that cracked him on the right side of the head and left him wobbly.
A shot below Nzechukwu's belt followed in a subsequent exchange, but Nzechukwu shook off referee Keith Peterson's offer for a breather and instead landed another knee that rendered Cutelaba nearly defenseless for the volley of more than 12 punches that rained down before Peterson intervened at 1:02 of the second.
"That was savage," Bisping said, "That was a beatdown. It all started with the flying knee. The timing on that was unbelievable."
The winner, who improved to 11-3 overall and 5-3 in the UFC, said his coach used the code "second-round Texas" to indicate it was time to throw the decisive blow that ultimately sent Cutelaba to his third straight loss and dropped his octagonal record to 5-8-1 since 2016.
"When he had me on the ground, I didn't panic," Nzechukwu said. "I knew I should work my way from there and get myself together. He called that [knee] out in the back room."
Winner: Thunder from Down Under
Bisping was clearly impressed with what he'd seen from Jack Della Maddalena.
"This kid is a special talent," the UFC Hall of Famer said. "The power in those hands is next level. He's ready for something bigger right now."
Given the performance of the Australian welterweight, it was hardly hyperbolic.
Della Maddalena dominated every second of a brief main-card scrap with Danny Roberts, connecting on 33 of his 60 significant strikes and getting his octagonal veteran opponent out of there after just 3:24 of the first round.
It was the 26-year-old's 13th straight win since beginning his career with two losses in 2016 and his third in a row with the promotion since graduating from Dana White's Contender Series in 2021.
Roberts, 35, fell to 7-6 in the UFC since arriving in 2015.
He's 18-7 overall as a pro but just 5-6 since starting out at 13-1 through April 2016.
"Every challenge is different, and I'll just look forward one fight at a time," the winner said, responding to Bisping's query about a call-out of a ranked fighter. "I'm ready to go back to Australia and get another fight [at UFC 284, set for February in Perth]. The first person they give me, I'll probably say yes and be on my merry way."
Loser: Keeping it Clean
Fitzgerald labeled it a "very unique fight."
Bisping, perhaps going for laughs, called it "nuts."
But regardless of specific descriptor, it'd be no stretch to suggest that the three-rounder between Charles Johnson and Zhalgas Zhumagulov was, at the very least, unusual.
The flyweights were elevated to the main-card opener after the Lewis-Spivac fight got scrapped, and they mixed in some intermittently compelling action amid multiple delays due to a myriad of fouls that included dueling eye pokes and groin strikes.
Zhumagulov was the recipient of a doctor's visit after a shot to the eye in the early going. He then appeared on the verge of surrender in the first minute of the third round after a low blow stalled the fight for more than a minute. He continued on, however, and soon had Johnson reeling after he landed a clean kick to his foe's right knee.
Johnson spent the next several seconds stationary as Zhumagulov pressed forward, but the former ultimately regained feeling in the leg after several hard stomps to the mat.
"He's 5'4", I'm 5'9", s--t happens," Johnson said, dismissing the fouls and claiming the kick to the knee simply hit a nerve. "It froze up for a second, but I shook it out and kept going.
"This is fighting. This is what we do."
He made it to the final horn and was soon rewarded with a split decision—getting two 29-28 verdicts in his favor to override one against—despite Zhumagulov landing more significant strikes and scoring the fight's lone takedown.
The Kazakhstan native stared blankly as the decision was announced and barely acknowledged Johnson's conciliatory handshake. The winner, meanwhile, sought out UFC executive Mick Maynard and pleaded for a busy future schedule.
"Put me in here as much as possible," he said. "I want to fight the best."
Loser: Starting Off Smoothly
The official record will show that bantamweight Miles Johns won his first fight under the banner of his new training team at Glory MMA in Kansas City, Missouri.
But just because the 28-year-old managed a victory over Vince Morales in their three-rounder on the preliminary card doesn't mean it went as planned.
Johns said he slotted into the fight on short notice two weeks ago and prepared for it by changing his base of operations and moving his family across the country to train at the much-heralded gym led by ex-UFC competitor James Krause.
And then, less than 24 hours before the first strikes were thrown, Krause was gone.
"My coach, last night at the dinner table, got pulled," Johns told Bisping on the broadcast, "and they said the UFC was suspending him so he couldn't be here in my corner."
Instead, Johns was cornered by his father and brother, and ESPN Chalk writer David Purdum took to Twitter and said multiple sources claimed the UFC had denied Krause credentials.
"Krause, a known bettor," Purdum tweeted, "was in the corner for a Nov. 5 fight that was flagged for suspicious betting and is under investigation."
Winner: Quick-Starting Women
The card's amended prelim portion included three women's bouts out of six, and they're far more likely to be among the ones people will talk about going forward.
Flyweight Natalia Silva delivered a memorable finish in the first fight out of the chute, working through two tactical rounds against Tereza Bleda before drilling the previously unbeaten Czech export with a spinning back kick that yielded a finish soon after at 1:27 of the third.
The shot connected to Bleda's chin and drove into her throat and was just the fifth time in the promotion's history that a fight ended thanks to a spinning back kick to the head.
It was Bleda's first loss after six pro wins, including one in the UFC, while Silva improved to 14-5-1 overall and saw her win streak stretched to eight fights.
It's a slightly more modest win streak for Vanessa Demopoulos at just three straight, but the Ohio-born strawweight continued a prodigious rise nonetheless with a frenetic three-round decision over Brazilian Muay Thai ace Maria Oliveira.
Dubbed the "Lil' Monster," Demopolous out-landed her taller, longer opponent in each of the first two rounds thanks to productive ground striking, then got the fight to the mat again in the third as Oliveira pressed hard for a stand-up stoppage.
Demopoulos sprang into Bisping's arms as he ended their post-fight interview, continuing a trend she'd begun with Joe Rogan after a finish of Silvana Gomez Juarez at UFC 270.
Full Card Results
Kennedy Nzechukwu def. Ion Cutelaba by KO (knee), 1:02, Round 2
Waldo Cortes-Acosta def. Chase Sherman by unanimous decision (30-27, 29-28, 29-28)
Muslim Salikhov def. Andre Fialho by KO (kick), 1:03, Round 3
Jack Della Maddalena def. Danny Roberts by KO (punches), 3:24, Round 1
Charles Johnson def. Zhalgas Zhumagulov by split decision (29-28, 28-29, 29-28)
Jennifer Maia def. Maryna Moroz by unanimous decision (30-27, 29-28, 29-28)
Miles Johns def. Vince Morales by unanimous decision (30-27, 29-28, 29-28)
Ricky Turcios def. Kevin Natividad by split decision (29-28, 28-29, 29-28)
Vanessa Demopoulos def. Maria Oliveira by unanimous decision (29-28, 29-28, 29-28)
Brady Hiestand def. Fernie Garcia by unanimous decision (29-28, 29-28, 29-28)
Natalia Silva def. Tereza Bleda by KO (spinning back kick), 1:27, Round 3