UFC on Fox 23 Results: The Real Winners and Losers from Denver Fight Card
If you slumbered on UFC on Fox 23, you missed a title eliminator bout, one of the best action fights possible in the welterweight division and the most exciting prospect in the heavyweight division.
You also missed Bruce Leeroy and The Kid.
A lot was going on Saturday night on this UFC card in Denver, wedged into Pro Bowl weekend. In the main event, Valentina Shevchenko and Julianna Pena, respectively the first- and second-ranked women's bantamweights on the UFC roster, did battle to see who would face champion Amanda Nunes.
In the co-main event, dynamic welterweights Donald "Cowboy" Cerrone and Jorge Masvidal faced each other. If that doesn't sell itself, you don't buy much of anything in MMA.
Later on the main card, heavyweight up-and-comer Francis Ngannou tried to get over against veteran Andrei Arlovski.
And those are only three of the evening's 12 fights. As usual, the final stat lines only reveal so much. These are the real winners and losers from UFC on Fox 23.
Winner: Valentina Shevchenko
Give this woman her title shot.
Turns out Shevchenko's vaunted muay thai background was a bit of a smokescreen. As Pena attempted to bulldoze her on the ground, Shevchenko went belly down to pull off an armbar from the bottom and submit the supposedly more dangerous ground fighter late in the second round.
It was a coming-out party for a well-rounded and charismatic fighter, who pulled off some pretty sweet dance moves after the fight.
Also after the fight, a certain women's bantamweight champion by the name of Nunes swaggered into the cage for a staredown. That locks up a title fight some time later in this new year. Buckle up for a great bout between two talented and likable competitors.
Winner: Jorge Masvidal
Masvidal defeated Cerrone at the very end of the first round. Then, thanks to referee Herb Dean, he did it again in the second.
Masvidal floored the Denver native and crowd favorite as the final seconds of the opening stanza ticked away. Masvidal swarmed and rained punches, hitting Cerrone flush on the jaw more than once. Cerrone appeared to stiffen.
It looked at first glance as if Dean stepped in and waved off the fight just a moment before the horn. Masvidal walked away shouting, evidently thinking he had won the fight. But it was then ruled that the horn sounded to signal the end of the round.
Cerrone, clearly not himself either on the stool between rounds or as the second round began, was a sitting duck for an energized Masvidal. Gamebred dropped Cowboy again, swarmed again and won again, this time for good.
Good on Masvidal for pulling the upset and winning his third straight fight. Cerrone, meanwhile, sustained his first defeat as a welterweight. But not good on Dean and all those who allow fighters to absorb more punishment than is necessary to identify the better fighter.
Loser: Andrei Arlovski's Consciousness
French-Cameroonian Ngannou gets better with every fight. He took another step Saturday with the largest belt notch of his pro career, knocking out iconic veteran Arlovski in only 92 seconds.
An uppercut landed so flush, so powerfully, that it appeared to lift Arlovski off the ground.
Ngannou is physically strong and quick. But his striking is razor sharp. The guy is hard to deal with, especially when you have a deteriorating chin like Arlovski's. The Belarusian, now 37 years old, has now lost four straight fights, three by knockout.
At 30, Ngannou is no athletic spring chicken himself, but at 10-1, he's still relatively young as a fighter. In a thin division, he may have just established himself as the name to watch.
Long-time fans might be upset that it came at the expense of Arlovski, who continues to fade after a long and accomplished career.
Winner: The Kid
You may know Bruce Leeroy and The Kid by their respective government names, Alex Caceres and Jason Knight. They waged a heck of a good opener for the Fox main card, with Knight earning a chokeout win toward the end of the second round.
Knight is known as a high-octane, fast-talking pressure fighter, like the brothers who inspired his unofficial nickname among the Twitterati. Knight adhered to that approach Saturday, and Caceres was a game foil. As Ben Fowlkes of MMA Junkie put it:
Knight and Caceres made their intentions clear early, meeting in the center of the cage and trading power shots to start the fight. At first, it was Caceres getting the better of the exchanges, in part by keeping Knight guessing with his unpredictable striking attack. Toward the end of the first, however, Knight slammed Caceres to the floor and quickly took his back, exploiting what appeared to be a considerable edge in the grappling department.
That strong wrestling was what made the difference. Early in the second, Knight went back to it, again taking Caceres' back. Caceres could only defend for so long and eventually succumbed to a rear naked choke.
Knight is an exciting, new face in the featherweight division. It will be extremely interesting to see whom the UFC gives him next. Is a top-15 opponent reaching too high?
Loser: Raphael Assuncao
There were no winners in the undercard headliner.
Raphael Assuncao and Aljamain Sterling waged a low-output battle Saturday night. You know how when two drivers pull into a four-way intersection at the same time, and they're both waving the other one through, but neither one wants to go first? That was this fight.
Both bantamweights were looking for the counter, but there was usually nothing much to counter. Assuncao landed just a bit more than Sterling and took a close split decision, much to Sterling's dismay.
Assuncao was once a bantamweight contender, but after a bad ankle injury, this is only his fourth fight in the past four years. After the fight, he called out a luminary of the division.
"My goal right now is just to get back to the top, step-by-step," Assuncao said in a statement the UFC emailed to reporters after the fight. "I'm 34 years old, but I still feel like I'm progressing as an athlete. My goal is to get back into contention. Maybe Dominick Cruz. ...Dominick Cruz would be a good contention fight."
That might be premature, especially after such a lackluster effort. Maybe someone like Bryan Caraway offers a more apt checkpoint in Assuncao's journey back.
UFC on Fox 23 Full Card Results
Valentina Shevchenko def. Julianna Pena by submission (armbar), 4:29, Rd. 2
Jorge Masvidal def. Donald Cerrone by TKO, 1:00, Rd. 2
Francis Ngannou def. Andrei Arlovski by TKO, 1:32, Rd. 1
Jason Knight def. Alex Caceres by submission (rear-naked choke), 4:21, Rd. 2
Sam Alvey def. Nate Marquardt by unanimous decision
Raphael Assuncao def. Aljamain Sterling by split decision
Li Jingliang def. Bobby Nash by KO, 4:45, Rd. 2
Jordan Johnson def. Luis Henrique da Silva by unanimous decision
Eric Spicely def. Alessio di Chirico by submission (triangle choke), 2:14, Rd. 1
Marcos Rogerio de Lima def. Jeremy Kimball by TKO, 2:27, Rd. 1
Alexandre Pantoja def. Eric Shelton by split decision
Jason Gonzalez def., J.C. Cottrell by submission (d'arce choke), 3:54, Rd. 1
Scott Harris writes about MMA for Bleacher Report. For more, follow Scott on Twitter.