All seemed well throughout the week leading up to a normal day of fights. That was, however, just hours before the final bout of the night.
As UFC Vegas 65 neared its featured headliner on Saturday, November 19th between Derrick Lewis and Sergey Spivak, Lewis was forced out of the event due to a medical issue not related to COVID-19 or his weight cut. This, in turned, forced Spivak out of the event propelling light heavyweights Kennedy Nzechukwu and Ion Cutelaba into the headliner.
This unexpected twist did nothing to deter the competition from performing at their very best. Four of eleven bouts saw fighters secure finishes including a knockout in the main event. Two welterweights on the rise found their way with impressive stoppages. A controversial decision at 125 pounds opened the ESPN+ main card with Charles Johnson edging out Zhalgas Zhumagulov. Former women’s flyweight title challenger Jennifer Maia and former LFA women’s strawweight champion Vanessa Demopoulos scored unanimous decisions against their respected opponents.
What opportunities are next for some that had their hand raised? Here are five fights to make after UFC Vegas 65.
5. Waldo Cortes-Acosta vs. Blagoy Ivanov
Waldo Cortes-Acosta stayed one step ahead utilizing constant pace and combinations en route to a unanimous decision over Chase Sherman. His fight and victory came just 21 days after his promotional debut win over Jared Vanderaa at UFC Vegas 63. Cortes-Acosta now rides an eight fight win streak since July of last year that included his taking of the vacant LFA heavyweight championship and his 2021 contract-winning knockout on Dana White’s Contender Series.
A break from fighting does not appear to be his M.O., and looking to return soon is that of Bulgaria’s Blagoy Ivanov. May saw the 36-year-old’s return to the octagon after nearly two years of inactivity following two straight defeats. It came as Ivanov’s 19th win as he would secure a unanimous decision over Marcos Rogerio de Lima.
Cortes-Acosta’s volume and Ivanov’s grappling are good tests for one another as they look for statements in their next fight.
4. Kennedy Nzechukwu vs. Volkan Oezdemir
In the first round of the night’s three-round main event, Kennedy Nzechukwu spent a majority of time on his back as Ion Cutelaba dictated the round. 30 seconds into round two, a perfectly-timed knee from Nzechukwu changed the fight’s direction drastically. A shot to the groin was ignored by the Fortis MMA talent who kept his momentum high and utilized various strikes to finish Cutelaba one minute and two seconds in. It was his second-straight knockout win of the year and fifth with the UFC since 2019.
Nzechukwu is developing into a dangerous contender for the light heavyweight division. Why not pit him against former 205-pound Volkan Oezdemir? The former title contender needs a rebound performance after losing a decision to Nikita Krylov last month. Despite only three promotional victories in the last four and-a-half years, Oezdemir is ranked ninth at 205 pounds.
A win would show he’s still a threat while a fight for Nzechukwu would be the challenge he needs.
That’s how you make the most of your first UFC main event 😤 #UFCVegas65 pic.twitter.com/Y8jIH14QXf
— UFC (@ufc) November 19, 2022
3. Muslim Salikhov vs. Neil Magny
Early adversity shown by Muslim Salikhov saw tides shift towards his favor as his fight with Andre Fialho progressed. A perfectly time spinning wheel kick followed by extra punches finished off Fialho early on into the third round. Salikhov, a former multi-time Wushu Sanda world champion, won his 19th professional MMA fight rebounding after a July knockout defeat to Li Jingliang.
The Russian is not getting any younger turning 39 in June next year. His time for a run is hopefully now, and a shot against someone like Neil Magny would be the ticket needed for an appearance inside the top ten at welterweight. The year for Magny, aside from a guillotine loss to undefeated Shavkat Rakhmonov, saw two wins over Max Griffin in March and Daniel Rodriguez this month.
Their stylistic contrast make this possible pairing difficult yet interesting for each other. A co-main event of an ESPN/ESPN+ event or pay-per-view main card slot would be the right stage for this hopeful duo.
This spinning back kick was NASTY 🥶 #UFCVegas65 pic.twitter.com/91IKNFRjJe
— ESPN MMA (@espnmma) November 19, 2022
2. Derrick Lewis vs. Sergey Spivak
An unfortunate announcement it was hearing that Derrick Lewis was pulled from his main event fight. The seventh-ranked heavyweight was hoping to snap a two fight skid after knockout losses this year to Tai Tuivasa and Sergei Pavlovich. His last win, a first-round finish of Chris Daukaus, saw “The Black Beast” break the UFC record for most knockout wins in promotional history.
27-year-old Sergey Spivak never got the opportunity he deserved for what would have been his first UFC main event. The Moldovan has won five of his last six in with a lone defeat in September of 2021 to Tom Aspinall.
Rescheduling this fight between Lewis and Spivak needs to happen sooner rather than later. Moving it to a “Fight Night” co-main event before the year’s end could be the answer.
1. Jack Della Maddalena vs. Gilbert Burns
Perth, Australia’s Jack Della Maddalena is quickly on the rise. His Saturday performance was dominant in every way, overwhelming Danny Roberts with incredible standup before finishing the fight by knockout in the first round. With the win, the 2021 Contender Series signee moves to 3-0 this year with additional first-round knockouts over Pete Rodriguez and Ramazan Emeev.
At only 26, Della Maddalena is shaping up to be a welterweight star for the future ahead. An opportunity of a lifetime could come against someone like Gilbert Burns, former 170-pound title challenger and grappling specialist. Burns needs a change of pace with only one win in the past two and-a-half years over Stephen Thompson, most recently facing defeat in a “Fight of the Year” April battle with Khamzat Chimaev.
February 12th sees UFC 284 set for action in Perth with a main event between Islam Makhachev and Alexander Volkanovski. Place a fight between Della Maddalena and Burns in a five-round, co-main event.
What more fun could you ask for?
THREE STRAIGHT FIRST ROUND FINISHES FOR DELLA MADDALENA 👏 #UFCVegas65 pic.twitter.com/yz2dVLyjxH
— ESPN MMA (@espnmma) November 19, 2022
Jennifer Maia vs. Casey O’Neill
Miles Johns vs. Tony Gravely
Natalia Silva vs. Gillian Robertson
— CLICK HERE FOR UFC VEGAS 65 RESULTS —