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Image: Ben Duffy/Sherdog.com illustration



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There was bound to be a hangover. After the incredible
rush of UFC 261 two weeks ago, with its trio of title fights,
multiple eye-popping finishes and the added juice of the first
Octagon event in a packed arena in over a year, returning to free
cable cards in the vacuum of the Apex couldn’t help but feel like a
bit of a letdown.

Compounding those expectations,
UFC on ESPN 23
did little to help itself for much of the
evening. Eight of the first nine fights went to the judges. That
does not automatically spell disaster — most of the greatest fights
of all time have gone the distance — but the undercard simply
wasn’t great. There were fights that started out entertaining, then
got bogged down as one or both fighters grew tired. There were
fights that started out lousy, then got even worse as one or both
fighters grew tired. There was bad judging, of course. There was a
disqualification that might be the most frustrating, unsatisfying
foul-related outcome this year in the Ultimate Fighting Championship, which is saying
quite a lot.

However, if all’s well that ends well, “UFC Vegas 25” came roaring
back with an outstanding main card, capped off by electrifying
finishes in the main and co-main events. Notably, four of the last
five fights featured rising contenders passing tests with flying
colors. Even the lone exception, Ion
Cutelaba
vs. Dustin
Jacoby
, was entertaining for a split draw and relatively sane
for a Cutelaba fight. On a card that saved the best for last, there
is no shortage of fighters whose stock skyrocketed, as well as a
few who are bottoming out. Here is the stock report for UFC on ESPN
23.



Fighters who come to the UFC with championship-level credentials
from another organization usually stumble out of the gate, picking
up an early loss or two. Sometimes they recover and ride on to
glory, like Mauricio Rua
or Anthony
Pettis
. Other fighters never quite get untracked, and that
hoped-for contender never materializes; think of David
Branch
or Will Brooks.
Former Rizin Fighting Federation titleholder Prochazka
is the exception: a rare example of a fighter who has shown no
jitters and needed no adjustment. With his devastating second-round
knockout of Dominick
Reyes
on Saturday, he has now racked up finishes over a Top 10
and a Top 5 opponent in his first two UFC appearances. According to
the UFC, he is the presumptive next challenger for whoever emerges
victorious from Jan
Blachowicz
scheduled title defense against Glover
Teixeira
in September. Considering that Blachowicz and Teixeira
are two of the most chronically underrated and written-off fighters
in the promotion, don’t be surprised if Prochazka is the favorite
in that fight.



If you’re a fan from a certain era, hearing the name of Cub Swanson
instantly conjures up his highlight-reel knockout loss to Jose Aldo in
the little blue cage of World Extreme Cagefighting. That eight-second
flying knee, after all, was the world’s introduction to the legend
of Aldo. However, that indelible memory belies the fact that
Swanson is generally quite durable. One of the reasons that Aldo
highlight is so incredible is that it was the only time Swanson had
ever been stopped with strikes in over a decade of fighting the
best fighters in one of MMA’s best divisions.

Until Saturday’s co-main event, that is. Chikadze, taking a page
from the Pettis vs. Donald
Cerrone
playbook on how to deal with an opponent with a
formidable chin, lanced Swanson with a left kick to the liver that
folded him over in pain. The whole thing took barely a minute.
While questions remain of how much Chikadze’s ground game has
improved since his appearance on Dana White’s Contender Series three years ago,
they will probably be answered in a fight with a ranked contender,
because that’s where “Ninja” finds himself after rattling off his
sixth straight Octagon victory.



There aren’t many nicknames in MMA more appropriate than “The
Machine.” Dvalishvili is known for his wrestling, but what makes
all the parts of his game go — the takedowns, the scrambles, the
go-for-broke striking — is his relentless pace, which is in turn
fueled by his unbelievable cardiovascular endurance. Against
Cody
Stamann
on Saturday, the Georgian by way of Long Island
prevailed by continuing to do exactly what he has done over the
course of a six-fight win streak that could easily be eight. That
he did it against Stamann, a fantastic wrestler and visibly larger
man, is the real takeaway from the fight. Dvalishvili has all the
appearance of a fighter ready for a serious step up in competition,
and his callout of former champ Dominick
Cruz
sounds like a great idea.



It isn’t just the three-fight losing streak; after all, with losses
to divisional GOAT Jon Jones,
current champ Blachowicz and a Top 5 fighter in Prochazka, one
could make the argument that “The Devastator” is still the fifth or
sixth best light heavyweight in the world. However, the optics say
otherwise. After taking Jones to the limit last February in a fight
many believe he won, Reyes has not looked good in his last two
fights, both of them brutal stoppage losses. Even though he is 31
years old, there is still a certain air of raw prospect around
Reyes, who has fewer than half as many professional fights as the
28-year-old Prochazka. With Reyes’ size, athleticism and
fight-ending power, there is every chance that he can bounce back
from this, especially in the 205-pound division. However,
considering he may well be staring down an unranked fighter in his
next outing, it’s impossible not to see this as a major setback for
someone who probably should have a UFC belt on his mantelpiece.



Bhullar’s undercard fight with Andreas
Michailidis
was a dud, and frankly, that’s down to Bhullar more
than Michailidis. While neither man was particularly aggressive,
Michailidis threw more, threw harder and in particular, never
stopped throwing powerful high kicks even as he tired. In
comparison, Bhullar was tentative, circling the outside of the cage
and throwing just enough strikes to fend off comparisons to
Kalib
Starnes
. Both men came into the fight having lost their UFC
debuts, Bhullar had to know he was down on the scorecards heading
into the final round, and even then, the urgency never showed. In
this era of the UFC, going 0-2 in one’s first two fights is not a
guaranteed pink slip, but Bhullar has shown few signs of life in
those two fights. It’s difficult to picture how the organization
would even match him going forward.


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