UFC Vegas 23 was the most recent installment of UFC Fight Night and it was a good one. The card was packed from start to finish with high-level talent and young stars looking to climb the ranks. Most importantly, two winners left the event as true contenders for the title in their respective divisions.
UFC Fight Night Recap
There were several impressive performances from this card. Some of the fighters that dominated their opponents include Da-Un Jung, Mateusz Gamrot, Joe Solecki, and Daniel Rodriguez. A few that came out victorious in a hard-fought battle were Luis Saldana, Jack Shore, and Arnold Allen. In fact, all thirteen winners deserve credit and will inch closer to the ultimate goal of eventually winning a title. All that being said, two fighters stood out above the rest and forced their names firmly in the discussion for being next-up for a title shot.
In the main event of this UFC Fight Night, rising threat Marvin Vettori was set to take on fellow Middleweight contender Darren Till. Unfortunately, Till broke his collarbone shortly before the event, forcing him to pull out of the fight. This opened the door for Kevin Holland to step in on the short notice. Holland was ready to try and get back on track after just losing to Derek Brunson three weeks earlier.
Taking a short notice fight is not only difficult on the fighter stepping in, but also on the opponent who had been preparing and training for someone else. To the credit of both Vettori and Holland, neither one hesitated to accept the fight and save the event. This set up what looked to be a very interesting and highly competitive matchup between two dangerous strikers.
This ended up not being the case at all. Vettori absolutely dominated Holland from start to finish to earn a clear and easy unanimous decision after going the full five-round distance. Vettori utilized his wrestling to repeatedly take down Holland and control the fight on the ground. The fact that Holland is a black belt in jiu-jitsu but could find no answers in this fight makes the performance by Vettori even more impressive.
With the victory, Vettori is now on a five-fight winning streak since losing a split decision to current Middleweight champion Israel Adesanya back in 2018. His impressive run has catapulted him into the top five in the division. He is now a clear candidate to be the opponent in the next title defense for Adesanya. Vettori believes he’s done enough to earn the rematch, but it may not be that simple.
The man who could be standing in his way is Robert Whittaker, who Adesanya defeated for the Middleweight title in 2019. Since that loss, Whittaker has accumulated impressive victories over top contenders Darren Till and Jared Cannonier. He is also the headliner for the next UFC Fight Night where he will take on another good opponent in Kelvin Gastelum. If Whittaker were to win that fight, he would have a strong case to get the next shot at Adesanya instead of Vettori.
The fact that Whittaker lost his title to Adesanya would probably give him the edge for the first rematch opportunity. If that in fact what happens, Vettori has multiple options of who he may fight next; this includes Darren Till, Paulo Costa, Jared Cannonier, and Derek Brunson. Regardless, the one certain thing is that if Vettori does not get Adesanya next, and then defeats any of those other listed opponents, there would be no denying him a title shot in his very next appearance.
The other victorious fighter who has emerged from UFC Fight Night as a title contender is Mackenzie Dern. She continues to climb the ranks in the Strawweight division with her elite BJJ skills. In fact, she is considered one of the best in the world in this discipline of martial arts. Her grappling and submission skills make her one of the most dangerous contenders in the division.
Dern got her first opportunity to face off with a top-five ranked fighter in Nina Nunes. This looked like it would be her biggest test in the UFC so far. Nunes is a high-level striker with a dangerous skillset and was the favorite coming into the fight. This fight would show if Dern is ready for top competition moving forward or if the step-up in class was too much at this point.
Any questions about whether or not Dern was ready for the top competition were answered very quickly. Dern scored an early takedown and then let her brilliant BJJ shine from there. She dominated the fight on the ground until scoring an armbar in the final seconds of the first round. She locked it in perfectly and beat the buzzer by making Nunes tap immediately.
Dern is now on a four-fight winning streak since the only loss of her career to Amanda Ribas. Three of those four victories have come in dominating fashion by first-round submission. In fact, she now has seven submission victories across her eleven professional MMA wins to this point.
Destroying a quality opponent like Nunes the way she did makes Dern a serious threat in this division. Her elite grappling and BJJ skills make her a nightmare opponent for just about anyone. She was ranked just outside of the top ten before this fight but is now knocking on the door of the top five. Her next opponent will be a big one after this performance, but she may need one more victory first before getting a title shot.
It seems likely that if Yan Xiaonan defeats Carla Esparza at a UFC Fight Night in May, she would get a title shot against the winner of the title fight between Zhang Weili and Rose Namajunas at UFC 261. That leaves a very interesting opponent possibility for Dern, and that is Joanna Jedrzejczyk. A matchup between the former champ and the rising star would be an exciting one. If it were to happen, the winner would clearly be next-up for a Strawweight title shot.