UFC on ESPN 23 post-topsy: The ‘Denisa’ show, ‘Giga’ kicks and judges being judges
I will be the first to say it. We were spoiled by the epic insanity of UFC 261. The unpredictable finishes and historic results were not of this normal mixed martial arts world. Because of that, UFC on ESPN 23 last night seemed like a long, scorecards heavy polar opposite of what we saw last week. However, despite eight of the 11 bouts going to the judges, the event did offer several noteworthy narratives, for better or worse. Let’s look at the highlights, and lowlights, of the night that was inside Las Vegas, Nevada’s UFC Apex.
Prochazka elbows his way to front of light heavyweight title picture
The shining star of the night was Jiri Prochazka and no other fighter was even close. If there were any fans that still wondered if “Denisa” could continue his RIZIN reign of terror in the Ultimate Fighting Championship, well he officially stamped his UFC title contender card last night. While Dominick Reyes was an absolutely game opponent for Prochazka at UFC on ESPN 23, it only took a couple of minutes of action to get a sense of where the fight was heading.
Despite “The Devastator’s” best efforts, he could not derail the runaway train that is Prochazka’s now 12-fight win streak. Reyes landed punishing strikes, and found moments to accurately counter the Czech fighters constant output. However, he also discovered why Prochazka’s mix of stance changing, uncommon light heavyweight footwork, unorthodox striking, power and iron chin have been a big problem for opponents. That latter characteristic may be the most impressive. Despite receiving thudding blows from heavy hitters like Reyes and Volkan Oezdemir, the 28-year-old has barely been staggered during his short UFC run. And when Reyes gave him a reason to be more cautious, it just seemed to stimulate Prochazka into wanting to trade that much more.
No disrespect to Aleksandar Rakic, who has been impressive in winning six of seven in the UFC, and earning his ranking at two the old fashioned way, but Prochazka is next in line for a shot at gold. It just makes too much sense on a marketing and logic level. With his unique personality, look, and fight style that has delivered 25 knockouts in 28 wins, “Denisa” is perfectly casted as a threat to the next champion. Be that current division king Jan Blachowicz or new title challenger Glover Teixeira. Yet on a pure logic level, the man has won 12 straight, all but one ended early from strikes, and eight of those stoppages came in the first round. Prochazka is on a run deserving of a UFC title fight and he will get it.
UFC adeptly books Chikadze into featherweight’s new rising star
There have been many instances of the UFC pushing certain gifted talents to the front of lines too quickly. Only for those fighters careers to come crashing down. However, for much of the promotions history they have taken a slow-burn approach with competitors with notable potential. Giga Chikadze is the latest application of this strategy. Despite being a top star in Glory Kickboxing and well-respected name in combat sports, “Ninja” was not forced into bouts with ranked foes too soon. He worked his way up with five straight victories in the Octagon, and earned his first ranked opponent only after breaking into the rankings himself.
In Cub Swanson, the promotion served up the sort of esteemed name that would be an important add to Chikadze’s MMA resume. “Killer” has been a stalwart of the featherweight top-15 for over a decade having faced and beaten a whose-who in the division. At 37-years-old he wasn’t the best version of himself, but without a doubt Swanson was an old dog that still has serious bite left in him. In the end, Chikadze aced the litmus test and sent Swanson him home in the first round with a nasty liver kick.
Chikadze is on a roll as a MMA fighter and only seems to be getting better. Having won eight straight, and scored back-to-back technical knockout victories in the Octagon. He was ranked fourteenth to start the night and is closing in on a top-10 spot. It might be high time for the UFC to offer the former kickboxer a serious wrestling test. Which is likely the truest trial by combat to prove Chikadze can be an elite MMA fighter. A booking with unbeaten Bryce Mitchell makes sense next, to see if the Georgian can pass the test of “Thug Nasty’s” grappling gifts.
Inconsistent scoring and the usual bad MMA judging
You had to figure on a card with a boatload of decisions that the judges on-hand would show some patented inconsistency and oddball scoring. They didn’t let us down. On the prelims portion of the card, TJ Brown and Kai Kamaka III battled all over the Octagon in a fight that was a great showcase of the many facets of MMA. It was a competitive bout but one that most, including many in the media that scored the fight on MMADecisions, felt Kamaka III won. However, two judges gave Brown a 29-28 winning score, while Adalaide Byrd gave all three rounds to Kamaka III. It was a massive divergence between those at home and the judges cage side. Yet the inconsistency between judges didn’t end there.
On the main card, the matchup between Ion Cutelaba and Dustin Jacoby ended in a rare split-draw. As each fighter had one judge score the fight for them 29-28, while the third felt Cutelaba won the first round 10-8, then lost the next two frames. There are no changes on the horizon to improve MMA judging, but one can only hope that if odd decisions come, at least the judges are seeing things the same way. They are reading from the same rule book. It should not be like religious or constitutional text that is up to interpretation.
Bonus check cashing
After UFC on ESPN 23, the promotion handed out the usual four bonus checks and Prochazaka scored half of the cash given out. The official bonus winners are as follows.
- Fight of the night bonus winners: Jiri Prochazka and Dominick Reyes
- Performance bonus: Giga Chikadze
- Performance bonus: Jiri Prochazka