Kennedy Nzechukwu vs. Ion Cutelaba

While last night’s UFC Fight Night event featured a number of great finishes, it turned out to be a disappointing show in the end. This is largely because the planned main event of Derrick Lewis vs. Sergey Spivak was canceled midway through.

The lack of a true headliner definitely impacted the event. It showed how weak some of these Fight Night cards are, but that didn’t stop some fighters from emerging as big winners. With some of these winners likely to crack the top fifteen in their various weight classes following last night, it should be interesting to see what they do in the future.

Here are the five biggest winners from UFC Fight Night: Kennedy Nzechukwu vs. Ion Cutelaba.

#5. Natalia Silva – defeated Tereza Bleda in a UFC flyweight bout

Natalia Silva looks like she's got the ability to become a contender at 125lbs
Natalia Silva looks like she’s got the ability to become a contender at 125lbs

The opening bout of last night’s event saw flyweight Natalia Silva pick up her second win in the octagon. The bout concluded when she stopped opponent Tereza Bleda early in the third round.

Not only did Silva manage to claim a finish, she did it in some style, too. She dropped her foe with a spinning back kick before sealing the deal with some quick punches on the ground.

The fact that this finish netted Silva a nice $50k bonus was always going to make her one of the night’s big winners. But given that it was also the first spinning back kick finish in any women’s fight in the octagon, it’s likely to make highlight reels for years to come, too.

Should we now consider Silva a contender at 125lbs? She hasn’t beaten anyone of note, admittedly, as Bleda was making her UFC debut last night. However, she is riding a lengthy eight-fight win streak dating back to 2018, and it’s always worth noting that women’s flyweight is a painfully thin division.

No.14-ranked Cynthia Calvillo is coming off four straight defeats and hasn’t won since 2020. So, it’s definitely possible that Silva might find herself ranked come next week, and she could well climb into contention from there. That definitely makes her one of the big winners from last night’s event.

#4. Waldo Cortes-Acosta – defeated Chase Sherman in a UFC heavyweight bout

Waldo Cortes-Acosta has now picked up two octagon wins in less than a month
Waldo Cortes-Acosta has now picked up two octagon wins in less than a month

As Khamzat Chimaev proved in 2020, a surefire way to get into the UFC’s good books is to be willing to take fights on a quick turnaround, particularly if you can win them.

Heavyweight Waldo Cortes-Acosta hasn’t won his last two bouts in the same explosive way that Chimaev did. But the fact that he’s beaten two foes with just three weeks between fights should be enough to make him into a favourite with the promotion’s brass.

Last night’s bout was a decent showing from him as he recovered from a bit of a shaky first round to practically destroy opponent Chase Sherman in the second. The third round, unsurprisingly, saw “Salsa Boy” look tired. While he didn’t manage, he still kept attempting to stop Sherman, only for his foe to prove more durable than many expected.

The win didn’t net Cortes-Acosta a $50k bonus, nor will it move him into the top 15 at heavyweight. However, it should set him up for a strong 2023, given his unbeaten 9-0 record and decent potential. In fact, it wouldn’t be outright surprising to see him fight once more in 2022 first, which would really put him in Dana White’s good books.

#3. Muslim Salikhov – defeated Andre Fialho in a UFC welterweight bout

Muslim Salikhov used a flashy spinning kick to end the night of Andre Fialho
Muslim Salikhov used a flashy spinning kick to end the night of Andre Fialho

Arguably the best finish last night – on the main card, at least – came from welterweight Muslim Salikhov. His bout with Andre Fialho always sounded like it’d be entertaining, and sure enough, in the third round of a fun encounter, “The King of Kung-Fu” delivered in spades.

After hurting Fialho with two spinning attacks in the second round, he uncorked a beautiful spinning wheel kick that left the Portuguese fighter practically out on his feet. From there it didn’t take long for him to seal the deal with some punches.

Remarkably, this was Salikhov’s sixth UFC win in eight bouts, and his third by knockout, too. Given that his only losses have come in his debut and then to Li Jingliang – a legitimate top ten fighter at the time – could this win propel him into the top fifteen at 170lbs?

It’s debatable as the welterweight remains one of the promotion’s most stacked divisions. But to be fair, it should at least put Salikhov in line for a shot at someone ranked in the top fifteen, particularly as he turns 39 years old in 2023 and has no time to waste.

Either way, this was a be autiful knockout that more than earned him a $50k bonus, and he should definitely be considered one of last night’s big winners.

#2. Jack Della Maddalena – defeated Danny Roberts in a UFC welterweight bout

Jack Della Maddalena looks ready for a ranked opponent in his next bout
Jack Della Maddalena looks ready for a ranked opponent in his next bout

The fighter who perhaps enhanced his standing in terms of moving into contention more than any other last night was Australian prospect Jack Della Maddalena. Faced with his toughest test to date in the form of veteran Danny Roberts, Maddalena wasted no time in making an impact.

He dropped “Hot Chocolate” after basically the first exchange of the fight. While the British fighter was able to fight back to his feet, it didn’t take long for the Aussie to back him into the fence. He then swarmed him with a combination that eventually put Roberts away.

Some parts of his skillset remain largely untested; namely his ground game and also his gas tank. But it’s clear that Maddalena has everything required to break into the elite level at 170lbs. He’s big, fast, hits remarkably hard, and has a brutal killer instinct.

After the bout, Maddalena called for a fight at UFC 284 in his hometown of Perth in February, and it’s highly likely that the promotion will oblige. Given he’s now on a 13-fight win streak and has knocked out three foes in a row in the octagon, that fight ought to be against a ranked opponent, giving him a chance to break out as a real star.

#1. Kennedy Nzechukwu – defeated Ion Cutelaba in a UFC light-heavyweight bout

Kennedy Nzechukwu came out on top in his first headline bout
Kennedy Nzechukwu came out on top in his first headline bout

There’s no disputing that the big winner from last night’s event was Kennedy Nzechukwu. His light-heavyweight bout with Ion Cutelaba was moved into the headline slot on last-minute notice and said bout saw him make a thrilling comeback win.

“The African Savage” struggled somewhat with Cutelaba’s ground game in the opening round. But when “The Hulk” began to slow down in the second round, it didn’t take Nzechukwu long to take over.

He hurt Cutelaba with a knee in the early going of the round, and then landed another, even bigger one later on that turned the Moldovan fighter’s legs to jelly. From there, “The African Savage” closed in and sealed the deal with some violent punches.

The win was Nzechukwu’s second in a row in the UFC, and moved his overall record there to 5-3. That isn’t anything special if we’re honest, but when you consider that he arguably came to the promotion a little too soon – forcing him to basically learn on the job – it becomes more impressive.

Will it be enough to net him a spot in the top fifteen next week? It’s definitely possible, and in fact, at the age of just 30, the Nigerian could well make a real climb into contention if he can continue to round out his skills next year. Nobody saw it coming prior to last night, but in the end, this UFC event belonged to Nzechukwu.

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