On Saturday night, the mixed martial arts leader returned for its latest event, UFC Fight Night: Mackenzie Dern vs. Angela Hill.
After entertaining visits to Newark and Charlotte, the promotion was unfortunately back at the Apex facility for its May 20 offering. Perhaps also contributing to a lack of major anticipation for the card was the makeshift main event, which came after original headliner Irene Aldana was drafted in to fight for the title against Amanda Nunes next month.
With the Mexican’s rematch against Raquel Pennington scrapped, strawweight contenders Dern and Hill had their planned collision last week in North Carolina pushed back a week and placed in a bigger spotlight.
While not exactly a blockbuster card-topper, Dern’s elite Brazilian jiu-jitsu always places some memorable grappling exchanges on the table and “Overkill” certainly doesn’t shy away from a fight.
A number of undercard athletes also looked set to push Saturday’s event into ‘sleeper card’ territory, including promising flyweight prospect Natália Silva, owner of one of the all-time best knockouts Joaquin Buckley, former title challenger Karolina Kowalkiewicz, and notable middleweights Edmen Shahbazyan and Anthony Hernandez.
So, did all those names come together to put on an entertaining night of action inside the Octagon? Let’s find out with all the positives and negatives from UFC Fight Night: Dern vs. Hill.
Tonight’s FULL #UFCVegas73 lineup looking 🔥🔥
[ B2YB @SonyPictures ] pic.twitter.com/g4xK3FwcPC
— UFC (@ufc) May 20, 2023
Negative – Further Evidence
It seems the topic of watered down UFC content is receiving more and more attention. On paper, Saturday’s card did little to quell that conversation.
Remarkably, UFC Fight Night: Dern vs. Hill saw just two ranked fighters take to the Octagon — the two strawweights who headlined. With that, only one of 12 bouts that went down in the Apex boasted stakes within a divisional top 15.
Now, I’ll be the first to say that a number next to a name doesn’t equal entertainment, intrigue, or enthralling action (as this event actually proved in a big way). But it says something about the current state of the promotion’s cards that the first 11 bouts went by without the appearance of a ranked fighter.
Of course, that didn’t mean there weren’t notable names — Edmen Shahbazyan is a formerly ranked contender who has headlined a UFC Fight Night before and Natália Silva is one of the hottest prospects on the roster. But should they be two of the most interesting names on a card hosted by the sport’s leader? I think most would suggest not.
With that arises the age-old question: are weekly cards worth it for watered down lineups? It’s worth a thought.
Positive – Dominance Personified
To put it simply, Natália Silva’s standup game is a thing of beauty.
Normally, when the card’s biggest favorite delivers as expected, it tends not to be noteworthy. But what Silva did inside the cage on Saturday night didn’t fit into that bracket.
Not many prospects have announced their arrival as emphatically as the Brazilian flyweight has. At UFC Fight Night: Dern vs. Hill, she made the walk on MMA’s biggest stage for just the third time, maintaining her unblemished promotional record with a second straight knockout.
And without being disrespectful to Victoria Leonardo, she did so with absolute ease…
From the very first second, Silva pieced Leonardo up on the feet, using her agility and major speed advantage to good use. The 33-year-old New Jersey native sustained so much damage through two minutes and 58 seconds that the referee had to intervene to save her with a standing TKO.
With that, Silva followed up one of 2022’s best KOs by delivering one of the most dominant displays seen inside the Octagon to date in 2023.
She is the real deal and it won’t be surprising to see her fighting for gold down the line. In the meantime, we look set for some more striking clinics as she climbs the ranks.
Now an undefeated 3-0 in the Octagon!
Natalia Silva got the job done early at #UFCVegas73 👏 pic.twitter.com/CIfwHb9NHp
— UFC (@ufc) May 20, 2023
Positive – A Career-Best Display
Well, I certainly didn’t have ‘Chase Hooper to outstrike his opponent by 150 shots and record the third-highest tally of total strikes in UFC lightweight three-round history’ on my bingo card…
In six fights as a UFC featherweight, Hooper had shown his talents on the mat but also his major deficiencies on the feet. In his final outing at 145 pounds, the 23-year-old Washington native was knocked out in less than two minutes and looked like a fish out of water.
In his lightweight debut, however, that was far from the case.
Of course, it’s difficult to assess where his game is at given opponent Nick Fiore’s inexperience, but Hooper dominated throughout with a striking display that didn’t come too far short of record-breaking.
Not bad for a divisional debut, right?
Beyond just the possible advancement in his game, Hooper’s victory showed his mental strength. To bounce back from a devastating loss with success in a new weight class is no easy feat.
Absolute pace clinic by Chase Hooper. Welcome back to the win column! #UFCVegas73 pic.twitter.com/LTq2av0epZ
— MMANews (@mmanews_com) May 20, 2023
Positive – Slava Claus
Great nickname, great knockout, great celebration; what’s not to love about Viacheslav Borschev?
“Slava Claus” put in one of the best performances at UFC Fight Night: Dern vs. Hill, but it didn’t come without some adversity.
In the first round, Borschev was the victim of a gruesome eye poke that left blood spilling down his face. For a while, as the doctor struggled to identify the source of the stream, it appeared that the fight was in danger of coming to a premature end.
Thankfully for the Russian, he was able to continue, and he met that allowance with pure violence.
After flooring opponent Maheshate multiple times, Borschev closed the show with a truly brutal right hand that snapped the Chinese fighter’s head back and seemingly left his nose all kinds of busted up.
Having suffered consecutive defeats, it was good to see “Slava Claus” back in the win column. And courtesy of his entertaining post-fight celebration, we were all winners…
SLAVA CLAUS DOES IT AGAIN!!@ViacheslavBors1 back in the win column with a finish to close the prelims! #UFCVegas73 pic.twitter.com/cd5yEEOL16
— UFC (@ufc) May 20, 2023
Positive – Woah.
If I was to be told that one of Diego Ferreira or Michael Johnson would be left stiff as a board on the Octagon floor following how round one of their main card-opening clash on Saturday played out, I’d have said it would be the Brazilian with 90% confidence.
With that in mind, you can picture my (and I imagine everyone else’s) surprise as Ferreira starched Johnson with one of the most brutal overhand shots in recent memory.
The first round wasn’t exactly dominance from “The Menace,” but there was little doubt that he was getting the better of exchanges. In that regard, he won the battle but not the war, as they say.
In round two, the Brazilian likely secured his place in year-end KO compilations by sleeping Johnson right in front of his corner. The blow and Johnson’s subsequent fall certainly fell into the category of ‘scary’.
While he’ll reflect on what went wrong inside the Apex, Ferreira will no doubt be celebrating the end of a difficult run of form that saw him lose three straight. And as far as bounce-back wins go, they don’t come more emphatic than the 38-year-old’s exploits in Las Vegas on Saturday night.
DIEGO FERREIRA PUT MICHAEL JOHNSON TO SLEEP 😱 #UFCVegas73 pic.twitter.com/JyrHgkGo8N
— ESPN MMA (@espnmma) May 20, 2023
Negative – Erm, Ref?
If I were a UFC fighter who just got knocked out, the last man I would want responsible for preventing further damage is Kerry Hatley.
Before getting into his horror show, it’s worth noting Joaquin Buckley’s victory.
Aside from the unnecessary late shot (more on that shortly), “New Mansa” impressed in his new division. Having been responsible for a number of memorable knockouts at middleweight, he continued that trend at 170 pounds by sleeping André Fialho with a brutal head kick.
Although the finish itself should be worthy of a positive, it was somewhat overshadowed by what followed the head kick.
The Portuguese fighter was quite obviously done, and the referee appeared to acknowledge as much — sort of. Rather than putting his body in front of Buckley and firmly ending his offense, however, Hatley looked more like a soccer steward putting in a half-hearted attempt to stop a pitch invasion and realizing they don’t get paid enough to tackle spectators.
Only, instead of a few people getting onto a field, Hatley’s lackadaisical attitude led to a defenseless fighter eating a brutal follow-up shot. The worst part was the Texan official giving a shocked look at Buckley as if he’d jumped in and waved off proceedings.
Of course, some blame does go to Buckley.
The ref had made physical contact with him when he decided to fire another shot, which was obviously not needed. But without a clear-cut stoppage, it’s difficult to put more blame at the fighter’s doorstep over the third man in the cage, whose eyes were evidently somewhere they shouldn’t have been.
Hello, Hatley? Anyone home? For the sake of the fighters, hesitancy like that just can’t happen.
Try to pay attention Ref ffs
— SevereMMA.com (@SevereMMA) May 20, 2023
Another contributing factor to this negative is the headbutt that came seconds before the KO. Fialho was struck hard but didn’t take any time to recover. It’s possible that the aftermath of the foul may have played a part in the ultimate fight-ending shot, and that’s never ideal.
Positive – War Dern
Remind me not to piss off Mackenzie Dern, who fought like a woman possessed in Saturday’s main event.
In the past, the Arizona-born Brazilian jiu-jitsu specialist has been criticized for her poor takedown entries and sloppy striking, deficiencies which contributed to headline losses against Marina Rodriguez and Yan Xiaonan.
At UFC Fight Night 224, she combatted those by pairing a few things together — her foot and the pedal, and caution and wind…
Suffice to say, we’ve never seen the Dern who entered the cage against Angela Hill. From the opening seconds, she was incredibly aggressive and looked intent on putting a beating on her opponent.
Well, consider that mission accomplished.
While “Overkill” found success in round two to bounce back from a battering worthy of a 10-8 in round one, Dern utterly gazumped (that’s a word, right?) her for the remainder, raining down ground-and-pound shots with such dominance that even a 10-8 didn’t seem to do round three justice.
Of course, Hill doesn’t mark the level of competition that Dern has fallen to in the past, but for her to school the 38-year-old veteran in every realm of the fight game en route to a convincing unanimous decision was impressive.
In the past, Dern has appeared to have tunnel vision when it comes to pursuing submissions on the ground. But on Saturday, she showed the addition of some heavy and relentless ground-and-pound.
An evolving and more aggressive Dern is good news for fans, and perhaps provides the recipe that’s been missing when it comes to the BJJ ace breaking through into title contention.
Big performance, BIG win for @MackenzieDern!
She tkaes our #UFCVegas73 main event by unanimous decision 👏 pic.twitter.com/RVsgSFuyjv
— UFC (@ufc) May 21, 2023