Stock Report: UFC on ESPN 23

By Ben Duffy May 3, 2021
Image: Ben Duffy/ illustration

Sign up for ESPN+ right here, and you can then stream the UFC live on your smart TV, computer, phone, tablet or streaming device via the ESPN app.

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.

STOCK UP: Jiri Prochazka

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's 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.

STOCK UP: Giga Chikadze

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.

STOCK UP: Merab Dvalishvili

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.

STOCK DOWN: Dominick Reyes

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.

STOCK DOWN: K.B. Bhullar

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.

<h2>Fight Finder</h2>