The Vanquished: What’s Next for the UFC on ESPN 56 Losers?

It is beyond doubt that the Ultimate Fighting Championship’s second visit to St. Louis, Missouri delivered a dynamic card that eclipsed the organization’s first trip back in January 2018. The action at UFC on ESPN 56 kicked off vibrantly towards afternoon’s end, starting with a bang, and remained entertaining throughout, with five finishes, a number of breakthrough efforts, and a stellar confluence of bouts to send us back to the Apex in Las Vegas for one more bill before UFC 302 assumes the forefront. In the aftermath of the event, we look at some matchmaking options for the fighters on the main card who found themselves in the losing column.

Robelis Despaigne

Despaigne ventured past the opening round for the first time in his career in the main card opener, and unlike his last five assignments, the judges were required to determine the winner on this one. The hard-hitting Taekwondo maven flooded out of the gates in a blitzkrieg to collect another first-round win. Waldo Cortes-Acosta withstood the assault and took the fight to the canvas to test his opponent’s ground skills. From there, the pair engaged in a low-output, grappling-heavy battle, with “Salsa Boy” getting the better of the exchanges and landing the more telling blows throughout the contest. In the end, all three judges scored the contest 30-27, 30-27, 30-26 in Cortes-Acosta’s favor.

This loss is a mere pinprick in a future ripe with promise for Despaigne. The UFC should consider the idea of pairing “The Bad Boy” against someone like Jhonata Diaz, an undefeated prospect who scored an emphatic second-round knockout victory over Austen Lane at UFC on ESPN 55. The construct of a duel between the contrasting striking disciplines of Despaigne’s Taekwondo skills and Diaz’s kickboxing prowess makes for a thrilling face-off.

Alex Caceres

Hometown triumph cast a pang of despair for Caceres who succumbed to a unanimous decision loss against Sean Woodson. Caceres, renowned for his striking acumen, was struggling against Woodson’s reach and unorthodox striking in the first round. “Bruce Leeroy” seemingly had Woodson’s patterns pegged in the second, but “The Sniper” was quick to assimilate a fresh look that stifled Caceres yet again. The third round progressed similarly as the judges handed a 29-28, 29-28, and 30-27 verdict on Woodson’s side, sending Caceres to a second straight loss.

At 35, the Miami native is not out of steam yet, but it goes without saying that he’s past his prime and at this stage of his career, Caceres will only benefit from well-matched opportunities. Enter Jonathan Pearce, who’s weathering congruent career woes with two straight losses. Pearce was last seen in action against David Onama, a fight that he lost by unanimous decision.

Mateusz Rebecki

The old dog still has some gas left in his tank and some punches to throw: 39-year-old Diego Ferreira quashed Rebecki's 16-fight winning streak with an emphatic third-round stoppage.

Rebecki looked unstoppable in the first round, landing at will and hurting his foe with a left hand that dropped Ferreira with a little over a minute left. Rebecki tried to end matters with his ground strikes, but Ferreira recovered and made it out of the round. In the subsequent round, the Brazilian unleashed his offense with a series of combinations that overwhelmed an already depleted Rebecki. He persistently advanced forward with volume striking and the damage started showing up on his opponent’s face. The decisive moment transpired in the third round when Ferreira scooped a takedown and began blasting away at Rebecki from the top with vicious ground and pound. The referee was forced to intervene with just 9 seconds left in the fight.

It would make sense for the organization to rebook Rebecki’s previous assignment against Nurullo Aliev, which collapsed in November 2023 after the latter injured his leg. “Tajik Eagle,” a 9-0 undefeated prospect, has only fought once under the UFC banner, scraping out a majority decision win over Rafael Alves at UFC Fight Night 220.

Alonzo Menifield

A brash effort to rush the fight’s conclusion proved to be counterproductive for Menifield, who was at the receiving end of the third-fastest finish in UFC light heavyweight history against Carlos Ulberg. Menifield rushed at Ulberg with a brisk onslaught that initiated a volley of punches. The New Zealander dropped Menifield twice with haymakers before the referee stepped in to call an end to the contest at the 0:12 mark of the first round.

Menifield can be confronted with the challenge of undefeated Russian prospect Azamat Murzakanov next. Murzakanov holds a 13-0 record and was forced out of two previous bookings in 2023 against Volkan Oezdemir and Khalil Rountree Jr. Respectively. The fight will be an exciting opportunity for both fighters to establish their claim in divisional rankings and for Menifield, a potential victory over an undefeated fighter can make up for lost progress.

Nursulton Ruziboev

The roaring St. Louis crowd united behind one of their own as Joaquin Buckley scored a unanimous decision win over Ruziboev in the co-main event of the proceedings. Buckley deviated from his standard striking flurries to scoop a takedown that sent the fans into a frenzy. The American was determined to dictate the tone of the fight all while still managing to keep the bout as entertaining as possible. Buckley landed an explosive knockdown as Ruziboev attempted a flying knee before both fighters swung it out to close out a high-output opening round. It was rinse and repeat after that as Buckley pressured for a takedown every time he felt that the control of the fight was slipping away from him. Ruziboev was active in fits and starts, landing a couple of knees, but the patchy effort wasn’t strong enough to rattle “New Mansa.” In the final frame, Buckley managed to drop Ruziboev with a left hand, unleash punishing strikes from the top, and dominate the bulk of the round that led to a 30-27, 30-26, and 29-27 unanimous decision triumph on the judges’ scorecards.

Ruziboev has been a busy man this year, competing twice already in quick succession. The UFC can look at pairing the Uzbek against Kevin Jousset, a 2-0 undefeated striking dynamo on the roster. The Frenchman hasn’t fought since his victory over Song Kenan in December 2023 and had his fight on the St. Louis card against Jared Gooden canceled after “Nite Train” was forced to pull out of the contest due to medical reasons.

Rodrigo Nascimento

Derrick Lewis scored the fifteenth KO/ TKO victory of his career in the main event of UFC on ESPN 56 against Nascimento. Lewis entertained the crowd with a head kick and a takedown that he landed in the first round. The American also managed to hurt Nascimento with a right hand. However, the Brazilian managed to score a takedown of his own that offered him breathing space to regroup. Nascimento’s clinch work started taking over the second frame while Lewis struggled to mount the success of the preceding round’s output. The decisive moment came in the third round as a looping right hand stunned Nascimento forcing the referee to intervene after a series of unanswered ground strikes.

“Yogi Bear” can be paired up against fellow Brazilian Marcos Rogerio de Lima next for a fight between the sequentially ranked fighters. De Lima is ranked No. 14 in the division and is coming off a TKO loss to Junior Tafa at UFC 298. Both fighters have a loss against Lewis on their record and let’s be honest, who wouldn’t want to see two strong sluggers going at it?


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