The UFC Monthly Report is a feature that will highlight some of the best performances from the previous month of action inside the Octagon, spotlighting outstanding finishes and fights, breakout competitors, and talented new arrivals, in an effort to keep track of competitors and performances that could end up on the Half-Year and Year-End Awards.
July is always a busy month inside the Octagon and this year was even more jam-packed as the month kicked off on a Saturday, meaning there were five events to pull award candidates from this time around.
But if I’m being honest, settling on the winners for each category this month wasn’t difficult. Sure, there were plenty of worthy performances and, for the first time in the brief history of this series, I’m going to include some Honorable Mentions because I want to tip my cap to all the talented athletes that showed out in July, but those taking home the fictitious statues were easy to select.
So let’s get to it, shall we?
Breakout Performance: Rinat Fakhretdinov
A great deal of focus was being committed to Fakhretdinov’s opponent, Kevin Lee, heading into their battle on the first of the month, and understandably so: he was returning to the promotion after some time away, had previously fought for the interim lightweight title, and had always profiled as someone capable (and maybe even expected) to challenge for championship gold again in the future.
As such, the final preliminary card fight on the first event of July became a perfect breakout opportunity for Fakhretdinov, who had earned dominant, wrestling-heavy decision wins over Andreas Michailidis and Bryan Battle in each of his first two UFC appearances.
Against Lee, the streaking 31-year-old Russian needed to just 55 seconds to secure his third straight UFC win and 20th consecutive victory overall.
A straight right hand put Lee on the canvas, and as he looked to wrestle up, Fakhretdinov latched on to a guillotine choke that put the returning “Motown Phenom” to sleep.
Now 3-0 in the UFC and brandishing a bevy of dangerous weapons, “Gladiator” is going to be seeking a Top 15 dance partner very soon, and there aren’t going to be many folks eager to accept that invitation.
Honorable Mentions: Grant Dawson, Nursulton Riziboev, Dricus Du Plessis, Denise Gomes, Jesus Aguilar, Gabriel Bonfim
Submission of the Month: Mayra Bueno Silva submits Holly Holm (UFC Vegas 77)
There is a tendency in the MMA media space to downplay the importance of results when they come against fighters that have fallen out of favor within the online community, and it feels like that is what happened with Bueno Silva’s second-round submission win over Holm in the middle of the month.
“Sheetara” pushed her record to 4-0 since moving to the bantamweight ranks by collecting a ninja choke finish of the former champion just 33 seconds in the second round, taking advantage of a head position mistake by Holm to lock up the choke. But because folks have soured on the 41-year-old perennial contender, the magnitude of this victory has been greatly downplayed.
Mayra Bueno Silva Octagon Interview | UFC Fight Night: Holm vs Bueno Silva
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Mayra Bueno Silva Octagon Interview | UFC Fight Night: Holm vs Bueno Silva
Holm doesn’t lose to anyone that isn’t a contender — her record shows that — and she’d only been submitted once before, in the final round of her UFC 196 title fight with Miesha Tate. She’d only been finished one other time since then as well, and that came against “The Lioness” Amanda Nunes, so clearly, Bueno Silva put herself in some pretty heady company by getting this done well inside the distance.
In addition to submitting Holm, Bueno Silva rolled into her post-fight media availability and took aim at former champ Julianna Pena, who had some thoughts on the Brazilian’s performance and post-fight call out. She’s continued making her case for a championship opportunity ever since and her effort against Holm could very well make her the favorite in a fight with Pena or any other top contender should one come together before the end of the year.
Honorable Mentions: Fakhretdinov vs. Lee, Julija Stoliarenko vs. Molly McCann, Jafel Filho vs. Daniel Barez, Bobby Green vs. Tony Ferguson, Kevin Holland vs. Michael Chiesa, Gabriel Bonfim vs. Trevin Giles
Knockout of the Month: Justin Gaethje knocks out Dustin Poirier (UFC 291)
I have a feeling this one is going to end up on the podium at the end of the year, so it was a no-doubt-about-it selection here. But let’s unpack this a little, because it’s such a tremendous knockout for a multitude of reasons.
First, it’s a technically beautiful finish — a same side high kick that Poirier didn’t really expect, that still landed flush enough through a partial guard to put “The Diamond” on the canvas.
Secondly, what a way to close out a fight for the BMF title and get even with a guy that knocked you out in the past. I mean, this evened things out between Gaethje and Poirier in terms of their personal series, cemented Gaethje as one of the most exciting fighters in UFC history, and probably took away whatever last bit of sting lingered from his previous loss to Poirier.
Finally, you can’t overlook how eerie it is that the last two pay-per-view events at Delta Center in Salt Lake City have been finished by the same kick, just from different sides! Oh, and the guy that was on the receiving end of the first one, Kamaru Usman, is Gaethje’s main training partner and was there with him on Saturday.
Just an insane finish for so many reasons and the unquestioned winner of this award.
Honorable Mentions: Ruziboev vs. Brunno Ferreira, Robbie Lawler vs. Niko Price, Jesus Aguilar vs. Shannon Ross, Roman Kopylov vs. Claudio Ribeiro
Fight of the Month: Brandon Moreno vs. Alexandre Pantoja (UFC 290)
Competitive main events and championship fights are always going to hold an advantage in this category — whether here or in year-end awards settings — because five rounds just creates greater tension and drama.
Even though this fight wasn’t a non-stop wave of high points and thrilling action, there was plenty of back-and-forth between the two throughout, and at no point did anyone feel particularly comfortable with declaring one of the two men as being in control. Moreno and Pantoja traded rounds and moments, neither ever seizing a considerable or convincing advantage in the ultra-close, incredibly competitive battle for the flyweight title; the champion navigated tricky spots with the challenger on his back, the Brazilian never wavering in the face of his Mexican rival’s constant pressure.
Some people got up in arms about the final tallies from the judges, but the reality is that this was an incredibly close fight between two elite competitors, one that absolutely should fall in the Top 10 of every year-end list in December.
And if they wanted to do it again, I certainly wouldn’t complain.
Honorable Mentions: Elves Brener vs. Guram Kutateladze, Dan Hooker vs. Jalin Turner, Jack Della Maddalena vs. Bassil Hafez, Nathaniel Wood vs. Andre Fili
UFC 291: Poirier vs Gaethje 2 took place live from the Delta Center in Salt Lake City, Utah on July 29, 2023. See the Final Results, Official Scorecards and Who Won Bonuses - and relive the action on UFC Fight Pass!