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.
Maybe it’s because the temperature has dipped and the rain has returned here in Abbotsford, but it certainly doesn’t feel like we’re gearing up for summer and rapidly approaching the midway point of the year; at least not today.
But alas, gloomy skies overhead or not, the month of May inside the Octagon has come to a close, which not only means that the final month of the first half is on tap, but also that it’s time to roll out some monthly honors in the latest instalment of the Monthly Report.
The awards races are starting to take shape, though some categories can generally only be determined in the back half of the year, but the three events in May added a few more efforts to consider to the submission and knockout categories, and a debuting fighter put himself on the radar in the top newcomer category, as well.
Breakout Performance of the Month: Ikram Aliskerov
Aliskerov had impressed during his win on Dana White’s Contender Series, needing very little time once he got Mario Souza to the canvas to clamp onto a kimura and force the returning Brazilian to tap. His pairing with Phil Hawes at UFC 287 felt like an ideal measuring stick matchup right out of the gate — a tough assignment against a fellow DWCS grad who had enjoyed some previous success in the Octagon, but also wasn’t invincible.
Hawes was sharp and aggressive from the outset, pressing forward in a southpaw stance, taking the fight to the newcomer, who offered little in return through the first 90 seconds. But just prior to the three-minute mark of the opening stanza, Aliskerov landed a one-two that backed Hawes up, and the 30-year-old Russian tucked that data point away in his memory, accessing it again soon after to bring about the finish.
Hawes fired back and was still keen to step forward, but as the action shifted from technical to chaotic, Aliskerov found greater success, dazing his foe with a high kick attempt where his right knee seemed to become the point of impact. Sensing Hawes was hurt, the 30-year-old middleweight swarmed, and after burying a knee into his belly, Aliskerov pulled out that same one-two, putting each on Hawes’ chin in quick succession to secure the first-round stoppage win.
It can be difficult at times to get a sense of where incoming talents fit in their given weight class at the outset of their UFC tenure because so much hinges on the level of competition they faced prior to arriving in the Octagon and who they’re matched up with out of the chute. Aliskerov fought quality competition on the way up and the pairing with Hawes, coupled with the walk-off knockout win, showed the newcomer was definitely someone to keep close tabs on in the middleweight ranks.
His efforts clearly impressed the UFC matchmakers, as a matchup between Aliskerov and former title challenger Paulo Costa is being targeted for the summer. Stopping Hawes showed he’s ready for a step up in competition, and if the fight with Costa comes together and results in another Aliskerov win, he’ll be in the championship mix just two fights into his UFC run, and on the short list of fighters that could take home Newcomer of the Year honors in December.
Submission of the Month: Kennedy Nzechukwu submits Devin Clark (UFC 287)
The 35 bouts that hit the Octagon in May resulted in 19 finishes, but only four of those were submissions. Despite the small sample size, selecting this month’s top sub was simple.
With all due respect to the UFC Charlotte trio of Tainara Lisboa, Alex Morono, and Jailton Almeida, who all squeezed out finishes in “The Queen City,” Nzechukwu’s ninja choke finish on Clark in Newark was going to be tough to dethrone. Whether you want to call it a ninja choke, a modified guillotine, or something else entirely, the execution of this hold by the Fortis MMA representative was flawless, and as soon as he laced up the choke, you knew it was a wrap.
The first round was bonkers — Clark hurt Nzechukwu early, backing him into the fence after connecting flush with a clean right hand, only for the “African Savage” to collect his wits and go on the offensive, finishing the round by taking the fight to Clark and putting him in trouble along the fence. Nzechukwu stayed on the gas to start the second, closing the distance and looking to find success from inside the clinch with knees and elbows.
Kennedy Nzechukwu Post-Fight Interview | UFC 288
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Kennedy Nzechukwu Post-Fight Interview | UFC 288
After fighting his way off the wall, Clark dipped his head, looking for a single leg, and Nzechukwu took full advantage of the tired, half-hearted attempt, maintaining his balance and lacing up the choke before Clark had an opportunity to react. A few seconds later, he was asleep on the canvas, and Nzechukwu was celebrating his third consecutive victory.
It’s taken a little time and a few setbacks along the way, but the 30-year-old light heavyweight is really rounding into form and starting to look like a dangerous dark horse to pay close attention to in the 205-pound weight class.
Knockout of the Month: Diego Ferreira knocks out Michael Johnson (UFC Vegas 73)
Could there be any other choice?
We talk all the time in this sport about “it only takes one” and people landing “the perfect shot,” and this finish was an example of both.
Johnson won the opening round on two of the three judges’ scorecards and looked to be in a good rhythm for much of the contest. He caught Ferreira with a few shots that prompted acknowledgement from the Brazilian in the first, and had just defiantly shucked off his first takedown attempt early in the second round, seemingly closing the door on that particular path to victory for the returning veteran.
But it turned out Ferreira didn’t need to grapple.
After resetting to the center, the two lightweights circled one another, looking for opportunities to let loose with their hands. Both pawed with their lead hands, but then Ferreira stepped forward and uncorked an overhand right that seemed to have laser-guided targeting, as it landed directly on Johnson’s chin, stopping him the instant it connected.
Losing streak over, bonus secured, and a spot on the list of top first-half knockouts guaranteed as well.
The perfect shot.
Fight of the Month: Movsar Evloev vs. Diego Lopes (UFC 287)
Lopes tagged into the matchup at the start of the week, raising his hand to replace Jonathan Pearce in the pairing with the Top 15 featherweight. DWCS fans knew him from his appearance on Season 5 and keen observers recognized him from being in Alexa Grasso’s corner, but few expected him to waltz into the Octagon on short notice and give Evloev much of a test.
And we were wrong.
The Brazilian brought the fight to Evloev and forced the undefeated Russian to dig deep at every turn. Each time it seemed like Evloev was poised to truly seize control of the action and begin distancing himself from Lopes, the late replacement battled back, showcasing his sharp hands, scrambling ability, and an array of submissions and setups. Evloev was able to edge ahead of Lopes and remain a quarter-step in front of his foe for the duration of the fight, but Lopes made him work from the first second of the fight to the last.
This was one of those instances where Evloev took home the hard-earned victory, but Lopes was the real winner, as he showed in 15 minutes that he absolutely belongs in the Octagon with top-end competition. As much as folks will continue to look forward to watching Evloev’s progression up the divisional ladder, plenty will be paying close attention to see when Lopes makes his return to the Octagon, as well.