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Sean O'Malley reacts after his knockout victory over Aljamain Sterling in the UFC bantamweight championship fight during the UFC 292 event at TD Garden on August 19, 2023 in Boston, Massachusetts. (Photo by Cooper Neill/Zuffa LLC via Getty Images)
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UFC MONTHLY REPORT | AUGUST 2023

The UFC Monthly Report Highlights Some Of The Best Performances From The Previous Month Of Action Inside The Octagon.

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.

After five events in July, another four hit the Octagon in August, as the UFC made stops in Nashville, Boston, and Singapore with a home game at the APEX dropped in between those final two destinations.

It was an interesting month that saw a title change hands, a legend walk away, a couple different history-making efforts we’ll discuss here momentarily, and a bunch of newer, emerging names deliver the kinds of efforts that should make you pay close attention to them going forward.

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Exactly half of the fights that hit the UFC cage ended in stoppages, including every preliminary card fight on that lone show at the UFC APEX, and some familiar names turned in big performances, capped by Max Holloway’s outstanding and emotional win over Chan Sung Jung this past Saturday in Singapore.

The final month of the summer was entertaining all the way through, and these are the athletes and performances that resonated with me the most.

Breakout Performance: Diego Lopes

Diego Lopes of Brazil secures a triangle arm bar submission against Gavin Tucker of Canada in a featherweight fight during the UFC Fight Night event at Bridgestone Arena on August 05, 2023 in Nashville, Tennessee. (Photo by Jeff Bottari/Zuffa LLC)
Diego Lopes of Brazil secures a triangle arm bar submission against Gavin Tucker of Canada in a featherweight fight during the UFC Fight Night event at Bridgestone Arena on August 05, 2023 in Nashville, Tennessee. (Photo by Jeff Bottari/Zuffa LLC)

Lopes’ stock skyrocketed earlier this year when he stepped in against unbeaten, ranked featherweight Movsar Evloev on ridiculously short notice and promptly gave the Russian standout all he could handle.

But situations like that are always tricky to follow up because how do you know that the element of surprise and lack of preparation didn’t play a major factor in how things played out? Additionally, there were no expectations of Lopes heading into that contest — most assumed he would get steamrolled, honestly — but now he had that effort to live up to in his first full-camp appearance opposite the returning Newfoundlander Gavin Tucker.

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So what did Lopes do for an encore?

Well, after taking a hard kick below the belt and a minute to stop feeling like he was going to be sick to his stomach, Lopes was back up and engaging, jumping into a triangle choke as soon as Tucker looked for a single leg, adjusting to a gnarly armbar that halted the action just 98 seconds into the contest.

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This was the kind of effort that made it crystal clear that his performance against Evloev was as much about the skills, talent, and dangerous style he brings to the cage as anything else. Lopes has quickly — and rightfully, I may add — become a fan favorite, and this win, coupled with his strong showing earlier in the year, should have him on the cusp of breaking into the rankings and facing another established name next time out.

Honorable Mentions: Assu Almabayev, Marcus McGhee, Isaac Dulgarian, Da’Mon Blackshear, Luana Santos, Natalia Silva, Karine Silva, Garrett Armfield, Billy Goff

Submission of the Month: Da’Mon Blackshear submits Jose Johnson (UFC Vegas 78)

Blackshear Scores Just The Third Twister Victory In UFC History At UFC Fight Night: Luque vs RDA

There were some terrific submission finishes this past month, both in terms of divisional significance and value within a given contest, and straight up cool factor, like Lopes’ triangle armbar on Tucker, Tatiana Suarez catching a guillotine on Jessica Andrade, and Martin Buday hitting a kimura on Josh Parisian, but when you connect on the third twister submission in UFC history, you have to win the Submission of the Month award.

Blackshear set up and locked up the rare finish on Johnson in the opening round, taking advantage of the Dana White’s Contender Series alum’s slow recognition of the precarious position he was in. Granted, it’s not like competitors are forced to defend twisters on the regular in the cage — and perhaps not often in the gym, either — but the broadcast team saw this finish being set up and before Johnson could react, Blackshear was turning his torso into a damp wash cloth that needed to be wrung out.

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This was a great finish from Blackshear, who fought outstanding competition on the regional circuit before going without a victory in his first two UFC appearances. He got his first win earlier this year against Luan Lacerda, and a second consecutive victory here before hustling back into action seven days later and giving ascending bantamweight Mario Bautista all he could handle at UFC 292 in Boston.

The “Monster” is a dangerous assignment for anyone in the 135-pound ranks, and this performance should make that clear to everyone.

Honorable Mentions: Tatiana Suarez vs. Jessica Andrade, Lopes vs. Tucker, Carlston Harris vs. Jeremiah Wells, Iasmin Lucindo vs. Polyana Viana, Martin Buday vs. Josh Parisian, Kurt Holobaugh vs. Austin Hubbard, Karine Silva vs. Maryna Moroz

Knockout of the Month: Sean O’Malley stops Aljamain Sterling (UFC 292)

Sean O'Malley reacts after his knockout victory over Aljamain Sterling in the UFC bantamweight championship fight during the UFC 292 event at TD Garden on August 19, 2023 in Boston, Massachusetts. (Photo by Cooper Neill/Zuffa LLC)
Sean O'Malley reacts after his knockout victory over Aljamain Sterling in the UFC bantamweight championship fight during the UFC 292 event at TD Garden on August 19, 2023 in Boston, Massachusetts. (Photo by Cooper Neill/Zuffa LLC)

Whatever lingering questions anyone had about Sean O’Malley and his ability to compete with the best bantamweights in the world were cleared up in Boston, as “Sugar” claimed UFC gold with a laser-sighted right hand and some follow-up blows to stop Aljamain Sterling.

While officially a technical knockout, this had to be the selection here, as it not only ushered in a changing of the guard atop the bantamweight division, but elevated O’Malley’s already sky-high profile to another level entirely.

View Sean O'Malleys' Athlete Profile

And it was a beautiful finish, as well.

Sterling pressed forward, lunging with a left hand that O’Malley saw coming. He slid back out of the way and quickly uncorked a right hand that connected flush, sending the champion to the canvas. It was a clean, crisp shot that would have put anyone down, and the follow-up blows quickly ended the fight.

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This is the thing that makes the new bantamweight champion so special and so dangerous — the smooth blend of precision striking, deft footwork, and quick, powerful hands. He’s not the first person to land a counter like this, nor will he be the last, but the sharpness to his execution is ridiculously impressive and cannot be undervalued.

As soon as Sterling reached, O’Malley was chambering the shot and, if you asked him, I bet the “Funk Master” would tell you that he knew he’d made a grave mistake. O’Malley lands the front kick to the midsection, Sterling lunges forward with a looping, reaching left, and KA-POW — a right hand, swinging downward at the chin finds the mark and we’ve got a new champion.

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Heavy is the head that wears the crown, and remaining on top is more difficult than getting there, but O’Malley silenced any remaining doubters with this performance, and I absolutely cannot wait to see what he does now that he’s the UFC bantamweight champion.

Honorable Mentions: Khalil Rountree Jr. vs. Chris Daukaus, Marcus McGhee vs. JP Buys, Max Holloway vs. Chan Sung Jung, Waldo Cortes Acosta vs. Lukasz Brzeski

Fight of the Month: Brad Katona vs. Cody Gibson (UFC 292)

I fully expected the TUF 31 lightweight finale to be an action-packed affair, simply because Kurt Holobaugh is a pressure fighter with a penchant for finishes, and he showed that in submitting Austin Hubbard.

What I didn’t anticipate, however, was Katona and Gibson standing for the entirety of this fight on the feet, smashing each other with sledgehammers for 15 minutes.

Combined, they landed 324 significant strikes over three rounds — Katona landing at a 51% clip and Gibson besting that by 10 percent — and combined with the ebbs and flows in momentum and Katona being painted in his own blood for the majority of the contest, it made for a wildly entertaining, back-and-forth battle.

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Gibson came out of the gates hot, taking the fight to the Canadian, who now resides in Dublin, but Katona took everything he had to offer and countered back in kind while dealing with a cut on the side of his head that tinted everything red. The difference throughout the fight was Katona’s stamina and conditioning, as he was just able to maintain a slightly better clip, with a little more jam on his punches as the fight progressed, especially down the stretch.

In salting away the unanimous decision win, the 31-year-old became the first person to win two seasons of The Ultimate Fighter, adding the Season 31 bantamweight title to the Season 27 featherweight title he claimed earlier in his career.

View The Athlete Profiles: Brad Katona | Cody Gibson

While nothing will ever have the promotional significance of Griffin vs. Bonnar on Spike TV again, this was as close as we’ve gotten to a comparable fight, and it should be included in the Fight of the Year discussions come December.

Honorable Mentions: Billy Quarantillo vs. Damon Jackson, Giga Chikadze vs. Alex Caceres