Tsarukyan Stole Show as Best Moment of December 2023 MMA Events

December 30, 2023
2 months

The last UFC pay-per-view of the year, UFC 296, was great until the two championship fights. The battles between Alexandre Pantoja and Brandon Royval and the bout between Leon Edwards and Colby Covington were one-sided, technical decisions for the champions. But while the final fights of the year weren’t the most entertaining to watch, there was plenty of excitement.

Arman Tsarukyan melted fellow top-10 lightweight contender Beneil Dariush with a knee, followed with punches just 1 minute, 4 seconds into their fight on Dec. 2, 2023, at the Moody Center in Austin, Texas. The Republic of Georgia-born fighter is an interesting potential challenger for Islam Makhachev.

When Tsarukyan debuted in the UFC, his first fight was against Makhachev. While Makhachev won a comfortable decision, many people felt Tsarukyan had given him a tough battle. Charles Oliveira is supposed to be the next man up, but Tsarukyan is 21-3 in his career and has won three straight fights, according to MMAfighting latest news.

December capped off what was a wild year in MMA, with many things changing across the sport. Although everyone is looking forward to some of the scheduled championship bouts in 2024, here’s a look back at some of the best moments across the sport in December.

Knockout of the Month: Emmett Rattles Mitchell’s Ancestors

Former interim title challenger, Josh Emmett is known for being one of the heaviest punchers in the featherweight division. There will be no shaking that reputation after his performance at UFC 296. Matched up against another top 10 contender and strong grappler in Bryce Mitchell, Emmett wanted to avoid going to the mat.

The only one that ended up hitting the mat was Mitchell. As Mitchell attempted to move with his back to the cage, Emmett landed one stiff shot that sent Mitchell straight to the mat and knocked him unconscious. Emmette was able to pull up and not land any follow-up shots.

The impact was so significant that Mtichell was convulsing on the ground as referee Herb Dean and the medical staff attended to him. He was shaken so severely that they walked him out of the octagon, and he wasn’t there as the official result was announced.

This was the second time Mitchell had taken a vicious knockout in his career. Mitchell was also knocked out by Ilia Topuria, who beat Emmett in a five-round decision during his last fight, according to MMA breaking news.

Submission of the Month: Rakhmonov Cements Status as Top Contender 

Belal Muhammad will tell anyone who will listen that he should be the next person to fight Edwards for the welterweight title. After ten consecutive wins, it’s hard to blame him for feeling that way. However, Shavkat Rakhmonov’s continued ascent through the division may push Muhammad’s opportunity further down the line.

Rakhmonov suffered a ligament tear weeks before his UFC 296 fight with Stephen Thompson. He nearly decided to pull out of the fight. However, Rakhmonov decided to fight the former title challenger and still dominated the veteran striker. In the second round, Rakhmonov was able to drag Thompson to the mat and win by rear-naked choke.

Rakhmonov’s injury was so bad he couldn’t throw kicks. However, he was still able to grapple effectively and put away Thompson. Rakhmonov is 18-0 in MMA and has finished every fight. With his finish-heavy style, Rakhmonov may be looking at a title shot against Edwards sooner rather than later.

Fight of the Month: Aldana Shows What She Is Made of

Mexican bantamweight Irene Aldana had her moment in the sun. But Aldana wilted under the pressure of fighting Amanda Nunes for the title at UFC 289. Despite Aldana typically being an active fighter, she never got into a flow against Nunes.

As a result, Aldana needed help with reading Nunes and was hesitant to take risks. What happened was Nunes ended up winning a comfortable decision before retiring. If Aldana would ever earn another shot at the gold, she needed to have a strong showing against Karol Rosa at UFC 296.

What Aldana and Rosa showed was a determination to prove they are worthy of a high ranking. Both women would end up being battered and bloodied during a fight that went the distance. Aldana would win a narrow 29-28 decision on all three scorecards.

PFL Successfully Hosts European Championships

There is some hand-wringing and worrying among managers and fighters about what Bellator being purchased by the PFL will do for the sport. With a lack of competition and uncertainty about what may happen, fighters are worried about losing their negotiating power.

The PFL is hoping to become a legitimate competitor to the UFC. The good thing for the PFL was that it was an exciting card. Nine of the 11 fights ended before reaching the judges, and the championship fights were exciting. 

The bad news was that it had a limited audience. There wasn’t streaming available outside of Europe, so many of those fighters didn’t get much global exposure.

From Shanghai to the Apex

MMA news sites said UFC’s fight night on Dec. 9, 2023, was initially supposed to be held in China. It would have been a nice moment for bantamweight contender Song Yadong, one of the top male Chinese prospects. However, logistical issues forced the event to be moved to Las Vegas.

A whirlwind of activity ensued that saw fights canceled, and the UFC hustled to put together a fight card. Initially, the final four fights of the Road to UFC Season 2 were supposed to be held, but they were pulled from the event. Tim Elliott took a fight on less than two weeks’ notice and ended up submitting Su Mudaerji. 

Yadong was initially supposed to fight former champion Petr Yan, but Yan was injured. Instead, Yadong ended up having to fight Chris Gutierrez. While Gutierrez is a solid fighter, he isn’t a championship-level prospect like Yadong. Yadong cruised to a comfortable decision.

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