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Alexa Grasso of Mexico prepares to face Valentina Shevchenko of Kyrgyzstan in the UFC flyweight championship fight during the Noche UFC event at T-Mobile Arena on September 16, 2023 in Las Vegas, Nevada. (Photo by Chris Unger/Zuffa LLC)
Fight Coverage

UFC Monthly Report | September 2023

The UFC Monthly Report Is A Feature That Will Highlight Some Of The Best Performances From The Previous Month Of Action Inside The Octagon

There was bound to be a month where something transpired that didn’t fit into the tidy four-category format that we have here, and we finally reached that point in September.

Sean Strickland’s middleweight title win over Israel Adesanya at UFC 293 is a difficult performance to place in a series like this because it was neither a submission nor a knockout, the fight itself was one-sided from the outset, and as much as Strickland’s effort and victory were surprising, to a certain degree, he’s been ranked in the Top 10 for some time and was challenging for UFC gold, so it wasn’t exactly a breakout performance in the traditional sense either.

Order UFC 294: Makhachev vs Oliveira 2

But I also can’t talk about the last month of action inside the Octagon — or the year as a whole once we hit December — and not mention Strickland, because he just might be the Fighter of the Year frontrunner at this point.

Sean Strickland Octagon Interview | UFC 293
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Sean Strickland Octagon Interview | UFC 293
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He’s 3-0 and claimed the middleweight title with a dominant performance on the road, and yet in laying out this column for September, there wasn’t a natural place for the new middleweight titleholder.

READ: Five Khamzat Chimaev Fights To Watch Before UFC 294

And knowing Strickland, having detailed his career these last couple years, that feels pretty much spot on.

Here’s a look at the standout efforts from inside the Octagon in September.

Breakout Performance: Loopy Godinez (Noche UFC)

Loopy Godinez Submits Reed To Cap Off A Dominant Performance | Noche UFC
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Loopy Godinez Submits Reed To Cap Off A Dominant Performance | Noche UFC
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Godinez has been on the radar as an ascending talent since arriving in the UFC in the spring of 2021, but she had her real breakthrough moment at Noche UFC against Elise Reed.

The 30-year-old Mexican-Canadian looked ferocious against Reed, showcasing improved, crisp boxing and her trademark strength and standout grappling in dominating almost every second of their preliminary card fight. She dropped Reed early in the contest and nearly ended the fight in the first after bending her arm at a gnarly angle that conjured up Ronda Rousey-Miesha Tate memories, and then sealed the deal in the second by clamping onto a rear-naked choke after emphatically depositing the taekwondo stylist on the canvas with force.

WATCH: Brian Ortega Reacts to Noche UFC

Now 11-3 overall and 6-3 in the UFC, Godinez is one to keep close tabs on going forward in the strawweight division because this effort and the clear, significant improvements she’s made have all come after just two training camps with the team at Lobo Gym.

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Working alongside flyweight queen Alexa Grasso and bantamweight title challenger Irene Aldana, and with the quality coaches in Guadalajara, has taken Godinez’ skills to another level, turning her from a prospect with good raw materials and obvious upside to an emerging threat who is a handful for anyone stationed ahead of her in the 115-pound weight class.

Loopy Godinez of Mexico secures a rear choke submission against Elise Reed in a strawweight fight during the Noche UFC event at T-Mobile Arena on September 16, 2023 in Las Vegas, Nevada. (Photo by Chris Unger/Zuffa LLC)
Loopy Godinez of Mexico secures a rear choke submission against Elise Reed in a strawweight fight during the Noche UFC event at T-Mobile Arena on September 16, 2023 in Las Vegas, Nevada. (Photo by Chris Unger/Zuffa LLC)

Godinez is one of those fighters whose record in the UFC doesn’t accurately reflect her performances, either, as she lost her debut by split decision to former title challenger Jessica Penne in a bout many would argue she won, and her second setback came on a short-notice turnaround up a division against Luana Carolina where she held her own. Her third defeat came last summer in San Diego opposite divisional stalwart Angela Hill, which is one of those losses that you’re never going to fault a fighter still in the process of figuring things out for losing.

But her performance at Noche UFC showed that Godinez is putting the pieces together and has taken a big step forward in her development as a fighter, which means more eye-opening performances could be on the horizon.

Honorable Mentions: Farid Basharat, Morgan Charriere, Benoit Saint-Denis, Gabriel Miranda, Felipe dos Santos, Tracy Cortez, Daniel Zellhuber

Submission of the Month: Alexander Volkov submits Tai Tuivasa (UFC 293)

Alexander Volkov of Russia punches Tai Tuivasa of Australia in a heavyweight fight during the UFC 293 event at Qudos Bank Arena on September 10, 2023 in Sydney, Australia. (Photo by Chris Unger/Zuffa LLC)
Alexander Volkov of Russia punches Tai Tuivasa of Australia in a heavyweight fight during the UFC 293 event at Qudos Bank Arena on September 10, 2023 in Sydney, Australia. (Photo by Chris Unger/Zuffa LLC)

Much like last month, where Da’Mon Blackshear was the clear choice after hitting just the third twister in UFC history, tapping Volkov as the recipient of this honor here was obvious, as well, as the Russian heavyweight rolled into Sydney and tapped out Tuivasa with an Ezekiel choke from mount in their co-main event pairing.

Volkov has been more aggressive in his last couple outings and carried that into UFC 293, taking the fight to “Bam Bam” out of the chute and getting up on the scorecards after one. In a fun little bit of foreshadowing, the commentary team spoke throughout the contest about the amount of time and energy Volkov had been putting into working on his ground game since moving to Las Vegas, only for the towering big man to get the fight to the floor and go to work.

Because he has excellent striking and has primarily opted to keep things standing, folks forget that Volkov is a Brazilian jiu jitsu brown belt and that his long limbs make him extra tricky to deal with on the canvas. He was so comfortable and smooth once he dumped Tuivasa to the canvas, climbing right into mount and floating with the Australian as he defended, attacking the whole way through.

Alexander Volkov of Russia reacts after his victory over Tai Tuivasa of Australia in a heavyweight fight during the UFC 293 event at Qudos Bank Arena on September 10, 2023 in Sydney, Australia. (Photo by Chris Unger/Zuffa LLC)
Alexander Volkov of Russia reacts after his victory over Tai Tuivasa of Australia in a heavyweight fight during the UFC 293 event at Qudos Bank Arena on September 10, 2023 in Sydney, Australia. (Photo by Chris Unger/Zuffa LLC)

The setup for the choke was perfect, as it’s one of those attacks that people don’t expect or generally don’t deal with too often in training. Volkov fed one arm under Tuivasa’s head and neck, connected the other over the top, and patiently squeezed out the tap, thanking Aleksei Oleinik for showing him the hold in his post-fight interview.

This was a slick finish and a third straight stoppage win for Volkov, who has strung together strong performances at the right time to get himself back into the title conversation in the heavyweight division.

Honorable Mentions: Farid Basharat vs. Kleydson Rodrigues, Gabriel Miranda vs. Shane Young, Daniel Zellhuber vs. Christos Giagos

Knockout of the Month: Roman Kopylov stops Josh Fremd (Noche UFC)

Roman Kopylov Gets The Body Shot TKO Win | Noche UFC
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Roman Kopylov Gets The Body Shot TKO Win | Noche UFC
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I’m a sucker for good, clean body work in a fight and when someone gets dropped as a result of a straight left to the guts, there is a very good chance it’s going to end up here.

Like Volkov, Kopylov is rolling right now, pushing both his winning streak and finishing streak to four with his second-round KO of Fremd at Noche UFC. What made the finish standout as the best of the month (for me) is that it was all set up beautifully and as much about the accumulation of punishment than the force and impact of the final blow.

Kopylov never gave Fremd time to get comfortable in the Octagon, hitting him with a multitude of strikes of different force from the outset, varying his targets, his tempo, and whether he was throwing singles or combinations. He targeted the body from the jump, busted Fremd up late in the first round, and then stayed on the gas to begin the second, putting it on the Pennsylvania native to the point where it felt like only a matter of time before a finish was going to materialize.

Roman Kopylov of Russia punches Claudio Ribeiro of Brazil in a middleweight fight during the UFC 291 event at Delta Center on July 29, 2023 in Salt Lake City, Utah. (Photo by Josh Hedges/Zuffa LLC)
Roman Kopylov of Russia punches Claudio Ribeiro of Brazil in a middleweight fight during the UFC 291 event at Delta Center on July 29, 2023 in Salt Lake City, Utah. (Photo by Josh Hedges/Zuffa LLC)

The final blow came with Fremd backed into the fence, Kopylov having battered him to the wall and continuing to unload. While the plethora of heavy fire directed at his head wasn’t able to get him out of there, a rocket-propelled left hand to the liver sealed the deal, sending Fremd crashing to the canvas, grasping his midsection as soon as it landed.

The 32-year-old Kopylov is now 4-2 in the UFC and, again like Volkov, appears to be hitting his stride at the right time, as the middleweight division just witnessed a changing of the guard at the top of its ranks, and opportunities for ascending talents should be more plentiful with a new champion at the helm.

Honorable Mentions: Morgan Charriere vs. Manolo Zecchini, Tyson Pedro vs. Anton Turkalj, Justin Tafa vs. Austen Lane

Fight of the Month: Alexa Grasso vs. Valentina Shevchenko (Noche UFC)

Alexa Grasso Post-Fight Interview | Noche UFC
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Alexa Grasso Post-Fight Interview | Noche UFC
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This is one of those months where I’d like to hand out two “Fight of the Month” ribbons because the UFC 293 clash between Manel Kape and Felipe dos Santos would have run away with this category had it not been for the Noche UFC main event. That bout deserves Fight of the Year consideration, and dos Santos is someone folks should be paying very close attention to going forward.

But the rematch between Grasso and Shevchenko unquestionably has to be discussed here because it was everything that I adore about this sport.

Even before the fight began, you had the makings of something special: a championship rematch; a titleholder trying to prove herself in her first title defense; a challenger looking to return to the top of the mountain; and a night built around the pairing that had built to a crescendo.

Valentina Shevchenko Post-Fight Interview | Noche UFC
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Valentina Shevchenko Post-Fight Interview | Noche UFC
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Once we got underway, the flyweight title rematch featured the kinds of breathtaking moments that elevate a fight to “instant classic” status — Grasso knocking Shevchenko down; the challenger attacking a mounted guillotine; the late mistake that allowed Grasso to once again end up on Shevchenko’s back.

The tension was palpable as they each made the walk to the Octagon and it never dissipated over the course of the 25-minute affair. From start to finish, you were on the edge of your seat, waiting to see what would happen next.

Regardless of the outcome, this was one of those bouts that we will talk about for a long time because it has become the epitome of what you hope for when booking an immediate championship rematch.

This was a classic. This is the clubhouse leader for Fight of the Year for me.

Honorable Mentions: Nasrat Haqparast vs. Landon Quinones, Manel Kape vs. Felipe dos Santos, Sean Strickland vs. Israel Adesanya