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Tom Aspinall of England knocks down Sergei Pavlovich of Russia in the interim UFC heavyweight championship fight during the UFC 295 event at Madison Square Garden on November 11, 2023 in New York City. (Photo by Cooper Neill/Zuffa LLC)
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Monthly Report | November 2023

Handing Out Hardware For The Best Performances From The Past Month 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.

One month, two countries, three events, and plenty of options to choose from when it comes to doling out the imaginary hardware for the penultimate month of the 2023 UFC campaign.

November saw the Octagon return to Sao Paulo, touch down at Madison Square Garden, and head home to Las Vegas, and along the way, the men and women that stepped into the eight-sided proving ground to compete delivered a bushel of action and plenty of memorable moments over the span of three events and 37 fights.

Order UFC 296: Edwards vs Covington

More than half of those contests ended inside the distance, including every fight on the UFC 295 main card, and five of six bouts on last weekend’s main card at the UFC APEX, as well. While there may not have been any monumental efforts that forced a re-examination of the rough draft of anyone’s year-end awards ballots (everyone has those, right? Just me?), there were some certain Top 10 performances that came to pass.

Here’s the rundown.

Breakout Performance: Benoît Saint Denis (UFC 295)

Benoît Saint Denis of France punches Matt Frevola in a lightweight fight during the UFC 295 event at Madison Square Garden on November 11, 2023 in New York City. (Photo by Chris Unger/Zuffa LLC)
Benoît Saint Denis of France punches Matt Frevola in a lightweight fight during the UFC 295 event at Madison Square Garden on November 11, 2023 in New York City. (Photo by Chris Unger/Zuffa LLC)

Saint Denis has been on the ascent for a minute now, having won four straight, all by stoppage heading into his UFC 295 main card showdown with Matt Frevola in New York City, but putting the local boy on ice in 91 seconds is enough to garner Breakout Performance status this month.

There is a menacing presence to the 28-year-old French lightweight when he’s in the Octagon — he comes forward instantly and persistently, and is more than happy to absorb a shot or two in order to get where he wants to go or land one of his own. He showed that in his previous 2023 wins over Ismael Bonfim and Thiago Moises, and put it back on display against Frevola at MSG.

Pull up the contest and watch the way Frevola hustles away from Saint-Denis in the seconds just before the fight-ending kick lands: there is a different level of urgency to how he’s moving and that’s because in those very early moments of the fight, he felt the physicality and strength of Saint-Denis and needed to reset.

Benoît Saint Denis Octagon Interview | UFC 295
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Benoît Saint Denis Octagon Interview | UFC 295
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The kick was gorgeous, but what garners Saint-Denis top honors here is that he’s now 3-0 this year and 5-0 since moving to lightweight, having yet to see the third round. This win elevated him into the rankings, and while I have no idea yet whether he’s going to eventually win gold as he promised in his post-fight interview, I do feel comfortable saying there aren’t going to be many lightweights rushing to volunteer to face him in 2024.

Honorable Mentions: Vitor Petrino, Elves Brener, Jeka Saragih, Joanderson Brito, Payton Talbott, Chase Hooper

Submission of the Month: Joanderson Brito submits Jonathan Pearce (UFC Vegas 82)

Joanderson Brito of Brazil poses for a portrait after his victory during the UFC Fight Night event at UFC APEX on November 18, 2023 in Las Vegas, Nevada. (Photo by Mike Roach/Zuffa LLC)
Joanderson Brito of Brazil poses for a portrait after his victory during the UFC Fight Night event at UFC APEX on November 18, 2023 in Las Vegas, Nevada. (Photo by Mike Roach/Zuffa LLC)

“Well get up and do something then, boy! C’mon! Get up and do something!”

Those were Pearce’s words to Brito as he worked from top position and the Brazilian mocked him for complaining to the referee about getting hit with shots to the back of the head.

In hindsight, he maybe would have been better served to stay quiet and keep punching Brito in the face, because the streaking Dana White’s Contender Series graduate did, in fact, get up and do something.

The above exchange transpired at the midway point of the second round in a fight Pearce was controlling with his grappling. Less than 90 seconds later, Pearce was stuck in a deep ninja choke, his face twisted into a painful visage as Brito clamped onto his neck and squeezed out the tap before going full Derrick Lewis and dropping his shorts in the center of the Octagon.

Joanderson Brito Sinks In A Standing Ninja Choke | UFC Fight Night: Allen vs Craig
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Joanderson Brito Sinks In A Standing Ninja Choke | UFC Fight Night: Allen vs Craig
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Brito’s finish gets the nod because it showed how opportunistic and dangerous he can be at all times. After registering first-round stoppage wins in each of his previous three outings, the 28-year-old was on the business end of things right up until the point where he scrambled to his feet and laced up the choke.

As soon as he was locked on, the fight was over, even if it took five more seconds for Pearce to tap.

Now riding a four-fight winning streak and having just halted Pearce’s five-fight run of success, “Tubarao” could very well find himself sharing the Octagon with a ranked opponent whenever he returns.

Honorable Mentions: Mateusz Rebecki vs. Roosevelt Roberts, Myktybek Orolbai vs. Uros Medic, Chase Hooper vs. Jordan Leavitt, Brendan Allen vs. Paul Craig

Knockout of the Month: Tom Aspinall knocks out Sergei Pavlovich (UFC 295)

Tom Aspinall of England reacts to defeating Sergei Pavlovich of Russia by TKO in the interim UFC heavyweight championship fight during the UFC 295 event at Madison Square Garden on November 11, 2023 in New York City. (Photo by Jeff Bottari/Zuffa LLC)
Tom Aspinall of England reacts to defeating Sergei Pavlovich of Russia by TKO in the interim UFC heavyweight championship fight during the UFC 295 event at Madison Square Garden on November 11, 2023 in New York City. (Photo by Jeff Bottari/Zuffa LLC)

Knockouts that win heavyweight titles pretty much rule, and landing one after eating a power shot from a guy that had stopped six straight foes in the first round, all inside of 70 seconds, makes Aspinall’s interim title-winning effort the obvious choice here.

From a technical standpoint, the execution is great — he uses his footwork and speed to avoid a big shot from Pavlovich and counter with one of his own, shaking his equilibrium with his first strike before felling him with the second.

The fact that he took a clean shot from Pavlovich before this stands out, as well, because everyone else that caught one of those missiles was, at the very least, forced to reconsider their approach. Aspinall simply readjusted his jaw and marched forward, re-entering the fray and quickly finishing the streaking Russian.

But this knockout also rules the month because of what it feels like it signifies, which is a changing of the guard in the heavyweight division.

Tom Aspinall Post-Fight Interview | UFC 295
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Tom Aspinall Post-Fight Interview | UFC 295
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Aspinall is an exceptional talent, having won seven of eight in the UFC with a non-contact knee injury accounting for his only defeat. He moves extremely well, is quick, fluid, and skilled in every facet. He has the power and precision to drop anyone in the division on the feet, and if you want to mess around on the canvas, he’s an outstanding grappler and a legitimate black belt, as well, so pick your path carefully.

Who knows how things are going to shake out in the next several months with Jon Jones recovering and penciled in opposite Stipe Miocic, but one thing is for certain: Aspinall is a legitimate force, and at just 30 years old, he could remain that way for a long, long time.

Honorable Mentions: Vitor Petrino vs. Modestas Bukauskas, Elves Brener vs. Kaynan Kruschewsky, Jared Gordon vs. Mark Madsen, Diego Lopes vs. Pat Sabatini, Saint-Denis vs. Matt Frevola, Jessica Andrade vs. Mackenzie Dern, Saragih vs. Lucas Alexander,

Fight of the Month: Rinat Fakhretdinov vs Elizeu Zaleski dos Santos (UFC São Paulo)

Rinat Fakhretdinov of Russia and Elizeu Zaleski dos Santos of Brazil react after fighting to a draw in a welterweight fight during the UFC Fight Night event at Ibirapuera Gymnasium on November 04, 2023 in São Paulo, Brazil. (Photo by Pedro Vilela/Zuffa LLC)
Rinat Fakhretdinov and Elizeu Zaleski dos Santos react after fighting to a draw in a welterweight fight during the UFC Fight Night event at Ibirapuera Gymnasium on November 04, 2023 in São Paulo, Brazil. (Photo by Pedro Vilela/Zuffa LLC)

The first of the two draws in the month, this welterweight contest between Fakhretdinov and dos Santos was all kinds of fun.

Less than 20 seconds into the contest, Fakhretdinov put the Brazilian on the deck with a clean right hand, swarming in search of the finish. With just under two minutes left in the opening round, dos Santos had been out-landed 39-2 and Fakhretdinov was still pressing, but he persevered, and while the second was closer, it was still two-zip for “The Gladiator” going into the final stanza.

But Fakhretdinov’s pace through the first two rounds caught up to him, and when dos Santos stuffed a takedown attempt seconds into the third, you could feel the momentum shifting. He continued to defend takedowns well and snipe at his Russian foe, targeting the body with knees and snapping out jabs as Fakhretdinov’s gas tank started running dry.

Order UFC 296: Edwards vs Covington

With just under 90 seconds remaining, dos Santos stung Fakhretdinov with a front kick to the belly, and from that point forward, the surging Russian was in “hold on for dear life” mode, as the Brazilian swarmed in search of the finish.

It was a symmetrical fight in some ways, beginning and ending with opposite fighters working for a finish, with a lot of close, competitive moments in between. When the scores were read, and the bout was declared a majority draw — one judge saw the fight 29-28 for dos Santos — both seemed satisfied with the outcome.

Honorable Mentions: Nicolas Dalby vs Gabriel Bonfim, Joshua Van vs Kevin Borjas, Nazim Sadykhov vs Viacheslav Borshchev

UFC 295: Procházka vs Pereira took place live from Madison Square Garden in New York City on November 11, 2023. See the Final Results, Official Scorecards and Who Won Bonuses - and relive the action on UFC Fight Pass