Joshua Van made his mark as one of the top prospects in the sport of MMA in 2023, and he looked to carry that success into the new year as he took a short notice fight against recent LFA flyweight champion Felipe Bunes at UFC Vegas 84.
Bunes was originally scheduled to face Denys Bondar at this event, but Van stepped right in when Bondar withdrew, despite surely being able to face a higher-profile opponent for his next fight if he chose to. Felipe had just won the LFA flyweight title with a knockout over Yuma Horiuchu in his last fight before signing with the UFC. He knew coming in that if he could upset Van then it would propel his career to new heights. Yet at only 22 years old, the potential of Van seems sky-high.
The two orthodox fighters faced off in the center in a striking match in four-ounce gloves to begin with. Van marched forward but Bunes exploded off of his back foot to land a few right hands. He also consistently touched Joshua with low kicks. Van did not really let his hands go for the first two minutes, but then began to find his mark more and more, building throughout the fight like his other two UFC outings. Bunes was not to be outdone though, as he landed a right hand midway through the first round that would have knocked out most other flyweights, but not Josh Van.
Bunes circled to avoid Van’s pressure as much as he could and then shot a takedown with two minutes left, but Van defended like a veteran. As they jockeyed for position against the fence, Van landed an inadvertent knee to the groin of Bunes, pausing the action. They restarted action in the center of the cage, per Bunes’ request. Felipe began to use a stabbing front kick to poke at Van’s midsection, then tripped him after a great entry. Van created a scramble in the final seconds of the round, but the bell stopped the action.
The fighters traded in the pocket to start the second round before Bunes shot another takedown. Van defended into a clinch situation, but was unable to escape from there for a good thirty seconds. When he did, he hurt Bunes almost instantly, forcing Felipe to shoot again. He landed it at first, but Van scrambled to his feet and began a violent barrage that made Bunes look weak for the first time. Van then shot a takedown of his own and got into full guard. He dropped monster elbows while Bunes failed an armbar from his back.
After a minute, Van let his opponent to his feet again. There, Bunes looked tired and frequently turtled up before an onslaught of blows from Van, who mixed in his infamous body punches. Bunes shot a desperate takedown but Van broke free and put it on him once more. After the final minute began, the shots got even more brutal. Some of the knees and punches Josh Van landed made it seem impossible that Bunes could stay standing. He did keep his footing for a while, but fell awkwardly to his back at last. There, Josh Van was able to land enough blows to force Mark Smith to step in.
In violent fashion, Joshua Van notched his first UFC finish and his third UFC win in just three fights. He may have the highest ceiling in the sport of anyone at, 10-1, at only 22 years old, and after training in MMA for less than three years. Who knows what he will look like with ten years of experience under his belt, when he is in his physical prime?