In the lead up to UFC 254, my feeling was that Khabib Nurmagomedov would not lose to Justin Gaethje. My gut told me Nurmagomedov would feel a loss would dishonor his father and mentor, Abdulmanap Nurmagomedov, who died in July from COVID-19 complications. However, I did not think Nurmagomedov would have an easy go of things. I believed Gaethje would pose a big problem for the lightweight champion. He did not.
Nurmagomedov looked inspired against Gaethje. He was more aggressive than I can remember ever seeing him. He was unrelenting in his attack. It felt like Nurmagomedov had something to prove. After the fight we found out he did. He removed his mitts and retired at 29-0, one of the most dominant fighters to compete in the UFC, if not the most dominant.
UFC 254 was an incredible win for Nurmagomedov and we should all be thankful we got to see him compete.
Read on for the winners and losers from UFC 254.
Khabib Nurmagomedov: Nurmagomedov might have had his finest performance as UFC lightweight champion in his final fight. He was overwhelming and unrelenting on his way to choking out Justin Gaethje, who was widely believed to pose a threat to Nurmagomedov. He did not.
There will be discussions of where Nurmagomedov stands among the greats of the sport. Every one of those discussions should have him at or near the top.
This fight was a fitting tribute to his late father.
Robert Whittaker: Some wrote off Whittaker when Israel Adesanya knocked him out in October 2019. After that loss, his first since he moved to 185 pounds in 2014, Whittaker took some time off to reset. Since he has done so, he has defeated Darren Till and now Jared Cannonier.
The odds of Whittaker vs. Cannonier were very close. The action inside the octagon was not. Whittaker was better everywhere and he was very close to wrapping things up in the third stanza.
The time off served Whittaker well and now we’re left to wonder if he will get a second shot at Adesanya
Alexander Volkov: Volkov looked excellent in defeating Walt Harris. His striking was crisp, he used his length to his advantage, got Harris biting on feints and mixed things up well. Volkov also kept things moving, which taxed the cardio of Harris. The finishing kick to the body was a thing of beauty ad came so quickly that commentator Daniel Cormier thought it might have been a groin strike until he saw the replay. A nice bounce back win for Volkov.
Phil Hawes: A few years ago, Hawes was being talked about as the next big thing. Maybe the hype got to his head, or perhaps he was just not ready for prime time, but he lost two fights in a row via stoppage. However Hawes stuck with it and did not waver. He earned four first-round stoppage wins after those setbacks and got another chance at the UFC. He did not waste it, earning an 18-second knockout win over Jacob Malkoun. Now that he has some momentum and he is inside the UFC, it’ll be interesting to see how far Hawes can go.
Lauren Murphy: Murphy looked very good against Liliya Shakirova, who was a late replacement for Cynthia Calvillo. She simply did everything better than the UFC newcomer and showed Shakirova that there are levels to the fight game.
Murphy fought off Shakirova’s takedowns in the first round and then took the advice of her corner and took the fight to the mat in the second round with a body lock. From there she waited for an opening and when Shakirova provided that, Murphy locked up a rear-naked choke for the win. The victory was the first submission triumph of Murphy’s career and put her on a four-fight winning streak.
Magomed Ankalaev: The first fight between Ankalaev and Ion Cutelaba ended in controversy, this one did not. Ankalaev caught Cutelaba with a right hook and a left that dropped Cutelaba to the mat. From there, the referee watched Ankalaev land some nasty ground strikes that sent Cutelaba into unconsciousness. The win gave Ankalaev five straight victories in the light heavyweight division.
Tai Tuivasa: Tuivasa did exactly what he needed to do against Stefan Struve. He either fought in close or stayed very far away from Struve. He also remained calm and didn’t rush things. Most importantly, Tuivasa took advantage of the opening Struve provided him in the closing seconds of the first round when Struve covered up and made his chin easier to find for Tuivasa, which he did to end the fight via strikes.
Casey Kenney and Nathaniel Wood: Want to know how deep the UFC’s bantamweight division is? Rewatch this fight and then look at the 135-pound rankings. You won’t find either man’s name among the top 15 fighters.
This fight was one of the best from the UFC’s trips to “Fight Island.” Kenney and Wood delivered a fast-paced contest full of excellent striking. A very entertaining scrap.
Shavkat Rakhmonov: Rakhmonov had an excellent UFC debut. His striking forced Alex Oliveira to not want to exchange at distance and then when it went to the clinch he showed that he also has some slick submission skills by dropping into a guillotine and wrapping things up on the ground to go 13-0 as a pro.
Miranda Maverick: Maverick took a few seconds to find herself inside the octagon, but when she did, she showed her striking skills. She struck first and harder than her opponent Liana Jojua and when she found an opening she stepped in for a hellacious elbow that quickly coated Jojua’s face in blood. As it turned out, that blow wrapped up the fight as the doctor stopped the contest.
An excellent UFC debut from the 23-year-old.
Joel Alvarez: Any fighters competing in the lightweight division would do well to avoid going to the mat with Alvarez. As soon as Alexander Yakovlev shot for a takedown Alvarez pulled him into a deep and tight guillotine and when Alvarez slipped free, Alvarez remained calm until an armbar presented itself. That armbar brought the fight to an end. The victory was Alvarez’s 16th career win via submission. However, it needs to be noted that Alvarez came in at 159.5 for the fight.
Justin Gaethje: Gaethje learned what many others knew and that is that Khabib Nurmagomedov is a different animal. On paper Gaethje had the tools to defeat Nurmagomedov. In practice those tools were useless.
Gaethje took the loss well and said he wanted to be back as soon as he could.
Jared Cannonier: Cannonier’s three-fight winning streak, run up the middleweight ranks and possible title shot disappeared in the co-main event of UFC 254.
Cannonier seemed to focus too much on slowing down Robert Whittaker with leg kicks.That never happened as Whittaker stayed mobile and light on his feet throughout the 15-minute scrap. He also scored more impactful strikes than Cannonier, including a third round knockdown that nearly led to a finish for the former champ.
Cannonier and his team did not seem to have a second plan when the first strategy failed.
Walt Harris: Harris did not have the cardio nor the ability to control the range on his fight against Alexander Volkov and those two things cost him the fight. This was a tough matchup for Harris following a loss to Alistair Overeem and he could not find his groove.
Jacob Malkoun: Phil Hawes put Malkoun on autopilot early in the first round with a right behind the ear. Hawes did not allow Malkoun time to recover and the fight was over in under 20 seconds. Not a great UFC debut for Malkoun.
Liliya Shakirova: Shakirova learned a lesson in facing Lauren Murphy. She was just one step behind Murphy before Murphy submitted her in the second round. Shakirova seems to have some solid fundamentals, it’ll be interesting to see if she can shore those up and move ahead.
Ion Cutelaba: In the lead up to his fight opposite Magomed Ankalaev, the UFC commentators noted that Cutelaba could be reckless. He was and that proved his undoing against Ankalaev.
Stefan Struve: Struve fell to 1-5 in his past six fights when Tai Tuivasa stopped him in the final seconds of their heavyweight matchup. For someone with such a height and reach advantage, the 32-year-old Struve has never learned to take advantage of his size inside the octagon.
Alex Oliveira: Oliveira drew some heat from UFC commentator Daniel Cormier for not only missing weight for his bout against Shavkat Rakhmonov, but for weighing in early and coming in overweight. After he tapped to Rakhmonov, Cormier threw another shot at Oliveira for the weight miss by insinuating that Oliveira deserved to lose. Harsh, but honest from Cormier.
Da Un Jung: Jung forced Sam Alvey to the cage early, and then he waited and waited. That played right into Alvey’s counter game. Had he not adjusted in the third round and landed elbows in close, Jung would have lost this fight. If he wants to have a future in the light heavyweight division, Jung is going to have to let his hands go. If he doesn’t do so, he is going to get picked apart by counters, which is a shame because he has good power.
Liana Jojua: Jouja started out well, but her opponent, Miranda Maverick, who made her UFC debut, quickly found her groove and just took the fight over. Once Maverick did that, Jouja could not adjust. That left her trying to counter. She made some contact, but most of her counters were landing at the end of the punches, which did minor damage.
I will not say the cageside doctor stole the fight from Jojua when he stopped it for a cut nose at the end of Round 1, but it was a terrible stoppage.
Alexander Yakovlev: Yakovlev made two mistakes against Joel Alvarez. First, he shot for a takedown, which was what Alvarez wanted. Second, he did not defend his the armbar attempt well at all and that brought the fight to an end. The loss was Yakovlev’s fifth via armbar.
Cageside doctor: How do you stop a fight on a cut nose when the fighter is clearly mentally and physically able to continue? I don’t know, but that’s exactly what happened in the Liana Jojua vs. Miranda Maverick bout. That was one of those stoppages where you wonder if it was two men fighting if it would have been stopped.
Dana White: The UFC president was asked about the domestic abuse allegations facing Mike Perry and in true Dana White style he tried to victim shame/blame. Not a surprising look from White, who has done the same thing in the past.
Sam Alvey: Alvey has been around for a while and you know what to expect from him. He is going to fight with his back to the cage and counter. Most of his opponents know this, but Da Un Jung played right into Alvey’s hands and that allowed Alvey to win most of the first 10 minutes of the fight. It was a typical Alvey performance.