There was a lot to like about UFC 266 going into the event and it might have exceeded expectations.
At the top of the card, we saw one champion, Alexander Volkanovski, dig deep and overcome adversity to get a dominant win and hopefully end any lingering doubt about his legitimacy as a UFC champion. In the other title fight, we saw a dominant titleholder, Valentina Shevchenko, tighten her grip on that belt with an overwhelmingly brilliant performance.
Before the headliners, we witnessed a rematch between Nick Diaz and Robbie Lawler that was 17 years in the making. That scrap motivated the eventual victor to find a renewed passion for the fight game, while his opponent found out that he’s still a fan favorite even if some of those fans had never seen him fight before UFC 266.
Meanwhile, in the UFC 266 prelims, Dan Hooker and Nasrat Haqparast both showed their commitment to the fight game by working through some difficult circumstances just to make it to fight night. And speaking of difficult circumstances, how about Merab Dvalishvili?
UFC 266 was a great fight card that delivered a lot more winners than losers. Read on to find out who ended up in which category.
Alexander Volkanovski: Alexander Volkanovski might not be the featherweight champion the UFC wants (Hello, Max Holloway), but he’s the champion the UFC has and he deserves some respect.
On Saturday, he extended his winning streak to 10 in the UFC in defending his title against Brian Ortega in a fight that saw him dangerously close to losing twice in one round. Volkanovski might not be the flashiest fighter in the UFC, but he is one of the smartest and well prepared. He also has an uncanny ability to make the smallest adjustments during fights to always stay one step ahead of his opponents.
The jury is no longer out on Volkanovski. He is the real deal and a real UFC champion and he deserves some respect because he’s done more than enough to earn it.
Brian Ortega: Brian Ortega might never win a UFC championship, but the two title fights he has been in have established him as one of the toughest fighters to ever step inside the octagon. Like in his UFC 231 loss to Max Holloway, Ortega earned every cent the UFC paid him and then some for his UFC 266 battle opposite Alexander Volkanovski.
We often hear about how fighters leave everything in the cage or ring, but with Brian Ortega, that overused phrase is true. Very few fighters have ever showed the tenacity, toughness, heart, skill, will and guts that Ortega has displayed in his title fight setbacks.
Brian Ortega is a special fighter, UFC title or not, he is a special fighter.
Valentina Shevchenko: I don’t know if there is another fighter out there who makes dismantling their opponents look as easy as Valentina Shevchenko does. She makes no mistakes and when she has opportunities to get the finish, she does. Yes, she is more talented than the other fighters in the women’s flyweight division, but she doesn’t rest on her laurels. It’s going to take a special 125-pounder to close the gap between Shevchenko and the rest of the flyweight division.
Nick Diaz vs. Robbie Lawler: I didn’t expect to see a fight like the 2004 bout between these two. In fact, I was unsure what I expected at UFC 266. I can say, now that the fight is over — it delivered more good than bad.
Lawler looked like he wanted to finish things early with his power, but the ever resilient Diaz showed he was in for the long haul. Lawler seemed to acknowledge that by taking a bit of power of his strikes and become more of a boxer. That served him well as he got the stoppage early in the third round.
Diaz looked like a 38-year-old version of himself, a little thicker around the middle, a little slower with his hands, but he still showed he can box. Lawler looked like the better all-around fighter and he should have — he’s been active while Diaz was on the sidelines.
This fight could have been a bummer, but it wasn’t. The end was weird for sure, but I’ll take that. This was good matchmaking.
Curtis Blaydes: Here’s the problem with facing Curtis Blaydes, he reduces his opponents to distance boxers. Jairzinho Rozenstruik found that out on Saturday. If you try to kick him, Blaydes will catch the kicks and convert them to takedowns. If you box in close, Blaydes will use that to close the distance and get the takedown. With his wrestling skills, Blaydes will always be a problem in the heavyweight division.
Jessica Andrade: Jessica Andrade had a great birthday on Saturday. She got back in the win column by walking through Cynthia Calvillo. The win should keep Andrade at the No. 1 spot in the official UFC women’s flyweight rankings.
Merab Dvalishvili: It’s crazy to think about this, but Merab Dvalishvili might have been fighting for his UFC contract in 2018 when he faced Terrion Ware. Dvalishvili, who entered the UFC on a 7-2 run and as a former Ring of Combat bantamweight champion, was 0-2 with the UFC at that time. Dvalishvili defeated Ware by decision. On Saturday, he got his seventh straight win and first stoppage in the UFC when he came back from nearly getting finished to getting a finish over Marlon Moraes. In the process, Dvalishvili sent a message to the rest of the bantamweight division. That message? He might be the toughest fighter in the bantamweight division
Dan Hooker: Dan Hooker fought a smart and technical bout in the early going of his matchup opposite Nasrat Haqparast. He pressured well, controlled the center of the octagon and did great clinch work. The thing that made this fight a little different for Hooker was his use of offensive wrestling in the third stanza. If Hooker, who ended a two-fight losing skid on Saturday, can implement that wrestling against highly ranked opposition, he will be back on his way to the top of the lightweight division.
Chris Daukaus: Chris Daukaus is rolling. The 32-year-old heavyweight moved to 4-0 in the UFC with four knockout wins with his nasty stoppage of Shamil Abdurakhimov. Daukaus is not interested in a slow climb up the heavyweight rankings as he called for Stipe Miocic, Alexander Volkov, Marcin Tybura or the winner of tonight’s Curtis Blaydes vs. Jairzinho Rozenstruik as his next opponent.
Roxanne Modafferi: Before she faced Taila Santos noted that with her fight at UFC 266, Roxanne Modafferi became the unofficial record holder for most professional fights in women’s MMA history. Modafferi, who fell to 25-19 with the loss to Santos, deserves props for her long career.
Jalin Turner: Jalin Turner closed out the early prelims with a big win, but more than that it was an impressive victory and it showed that Turner is a smart fighter.
When a fighter can recognize he has his opponent hurt and register the reason they have that opponent hurt, that’s a good sign. Too often we see fighters register the advantage, but then they just attack with abandon. Turner didn’t do that. He hurt Medic to the body and then used that advantage to break him and quickly set up a submission. I really liked what I saw from the 26-year-old, who is now on a three-fight winning streak, with two submissions and one knockout win during that stretch.
Matthew Semelsberger: Matthew Semelsberger didn’t break a sweat in crushing Martin Sano Jr, 15 seconds into their welterweight bout. Semelsberger landed a clean right that had Sano out before he hit the mat. The knockout goes down in the books as the sixth fastest knockout in UFC welterweight history; he is also in the top-10 for his 16-second knockout of Jason Witt.
Jonathan Pearce: Jonathan Pearce fought for the first time in 2021 on Saturday and he looked impressive in scoring a second-straight stoppage win. Pearce set a fast pace. He used his wrestling and patience to find an opening for a rear-naked choke in the second round. Once the choke was in, it was telling that Pearce’s opponent, Omar Morales. did not even attempt to fight the hands in an attempt to break the choke.
Dan Hooker vs. Nasrat Haqparast: Props for both making it to fight week and making weight after what they went through during fight week! Hooker struggled to get out of New Zealand and into the US and Haqparast had to get back to the US after he attended the funeral of his mother. It was amazing that both these men made weight and fought on Saturday.
Dan Hooker: Props for the way he addressed and spoke of the struggles Nasrat Haqparast, the death and funeral of his mother, went through in getting to UFC 266.
Robbie Lawler: A nice touch from Robbie Lawler to praise Nick Diaz for motivating him to train hard for the fight.
Nick Diaz: Nick Diaz said he didn’t want to regret not taking this fight. I don’t think Diaz regrets fighting Lawler, but I ‘m unsure if he takes another fight in the UFC after this one.
Nick Diaz: Nick Diaz seemed to know that he had enough when he didn’t get back to his feet in the third round. It was a strange ending to his fight with Robbie Lawler, but Diaz has been at this game long enough and done enough that he doesn’t need to worry about things such as “tough guy” points. Other fighters and corners should look at what Diaz did and follow suit. There are times when you know you’re done. There’s no shame in walking away to fight again tomorrow.
Paul Felder: I know some fans bemoaned the fact that Joe Rogan didn’t want to work UFC 266, but the broadcast was better for having Paul Felder in place of Rogan. UFC needs to face the facts. the Joe Rogan of 2021 adds nothing to the broadcast but an unnecessary expense. HIs time his passed and Rogan himself is to blame as he has not invested the time or effort to add to the broadcast.
MMA Media: MMA Media, Brian Ortega did us all a favor tonight. He set the standard. For what? For the phrase, “They left everything inside the octagon.”
If you ever think about writing that phrase, before you commit it to paper ask yourself if the performance lived up to both the title fights Ortega lost. If it didn’t, don’t make that claim. Very few fighters will ever meet the standard Ortega has set in giving everything they have and them some in a fight. Ortega has put on legendary performances in his two UFC title fights.
Cynthia Calvillo: Cynthia Calvillo stood with Jessica Andrade and that was not a good decision.
Marlon Moraes: The former WSOF champ and UFC title challenger went 22-5-1 between 2007 and February 2019. Since June 2019, Moraes has gone 1-4 with four TKO losses. At 33, Moraes’ career is far from over, but his days as a legit title threat in the UFC might be behind him as the 135-pound division is one of the most competitive weight classes in the promotion.
Uros Medic: Uros Medic faced adversity for the first time in his UFC career, thanks to the body strikes of Jalin Turner. He did not deal well with that adversity. The loss is the first of Medic’s career. It’s going to be interesting to see how he looks in his next outing.
UFC heavyweight division: Sorry folks, but Curtis Blaydes is a problem.
Daniel Cormier: The ending of the Nick Diaz vs. Robbie Lawler fight was strange, yet UFC commentator Daniel Cormier didn’t think to ask Diaz about why it ended the way it did?
Conor McGregor: A petty tweet from a petty man (which has already been deleted).
Taila Santos: Taila Santos entered her fight against Roxanne Modafferi as the No. 12 ranked fighter in the women’s flyweight division. The 28-year-old earned a win over Modafferi, but if Santos wants to move up the rankings and get to the top of the division, she might want to consider a change in camps.
Santos had a clear advantage over Modafferi on the feet, but seemed content to mess about on the ground with Modafferi. That showed a lack of knowledge from her coaches and an inability to adjust in-fight from her and her corner. I’m not saying Santos could have or would have stopped Modafferi on the feet, but she had a much better chance of earning a stoppage there than on the ground.
Santos has talent, but she needs a team around her who can help her use that talent. I don’t think her current team is that group.
Nick Maximov: Nick Maximov has good wrestling and grappling skills, but with the scoring criteria being what it is, he needs to develop his striking game. Training with the Diaz brothers, that shouldn’t be an issue. Plus, he is only 23. With that, he has a lot of time to grow. Maximov is someone to watch.