UFC 266 is all wrapped up and the event was as good as advertised. The main event? That was a classic.
Alexander Volkanovski was able to keep his featherweight belt against Brian Ortega but he had to work for it and then some. It was a fun first 10 minutes and Volkanovski figured to be ahead, but that third round was one of the greatest rounds in UFC history. Ortega caught a kick, landed a left hand and took Volkanovski down right into a mounted guillotine. You would think with the history of ‘T-City’ and locking up submissions, it’d doom Volkanovski and the belt would be Brian’s. Wrong! Then Volkanovski escaped mount and started wailing on the challenger with heavy shots... only to be caught in a triangle choke! Those are Ortega’s two best submissions and Volkanovski survived them both. By the end of the round Ortega’s face was beaten to a pulp and he had damn near no energy left. One more choke attempt in the 4th fell by the wayside and Volkanovski poured on the punishment, but Ortega wouldn’t go away.
In the end, Volkanovski took a decision that is more lopsided than the fight truly was (49-46, 50-45, 50-44). Ortega clearly lost but he had his moments throughout the contest, it’s just that Volkanovski had more. They bloodied each other, they battered each other’s legs, it was fantastic fight theater.
Bravo. Standing ovation for both men. Volkanovski adds to his legacy as one of the best featherweights ever and Ortega gave the champ multiple scares in what were essentially his last couple of real chances to pull off the victory. The worry for Ortega is just how much of a beating he did absorb in this fight and the loss to Max Holloway. You could’ve made a case for this fight getting stopped late in the 4th or certainly before the start of the final round, but he did well to at least make a spirited rally in the closing seconds.
This is a fight that fans will not soon forget.
As for the co-main event, Valentina Shevchenko did Valentina Shevchenko things and completely dominated Lauren Murphy to defend her women’s flyweight belt. It was always going to be virtually impossible for Murphy to win and Shevchenko made sure no all-time upset would happen. For the most part this felt like a sparring match up until Shevchenko turned up the violence and rocked Murphy in the fourth round with a right hook, resulting in an avalanche of offense culminating in fight-ending ground-and-pound. Shevchenko is too strong, too skilled, and too fast for this whole division. Absolutely no one in this weight class in the immediate future has the slightest chance to beat her. It’s my opinion but I dare you to present a counterargument. If it’s not a trilogy with Amanda Nunes I have no reason to believe we’ll see Shevchenko in a genuinely competitive fight any time soon. She is galaxies ahead of the rest of the field and an all-time great.
More thoughts below:
- Nick Diaz’s rematch with Robbie Lawler, 17 years on from their first fight, was a hell of a scrap! But Lawler has been fighting recently and Nick... hasn’t. These two were going back-and-forth in a ridiculously fast-paced war, but Diaz ended up losing by third-round TKO after getting dropped by a right hand. It looked like he just wanted out after getting broken down by Robbie’s body shots and constant pressure, and signs pointed towards Robbie seizing control of the contest. That nose was a mess and the right side of Diaz’s body was taking a pounding from the opening seconds. Diaz put on a show and the pro-Diaz crowd appreciated it, but you could tell that the layoff had an impact on him. He was slow, his physical condition wasn’t as bad as I thought but hardly peak form, and I bet had the fight gone on longer then Lawler would’ve been the fresher fighter. It’s Robbie’s first W since 2018 and he gets his revenge after losing by KO in their amazing first encounter in 2004.
- I’m just glad this bout greatly exceeded my expectations, I’m glad Lawler got to be Robbie Lawler again and not deal with wrestlers, and I’m glad that Nick Diaz didn’t embarrass himself in there in what was effectively a legends league showdown. Whether or not he’ll continue to compete beyond this comeback is entirely up to him. I’m cool if this is just a nice paycheck and a ride off into the sunset.
- Curtis Blaydes vs. Jaizinho Rozenstruik was bad. You knew it had a high chance of being bad. Rozenstruik landed the biggest strike by hurting Blaydes with a jump knee that shut his right eye, but otherwise he couldn’t stop Blaydes’ takedowns, only got up once, and he took the L. It’s a win that’s safe, smart, but does zilch for Blaydes’ hopes of getting a title shot and a loss that makes me less eager to see Rozenstruik in any fight that isn’t a stylistic lay-up for him.
- Former UFC strawweight champ and current women’s flyweight contender Jessica Andrade bulldozed Cynthia Calvillo late in the opening frame. It was a curious decision for Calvillo to stand and trade with a more powerful, more aggressive puncher and it cost her in the end. Much like Chris Daukaus, it was a birthday win for Andrade and she remains a whirlwind of violence that not too many of her peers can deal with.
- There are comebacks, and then there are comebacks. Merab Dvalishvili got knocked senseless multiple times by Marlon Moraes in the first round and by the end of that same round he just about KO’d Moraes with ground-and-pound! Moraes walloped him with a left hook and threw everything at him and he wouldn’t go out cold! Then Dvalishvili was able to capitalize on Moraes (understandably) gassing out after that onslaught, and he dominated the rest of the fight from there. I believe over 110 strikes went unanswered from end of R1 through the 4:25 R2 lasted. Dvalishvili is not just a great fighter but he is top-shelf tough. That’s a hard loss to take for Moraes but when you go up against
- How about Dan Hooker and Nasrat Haqparast? Both men had visa issues and this fight was in jeopardy, but they made it to Vegas in time and made the lightweight limit. For that alone they should be praised. As for the fight itself, Hooker outclassed Haqparast by mixing in his striking with his newfound offensive wrestling, which Nasrat couldn’t cope with. Hooker’s two-fight losing skid is over and it’s good to see him back in the win column. DAAAAAAAAMN! Chris Daukaus clocked Shamil Abdurakhimov with a huge left hook to end the opening round and somehow Shamil survived that, but there was no way to recover from the right hand that dropped him in the next round. Mark Smith really could’ve stopped that sooner than he did and that’s unusually late officiating on his part. Still, Daukaus has heavy hands and impressive speed for a heavyweight, and now he has a big win that makes him a new heavyweight contender. He has earned a bigger fight with the way he’s performing. Happy 32nd birthday, Chris!
- Roxanne Modafferi made history tonight by having the most pro fights of any women’s mixed martial artist, but unfortunately a win was not in the cards. Taila Santos showed a complete game by repeatedly taking her down (really more than she needed to) while rocking and knocking Modafferi down en route to a one-sided decision. Santos has won three straight and is a name to watch at women’s flyweight.
- Jalin Turner is turning a corner. He had a bit of an uneven start to his UFC career but the 6’3” lightweight tore apart Uros Medic on the feet before tapping him out with a rear-naked choke in the opening frame. Turner has won three in a row, all by stoppage, and looks much improved after his loss to Matt Frevola.
- Nick Maximov got the decision win over Cody Brundage through his wrestling, but he had some nervy moments late in round 3 and was pretty wooden with his striking in the opening round. In the end Brundage’s rally (after James Krause ripped into him at the end of round 2) came up just short.
- The prelims got off to a scorching start with Jonathan Pearce choking out Omar Morales midway through round two, followed by Matt Semelsberger starching Martin Sano in just 15 seconds. I really have no idea why Sano is in the UFC apart from training with Nick Diaz. He won’t be in the promotion for very long.