LAS VEGAS -- Alexander Volkanovski's status as the best featherweight in the world has been solidified.
After escaping several close submission attempts, Volkanovski poured on the damaging blows to beat Brian Ortega via unanimous decision (49-46, 50-45, 50-44) Saturday night in the main event of UFC 266 at T-Mobile Arena. Volkanovski retained his UFC featherweight title with the victory in one of the best championship MMA fights of 2021.
"All them doubters," Volkanovski said in his postfight interview. "I'm gonna keep proving you wrong time and time again."
The ringside physician had to check the cuts on a bloody Ortega's face prior to both the fourth and fifth rounds before letting the bout go on.
Volkanovski said this week that he wanted badly to finish the extremely durable Ortega. He didn't do that, but this win was an impressive one -- one of his best performances in the UFC. Volkanovski waded daringly into Ortega's dangerous guard on the ground several times in the third and fourth rounds, landing huge ground-and-pound shots that busted up Ortega's face.
Women's flyweight title fight: Valentina Shevchenko (c) (21-3, 10-2 UFC) def. Lauren Murphy (15-4, 7-4 UFC) (Watch this fight on ESPN+)
Not that anyone was questioning it, but Valentina Shevchenko's dominance is as strong as ever.
Shevchenko (21-4) defended the UFC's flyweight championship for the sixth time on Saturday, in the co-main event of UFC 266 inside T-Mobile Arena. The 125-pound title fight came to a quick and conclusive finish four minutes into the fourth round, after Shevchenko hurt Murphy with punches and finished her on the ground with strikes.
The TKO came after Shevchenko, of Kyrgyzstan, hurt Murphy with a counter right hook to the chin. The blow wobbled Murphy, 38, and before she knew it, Shevchenko followed with a left head kick and a long flurry of punches. Murphy retreated to the fence, where she ultimately fell to her back. Referee Keith Peterson intervened moments later.
Middleweight: Robbie Lawler (29-15 1 NC, 14-9 in UFC) def. Nick Diaz (26-10 2 NC, 7-7 1 NC UFC) by third-round TKO (Watch this fight on ESPN+)
Robbie Lawler came over to a sitting Nick Diaz and grabbed his hands. The two put their foreheads together as a sign of respect.
Lawler and Diaz, two aging fighters both revered for their classic MMA wars, went to battle again Saturday night at UFC 266. The two pushed a relentless pace -- especially considering they are both closer to 40 years old than 30 -- but in the end Lawler was the victor via TKO at 44 seconds of the third round.
Lawler, the former UFC welterweight champion, landed a combination, culminating with a hard right hand to Diaz's nose that dropped Diaz. Referee Jason Herzog asked Diaz if he wanted to continue and Diaz shook his head. Herzog waved the bout off.
"That's what I expected," Lawler said in his postfight interview. "I expected him to push the pace and try to break me. And I didn't let him."
Heavyweight: Curtis Blaydes (15-3 1 NC, 10-3 1 NC UFC) vs. Jairzinho Rozenstruik (12-3, 6-3 UFC) by unanimous decision (Watch this fight on ESPN+)
Rozenstruik is a lifelong kickboxer. Blaydes is all about wrestling. This was one of those matchups.
It took Blaydes about one minute to take the fight to the canvas, where he unleashed elbows and punches for another 120 seconds. Rozenstruik did then manage to get the fight back to standing, but he fought cautiously from then on, throwing no kicks and barely any punches.
Caution ended up being Blaydes' best friend. In three previous fights, he had rushed forward in pursuit of takedowns and been knocked out by Francis Ngannou (twice) and Derrick Lewis. This time he remained at distance, much to the chagrin of the fans. When Blaydes did finally surge forward late in Round 2, he absorbed a jumping knee from Rozenstruik that left the right side of Blaydes' face swollen, his eye nearly closed.
But Blaydes, No. 5 in the ESPN heavyweight rankings, got another takedown in Round 3 and rode it out the rest of the way to the boos of the fans. The seventh-ranked Rozenstruik could not get the fight back to standing this time. All three judges scored the bout 30-27, giving Rozenstruik two losses in his past three and enabling Blaydes to get back on track after his January loss to Lewis.
"Third round was hard to see. Felt the eye start to swell," Blaydes said. "Had to play it safe."
Women's flyweight: Jessica Andrade (22-9, 13-7 UFC) def. Cynthia Calvillo (9-3-1, 6-3-1 UFC) by first-round TKO (Watch this fight on ESPN+)
Andrade, of Parana, Brazil, simply mowed Calvillo down with pressure and power shots, in an easy first-round finish.
Andrade (22-9) took the center of the Octagon from the opening bell and never really ceded it. Calvillo (9-3-1) never looked comfortable, as she essentially was forced to fight with her back to the fence just from Andrade's pressure striking. She landed her jab at times, but it was mostly a defensive punch. Andrade scored the finish with a flurry at 4:54 of the flyweight fight.
The 30-year-old Brazilian looks very much at home at 125 pounds. She is a former strawweight champion who moved to flyweight in October 2020. She is 2-1 in the division, with knockouts over Calvillo and Katlyn Chookagian. Her only loss came in a title fight to Valentina Shevchenko in April.
In a surprise move, Andrade actually called out the strawweight champion for her next bout. Current champ Rose Namajunas and Weili Zhang are scheduled to meet in a title rematch in November at UFC 268.
Men's bantamweight: Merab Dvalishvili (14-4, 7-2 UFC) def. Marlon Moraes (23-9-1, 5-5 UFC) by second-round TKO (Watch this fight on ESPN+)
How do you stop Dvalishvili? That's a question everyone else in the bantamweight division must be pondering.
Moraes dropped Dvalishvili and pummeled him in the first round -- until things took a drastic turn. Dvalishvili came back to nearly finish in the first and then he finally did in the second with a jaw-rattling TKO at 4:25. Dvalishvili poured on the ground-and-pound until finally -- and mercifully -- referee Keith Peterson stepped in to stop it.
Moraes landed a massive left hand to rock Dvalishvili in the first round. He followed up with a flurry, landing more huge punches. Dvalishvili somehow survived and was able to literally run away to get some space from the marauding Moraes. Dvalishvili, a dominant wrestler, was able to get Moraes into a clinch from there and take him down. Dvalishvili then put forth his own offense on the ground, landing big punches, hammer fists and elbows. This time, it was Moraes surviving.
"I'm warrior," Dvalishvili said. "I tell referee make sure. If something accidentally happens, stop me when I'm dying. Don't stop me early. This is nothing for me."
In the second round, Dvalishvili blasted Moraes with a right hand that dropped him and then got back into top position, where he was relentless in landing ground-and-pound. Peterson could have stopped it several times and finally did when Dvalishvili was landing hard right hands from a turtle position.
Lived up to his nickname once again🤖 #UFC266— Shane Burgos (@HurricaneShaneB) September 26, 2021
"I'm training with the best and of course I'm top," Dvalishvili said. "That's why I'm here."
Dvalishvili, 30, has won seven in a row. This was the first finish in the UFC for the Republic of Georgia native, who trains out of Long Island, New York.
Moraes, 33, was ranked No. 9 in the world by ESPN in the bantamweight division coming in. The Brazil native, who fights out of Florida, has lost three straight and four of five.
Lightweight: Dan Hooker (21-10, 11-6 UFC) def. Nasrat Haqparast (13-4, 5-3 UFC) by unanimous decision (Watch this fight on ESPN+)
Marlon Moraes and Merab Dvalishvili show off their incredible stamina in Round 1 of their UFC 266 bout.
This was a nice bounce-back fight for Hooker. Coming off two straight defeats, most recently a knockout loss to Michael Chandler in January, the New Zealander was eager to get back in the win column, and he did so with a dominant performance.
That's not to say it was easy. Hooker, who is No. 6 in the ESPN lightweight rankings, could not land a ranked opponent, so he took on the unranked Haqparast, which put added pressure on him. Then he had visa issues, putting the fight in doubt.
But once he got to the Octagon, Hooker took command, stalking his opponent for the first two rounds. He must have walked a mile in pursuit, outlanding Haqparast in the first round by 29-6. Then, in Round 3, he took him down and showed off a new wrinkle in the game.
The judges scored the fight 30-27, 30-27, 30-26.
Haqparast, a 26-year-old German who fights out of Montreal, saw a two-fight winning streak come to an end.
Heavyweight: Chris Daukaus (12-3, 4-0 UFC) def. Shamil Abdurakhimov (20-6, 5-4 UFC) by second-round TKO (Watch this fight on ESPN+)
Matthew Semelsberger needs only 15 seconds to knock Martin Sano out cold at UFC 266.
Daukaus (12-3) added a clip to the old highlight reel in this one, as he demolished Abdurakhimov (20-6) with a vicious right hand in the second round.
Daukaus, of Philadelphia, nearly finished the fight in the opening round, after he dropped Abdurakhimov with a left hook and then moved into full mount. Time ran out, however, before he could secure the finish -- but it only delayed the inevitable. Daukaus went on to detonate a right hand on Abdurakhimov's chin to earn the TKO at the 1:23 mark of the second round.
It probably should have been a clean knockout rather than a TKO, as referee Mark Smith allowed the heavyweight fight to continue even though it was obvious the right hand put Abdurakhimov away. Daukaus followed him to the floor and dropped a few follow-up shots to ultimately get the stoppage.
It was a blistering finish for a bout that moved at a slow pace early on. Both heavyweights stood in front of each other throwing punches but struggled to land consistently. Once Daukaus broke the ice though, he never looked back.
Daukaus is a beast solid power and fast hands must be that Philly boxing🥊 #UFC266— Charles Rosa (@CharlesRosaMMA) September 26, 2021
Daukaus, who turned 32 years old on Saturday, is now 4-0 in the UFC and likely on the cusp of a top-10 ranking. Abdurakhimov, of Dagestan, suffered his second consecutive loss.
Women's flyweight: Taila Santos (18-1, 3-1 UFC) def. Roxanne Modafferi (25-20, 4-8 UFC) by unanimous decision (Watch this fight on ESPN+)
The UFC is looking for legitimate contenders for Valentina Shevchenko, perhaps its most dominant champion. Santos has a chance to be one of them.
Santos dominated Modafferi via unanimous decision (30-27, 30-27, 30-27) in a complete performance. Santos was the better fighter on the feet, dropping Modafferi twice, and actually surprisingly beat Modafferi, a grappling specialist, on the ground, too.
Rather than trying to exploit the striking advantage, Santos took Modafferi down early in the first round and kept that strategy throughout. In the second round, Santos cracked Modafferi with a one-two that dropped her. The right hand opened up a cut on Modafferi's hairline. Santos dropped Modafferi with a left in the third round and then continued with damage from ground-and-pound.
Santos, 28, has won three straight, all by unanimous decision. The Brazil native has only one loss, her UFC debut against Mara Romero Borella in 2019. Modafferi, a 39-year-old fighting out of Las Vegas, is the most experienced women's MMA fighter in the world with 44 pro fights going back to 2003. She has lost two straight, her first losing streak since 2013.
Lightweight: Jalin Turner (11-5, 4-2 UFC) def. Uros Medic (7-1, 1-1 UFC) by first-round submission (Watch this fight on ESPN+)
Turner is a striker, first and foremost, and he used his standup tools -- both punches and kicks, to both body and head -- to hurt Medic as they traded against the cage. But when the fight went to the ground, Turner took command and sank in a rear naked choke to get his second straight submission.
The end came at 4:01 of the first, after Medic went down to his knees amid a barrage of punishment, mostly to the midsection. Turner, who had earlier looked sharp in controlling position on the ground, followed his opponent to the mat to seize the finish. It was the third straight victory overall for the 26-year-old Californian, all finishes.
Medic, a 28-year-old Serbian who fights out of Alaska, came in undefeated but was playing catch-up right from the start of this one. He was outmatched everywhere the fight went.
Turner on FIRE!! BEAST MODE ACTIVATED! #UFC266— Aljamain Sterling (@funkmasterMMA) September 25, 2021
Middleweight: Nick Maximov (7-0, 1-0 UFC) def. Cody Brundage (6-2, 0-1 UFC) by unanimous decision (Watch this fight on ESPN+)
Maximov (7-0), a teammate of UFC veteran Nate Diaz, picked up his first win in the promotion with a unanimous decision over Cody Brundage.
The California middleweight leaned heavily on his wrestling to secure the win. He took Brundage down repeatedly in the fight, or held him against the fence when he couldn't drag him down. He took Brundage's back a handful of times, and cruised to a clear 29-28 victory on all three judges' scorecards.
Brundage, of Colorado, took the fight on short notice when Maximov's original opponent withdrew. He came out loose, with no problem letting his hands go early, and even leaped into a flying knee. The wrestling grind of Maximov eventually wore on him, however, and even though he managed to win the third round, he was already in a hole.
Maximov is a former contestant on Dana White's Contender Series. The UFC originally did not sign him to a contract but ultimately added him to the roster after he won on the show.
Welterweight: Matthew Semelsberger (9-3, 3-1 UFC) def. Martin Sano (4-3-1, 0-1 UFC) by first-round knockout (Watch this fight on ESPN+)
Chris Daukaus finishes Shamil Abdurakhimov in Round 2 of their bout at UFC 266.
Team Diaz is not off to a great start.
Semelsberger absolutely starched Sano with a monstrous knockout at 15 seconds of the first round. This is Semelsberger's second consecutive quick KO in three fights. He knocked out Jason Witt in 16 seconds in his UFC debut in March. This was the UFC debut for Sano, a longtime teammate of Nick Diaz.
"It felt amazing," Semelsberger said in his postfight interview. "But honestly, man. I'll take the quick knockout. But ... I was coming in ready for a war."
Afterward, Semelsberger said he's coming up on the final fight of his contract.
"I'm ready for whatever you throw at me," he said. Semelsberger, 28, is now 3-1 in the UFC. The Maryland native is a grappler, but he clearly has one-punch knockout power that must be reckoned with.
Sano, a 30-year-old California native, is winless in four straight.
Men's featherweight: Jonathan Pearce (11-4, 2-1 UFC) def. Omar Morales (11-2, 3-2 UFC) by second-round submission (Watch this fight on ESPN+)
Pearce went right after Morales at the start, but was met by a couple of sharp left jabs and a straight right hand. So Pearce went to Plan B, and he wore down his opponent with relentless grappling to earn his second straight finish.
Pearce, who is 29 and from Tennessee, trapped Morales against the cage for much of the rest of the fight, taking him down and, when Morales worked his way back to his feet, taking him down again. By midway through Round 2, it appeared that Morales was unable to put up much resistance. While on Morales' back while standing, Pearce sank in a rear-naked choke to get the tapout at 3:31.
Morales, a 35-year-old Venezuelan fighting out of South Florida, has lost two of his past three after winning the first 10 fights of his career.