Greetings, fight fans! Today we witnessed history, as UFC 254 came to a close with an historic performance by Khabib Nurmagomedov that saw him not only defend his lightweight title for a third time, but also saw him announce his retirement from MMA while still undefeated and at the top of his game.
He retires one of current best to do it, and at this point it's hard to deny that he's the greatest lightweight fighter of all time. We also saw Robert Whittaker maintain his no. 1 ranking with a decisive victory over Jared Cannonier, likely punching his ticket to chance to regain his title. Elsewhere the card was full of solid action and more than a few finishes, so let's get down to what the hell happened!
The Main Card
Khabib runs over Gaethje in dominant fashion, retires at 29-0
Khabib Nurmagomedov def. Justin Gaethje by submission via triangle choke (1:34, R2) to become the undisputed UFC Lightweight Champion
What happened?: Gaethje knew the gameplan to win, but like everyone else he just couldn't enact it. Khabib pressured relentlessly on the feet, and once he secured takedowns he was dominant, culminating in an early second round triangle choke that rendered Gathje unconscious.
How did that happen?: This is Khabib we're talking about here. Every top fighter poses their theoretical threats to the dominance of Khabib, but once that bell rings it just never seems to matter. Khabib's gameplan always revolves around pressure; he's at his most effective when he's in your face, and considerably less so if you can put him on his heels. But for as big of a perceived threat Gaethje was according to pretty much anyone breaking down the fight, Khabib still managed to be shockingly dominant and in control of the where the fight took place. The fight started out pretty measured, with Gaethje showing a ot of movement to make it difficult for Khabib to put a pin on him for the takedown. I questioned whether he would go to his low kicks early in the fight since the potentially opened him up for takedowns, but he didn't seem to have a ton of initial fear of that, as he blasted Khabib's lead leg without much hesitation and managed to avoid being taken down when Khabib got a hold of his leg. He actually looked pretty good through most of the opening round, and seemed pretty intent on following his gameplan of staying off the cage at all costs and looking to counter when he's pressured.
Khabib looked confident in the stand up, as he worked his pretty underrated jab and threw quick front kicks to the midsection, but Gaethje's low kicks and big right hands were finding their mark. However, Khabib practically didn't seem to care about much of the offense coming his way. With the exception of some low kicks that seemed to bother him a bit, he not only ate Gaethje's punches without much issue, but even after being hit he showed very little respect for his vaunted power, instead continuing to relentlessly walk him down throw volume at him in the pocket. Suddenly this version of Gaethje that we all lauded for being more patient and picking his shots looked overwhelmed in the face of Khabib's constant pressure, and it became easier and easier for Khabib to cut him off and keep him more stationary. This actually brought out some of the old Gaethje, and it contributed to his loss. Once the pressure really started to pile, his punches became more looping, and he threw himself out of position much more just trying to land big and get Khabib off of him. This is a known side effect of Khabib's pressure: everyone who's in there with him eventually gets sloppy and limited on the feet trying to get him away from them, and it's partially because of this that they end up being taken down eventually. And eventually he did, as with about 40 seconds left in the round he tried to circle away from the cage and was met with a quick double leg that put him on his butt in short order.
Gaethje had his moments, but the pressure was too much for him.
As is customary, Khabib mounted his legs, used shoulder pressure and wrist control to lay him down flat, and from there pretty effortlessly crawled to full mount. From there he immediately sat up high on the mount, isolated the arm, and transitioned into an armbar.
Khabib made it look easy on the ground, as per usual.
Gaethje was able to get a firm grip on his arm and hold on tight until the horn, but that sequence told us what we needed to know about him: that he really doesn't have any jiu jitsu. When he's taken down he tries to turn and scramble back to his feet in a hurry, but once Khabib actually got control of him and put him on his back, you saw just how vast the gulf in grappling skill was between them; I'd say it's a much bigger gulf than the one that exists in the striking department. Gaethje didn't do much to prevent the mount, and made no effort to prevent the armbar, instead just recognizing it and clutching his arm since he knew Khabib was going for it. This lack of grappling ability would foreshadow the finish, but not before Gaethje had a little success with his low kicks and a hard left hook that landed just behind Khabib's ear. Khabib never stopped pressuring though, and shot in with anothter double leg that Gaethje actually sprawled on. Khabib quickly worked under to extend the takedown attempt, and this was where Gaethje committed his career-long habit of just going to all fours and giving up his back in an attempt to scramble.
Justin learned the hard way that you can't just give Khabib a position.
This is something that has usually worked out for him, but against a grappler the level of Khabib you simply can not give those kinds of openings. Khabib quickly took the opportunity and jumped on his back, got both hooks in, and when Gaethje tried to roll through Khabib just locked him down into mount. Khabib briefly looked to tease the arm triangle, but then effortless moved up high on the mount yet again, this time working in a mounted triangle choke.
And you probably forgot it's not even the first time we've seen this from him.
And yet again, Gaethje did practically nothing to prevent it. Just like with the armbar, it seemed he put all his energy not into preventing the submission, but defending it once it's in the process. He looked to pick Khabib up and slam him, but Khabib hooked the leg on the opposite side from where the triangle was locked up to prevent that easily, then squeezed the choke until Gaethje was forced to tap. And then tap again. And then tap yet again. Not content to see a fighter submit willingly, referee Jason Herzog instead waited until Gaethje was unconscious to finally stop the fight, a pretty egregious mistake, but thankfully a rare one for Herzog.
"If you can tap, you can fight!" -Probably Jason Herzog
Following the fight, 'The Eagle' announced that this was his swansong. Khabib removed his gloves and announced his retirement, citing a promise he made to his mother. Normally MMA retirements can be taken with a fat block of salt, but Khabib has talked about it so much and so freely, and if he promised his mother he'd retire after this fight, I believe he'd keep his word for that. He doesn't need the money, he's taken out the biggest perceived threat in the division, and he did it impressively, closing off a legendary career that I would say is unrivaled in its dominance. We might not ever see another fighter like him, so I'm glad to have witnessed it.
Other thoughts: When breaking down Khabib's fights, there have been plenty of times where I saw his opponents as having some form of chance to throw a wrench in his dominance. Generally, the more I break down the match ups, the more confident I become that Khabib is able to neutralize their tools, and by fight time I'm at least fairly confident in picking him. Gaethje was different; the more I broke down the match up, the less confident I actually became that Khabib had the answers to what he brought to the table, instead falling back harder on the fact that he's always found a way thus far. That led to an unshakeable feeling that Gaethje was the man who would dethrone the champion, or at least get close to it...and boy do I feel silly for that.
Stylistically Gaethje was the man most likely to end Khabib's reign, and he was dealt with even more easily than his previous opponents. It was almost like Khabib went out there just to show people that not only would he win, but that the very idea that Gaethje was a big threat to him was laughable. It was pretty surreal to watch him just show such little respect for the power that has put down so many others in the division. He fought fearlessly and confidently, but still controlled and just as intelligently as he normally does. For all the talk of how bad his stand up is, it's undeniably effective, and at this point people need to admit that while his striking isn't pretty, it's far from bad. He looks awkward, but defensively he's quite successful, he has a good jab, and solid timing. It was never going to be as good as his wrestling or grappling, but most people's wrestling and grappling will never be as good as his wrestling and grappling, so it just looks even worse by comparison.
As for Gaethje, as easy as it might be to plummet his stock after losing the way he did, it has to be considered that Khabib is a once-in-a-lifetime fighter that can do things to fighters that others in the division simply can't. Apparently Gaethje did well enough in the opening round to be just the second man to officially take around off the champion (the first being Conor McGregor two fights prior), so that's something. The bottom line is that for as bad as Gaethje's jiu jitsu looked tonight, there's a reason we had no proof of it until this fight: no one else can keep him down. So I think he'll be fine, and he seemed in good spirits after the loss, which I'm sure is helped by the fact that Khabib's retirement still keeps the division open for him to become the undisputed champion.
Next for Nurmagomedov: As mentioned, retirement. There are still questions of a super fight with Georges St. Pierre, which is really the only fight worth thinking about right now, but I think Khabib sticks to his decision.
Next for Gaethje: With the title up for grabs, his next fight could be a title eliminator to determine who fights for the vacant title or the new champion, depending whether or not the UFC does something ridiculous like makes the proposed Dustin Poirier vs Conor McGregor fight for the belt. Either way, he should fight the winner of that one.
A rejuvenated Whittaker's movement and jabs dash Cannonier's title contender hopes
#1 Robert Whittaker def. #2 Jared Cannonier by unanimous decision (29-28, 29-28, 29-28)
What happened?: The fight was relatively competitive for the most part, but it was the frequent movement, crisp jabs, and a late fight head kick that prevented a resilient Cannonier from really ever getting his punches going in the three round affair.
How did that happen?: The story of the fight mostly consisted of Whittaker's movement, speed, and volume effectively limiting the punching offense of Cannonier. Whittaker moved in and out with lunging jabs and punching combinations while Cannonier struggled to keep up in the exchanges. What he did have success with were his low kicks. He took Whittaker off of his feet with one early in the fight, and used them liberally in the first two rounds, reddening Whittaker's lead leg and slowing down his movement, albeit slightly. Those rounds brought up the somewhat interesting scoring conundrum of weighing low kicks compared to punches. While Whittaker definitely landed some nice straight right hands over the course of the first 10 minutes, he kept his jab in Cannonier's face for much of the time, while just about every one of the 22 low kicks Cannonier landed in that time period were pretty hard. I felt Whittaker's did enough to win the first two rounds, but apparently two judges gave him the second round, while another game him the first. This means that if Cannonier had done just a bit more in the opening stanza (which I thought was the closest round), we might have been looking at a Cannonier split decision, which doesn't seem right.
Whittaker clearly had the more significant moments of the fight.
Whittaker left no question in the third round. His patented 1-2-right high kick combo finally hit its mark within the first minute of the round, and it's one that he'd been getting closer with the whole fight, missing it the first time he threw it, and eventually getting closer to where Cannonier was forced to block the kick. Whittaker often leans to his left slightly when throwing the opening jab of the combination to get opponents to slip to his power side and block the straight right, leaving themselves unprepared for the head kick as they angle off.
High level striking in this one!— UFC (@ufc) October 24, 2020
Who took round 1️⃣ on your card? pic.twitter.com/P81Rh8nTS5
Whittaker put in work setting up his high kick.
This time, the high kick caught Cannonier just above his guard and had him backing away frantically on wobbly legs, hitting the cage, and stumbling face down on the ground, showing how badly he was hurt. Whittaker followed him to the ground and busted him up with punches before passing to mount and getting his back with both hooks in, but Cannonier did well to recover and get back to his feet. From there things played out much the way they had prior to Whittaker's big moment, but of course it's not a Whittaker fight unless he gets rocked at least once, and with about 35 seconds left he ate a stiff southpaw jab at the same time he threw one of his own that actually appeared to stun him significantly for a brief moment. Ever the wily vet when it comes to being rocked and surviving, he didn't have much issue tying Cannonier up and stifling him for the remainder of the round, securing his win.
I was starting to doubt this was actually a Whittaker fight until this happened.
Other thoughts: It's back to the end of the contender line for Cannonier, but Whittaker was promising in that he looked significantly better here than he had in his last couple fights. He was quick and elusive, and whereas historically he really tends to struggle with keeling his feet underneath him when leading with punches, he kept it to a minimum here and largely threw with good balance. I don't know if I'd say he looked improved enough to make me confident in his chances in a rematch with Israel Adesanya, but it was good to see considering the concerns that surrounded his latest performances.
Funny enough, I remember when Cannonier was the guy who was quick on his feet with surprisingly fast hands at heavyweight and light heavyweight. Once he dropped down to middleweight and found his power, he's now taken on more of a plodding heavy-hitter role now that he's fighting opponents closer to his size and isn't in a division he's seen as fast for. I think getting comfortable with his power has also contributed to it, and he looks for big shots a lot more than he used to now that he knows he has the power to change a fight with one punch. It's worked for him up until now, but he found out the hard way that someone like Whittaker won't provide him with as many easy targets.
Next for Whittaker: It appears the only way he can go is up, since he's taken out the only two immediate potential contenders in Cannonier and Darren Till. A title rematch with Adesanya appears next.
Next for Cannonier: Paulo Costa or Darren Till could be next for the 'Killa Gorilla.'
Volkov ends Harris with a lancing front kick to the body
#7 Alexander Volkov def. #10 Walt Harris by TKO via strikes (1:15, R2)
What happened?: Volkov gave Harris little room to work, pressuring him from the onset and landing volume until a second round front kick to the midsection caused Harris to double over in pain and cover up from extra punishment until the referee saw enough to stop end the contest.
How did that happen?: Smart gameplanning from Volkov took away much of what makes Harris effective. He was without a doubt the quicker and more athletic of the two, and he typically thrives on space so he can throw big power shots, usually one at a time. Although he started off striking decently (or at least very hard) moving backward, Volkov's persistent forward pressure and volume left him resorting to winging counters that rarely found their mark. By contrast, Volkov landed with great accuracy and he pretty impressively used his reach to tag Harris while sitting just outside of the range to be countered. As the first round wore on, Harris began to slow, and that's when Volkov really started to turn on the pressure, stunning him with punches and causing him to cover up and move backward even at the sight of deep feints.
'Drago' nearly put Harris away in the first.
In the second round Harris tried to show some of the wrestling he had been working on, which he probably would've benefited from if he tried it earlier in the fight when he was fresher. Volkov easily stuffed it and punished him with a straight right, before stabbing him with a front kick to the midsection that caused an audible groan from Harris, and led double over and retreat holding his stomach. Volkov was all over him with punches, rifling right hands until the referee decided to step in.
Other thoughts: It's rough seeing Harris lose again after the tragedy he's been through with regards to the senseless murder of his stepdaughter. It's hard not to root for the guy at least a bit, but this is the fight game, and if your abilities aren't up to snuff the sport is not very forgiving, especially at heavyweight. Hopefully he can get back on his feet, as he's still a heavyweight with a fair amount of potential.
With that said, I'm still happy to see Volkov get back on the winning track, and he's already more successful in the UFC than I thought he would've been back when I was watching him in Bellator, even as champion. He's fashioned himself into quite the top 10 fighter, and should stick around as a fringe contender for a good while. My only gripe with him is that he covered up his awesome manta ray back tattoo with a still relatively cool-looking, but totally generic samurai helmet and mask.
Next for Volkov: Alistair Overeem has been booked once before, and I see no reason not to try and book it again.
Next for Harris: Blagoi Ivanov isn't a particularly welcoming match up for him, but at this point it might be the only one that makes sense.
Hawes steamrolls Malkoun in an instant
Phil Hawes def. Jacob Malkoun by KO via strikes (0:18, R1)
What happened?: Hawes made his UFC debut in terrifying fashion, walking down and blasting Malkoun into unconsciousness with punches just 18 seconds into the fight.
How did that happen?: I mean, that mostly describes it. Hawes came out immediately pressuring Malkoun back to the cage and feinting, and uncorked a big right hook that landed behind Malkoun's ear and dropped him to a knee. He popped back up trying to fire back, only to eat a huge left hook that pretty much ends him right then and there, and a right hand to the temple on the way down for good measure. He was pretty much out cold face down as soon as he hit the ground.
Other thoughts: I still have concerns about Hawes' cardio if he's unable to do what he did here, but a devastating performance is a devastating performance. He fought a virtually unknown opponent and dealt with him even better than a prospect should deal with an unknown guy: by absolutely destroying him and taking no damage whatsoever. He has now bounced back from a highlight reel stoppage loss to Julian Marquez on Dana White's Contender Series, to returning to the show to obliterate Khadzi Bestaev in a little over a minute, and made his proper debut in the UFC vaporizing Malkoun in under 20 seconds. He's definitely someone to look out for at middleweight, a division that at this point needs a good prospect. As for Malkoun, I suspect he got this shot due to him being a training partner of Whittaker, as he really hasn't shown much even outside of this loss that demands attention. I guess the best thing about this loss is that he probably doesn't remember it.
Next for Hawes: I would not at all mind seeing him throw down with Marc-Andre Barriault.
Next for Malkoun: Coming into the promotion at just 4-0 he likely needs some more seasoning before stepping onto the big stage. Since that probably won't happen, he at least needs a pretty sizeable step down. If Dequan Townsend is somehow still in the UFC after four-straight losses, that might be the fight to make. Otherwise, he could fight the loser of Deron Winn vs Antonio Braga Neto.
Murphy scores the first submission win of her career, personally announces her contendership
#5 Lauren Murphy def. Liliya Shakirova by submission via rear naked choke (3:31, R2)
What happened?: Murphy was just a step ahead on the feet and a bit too big and strong in the wrestling exchanges for late replacement Shakirova, who appeared to tire before being taken down and tapped with a rear-naked choke.
How did that happen?: Murphy approached this fight like she was a very much aware of her physical advantage here. He pressured right away, and although Shakirova was clearly the quicker of the two, she mostly landed low kicks from the outside while whiffing wide hooks. Both fighters actually threw quite a few strikes from outside of range, but Murphy found her mark significantly more with punches, including a nice right hand counter as Shakirova dipped her head following one of her big hooks. Shakirova shot three takedowns in the round, but they were relatively easily defended by the bigger Murphy, who made her pay with elbows and hammerfists for her efforts.
Murphy became even more aggressive in round two, backing Shakirova up with straight punches and wrangling her into her range with kicks as she tried to move laterally. Once Shakirova went for the clinch it ended up leading to her demise, as Murphy grabbed double underhooks and dragged her to the ground. Shakirova was squirrely on the bottom trying to hip escape, but Murphy stood up and passed to to Shakirova's back as she rolled to her hands and knees, put her hooks in, and locked up the rear-naked choke while falling backwards. Shakirova attempted to fight the hands for a few seconds, but ultimately was forced to tap out.
Other thoughts: Shakirova is a top prospect out of the Russian scene that many suspected would be signed to the UFC soon, but she took advantage of an opportunity to get signed a bit earlier when Cynthia Calvillo fell out of this match up. She was actually considered the #1 pound for pound woman out of Russia, so that might give some insight as to why she was booked against someone in the top 5 in her debut. Her wrestling ability was paramount in her achieving that status, and frankly she's a bit small for flyweight at this level. She was able to enjoy much more success in Russia because most of the flyweights there are around her size, but in the UFC many of them are bantamweight converts, and her wrestling will continue to lose effectiveness in the division in the UFC if she keeps fighting bigger women. Because of that I think it might be in the her best interest to try a drop to strawweight.
Murphy continues to improve and round out her game, even if a late notice fight against an unranked opponent isn't really the best showcase of that. She may not have the most compelling style, but her hard-nosed pressure has made for a nice win streak that definitely puts her in the mix at 125 lbs. Although for as much as she's been improving and pulling it all together, I don't see a single thing she does that should give he champion Valentina Shevchenko any pause.
Next for Murphy: Following the win, Murphy essentially declared herself next in line for a title shot, and said she won't fight again unless it's for the title (because that always goes over well). She might be waiting a while, because she definitely doesn't deserve that fight yet. She was booked to face Calvillo, who is ranked above her, and she should just take that fight again next.
Next for Shakirova: If Nadia Kassem or Lauren Mueller were still in the UFC they'd be perfect bounce back fights for her, but Hannah Goldy would also suffice.
Ankalaev finally puts that questionable stoppage, and Cutelaba, to rest
#11 Magomed Ankalaev def. Ion Cutelaba by KO via strikes (4:19, R1)
What happened?: Ankalaev just reinforced what everyone already knew: that he's an all around better fighter than Cutelaba, and beat him to the punch at will before dropping him hard with check right hook-left hook combo, before unleashing some absolutely brutal ground and pound that put Cutelaba's lights out.
How did that happen?: After three cancellations, the rematch to their controversial first affair finally happened, and this time Ankalaev left no doubt in anyone's head. This was how t he fight was pretty much always destined to go. Cutelaba is powerful and aggressive, but he tends to be bereft of any defensive when he strikes, and Ankalaev is head and shoulders above him technically on the feet while still hitting hard himself. Cutelaba did start this one with a more measured approach early, but it was just a matter of time before he landed a winging overhand right counter and it emboldened him to get back to his wild ways. Of course it was then that Ankalaev began having lots of success with counters and shots up the middle as Cutelaba barreled into the pocket.
The turning point came when Cutelaba tried a spinning backfist, only to be caught right at the start of it by a straight left that dropped him momentarily. That didn't deter him, as he came in with a right hand feint to a southpaw switch, a winging lead right hook, and a right backfist (a rather silly combo the more I watch it) that Ankalaev timed beautifully with a right check hook that stunned him, and a big left hook that dropped Cutelaba like a ton of bricks. Probably woken up when he hit the canvas, Ankalaev made sure he wasn't awake for long, raining down vicious hammerfists and right hands until Cutelaba lost consciousness and his head bounced off the canvas. An impressively brutal display by the Russian.
Other thoughts: As amusing as the drama of how difficult it was to get this fight to actually take place was, I also found it somewhat obnoxious because all it really did was hold Ankalaev back from better match ups. Regardless of Cutelaba's playing possum the first time around, even that abbreviated contest showed us all we needed to see in terms of who the better fighter was. In that sense it reminds me very much of Abdul Razak Alhassan vs Sabah Homasi and it's subsequent rematch that was booked due to the controversial nature of the first bout, a first round TKO victory for Alhassan that appeared to be stopped prematurely. Was the stoppage early? It sure looked that way. But by then we could clearly see that Alhassan was the better of the two, and in the rematch he ended him properly with an uppercut that put him to sleep even quicker than the first fight ended. But at least hose fights happened less than a couple months apart from each other; with the time it took for this fight to finally happen, Ankalaev could've been a top 10 ranked fighter by now.
Cutelaba may be full of flaws, but he's still very fun to watch, so I hope he bounces back with a solid win. He actually has a Greco-Roman base and some pretty devastating ground and pound from on top, and it'd be nice to see him mix in his wrestling and just become more disciplined on the feet, but the guy is just too angry; very befitting of his 'Hulk' nickname. A focused Cutelaba could be top 15 at worst.
Next for Ankalaev: Johnny Walker or Nikita Krylov would be good fights to introduce him to the top 10. He should be favored in either fight, but I lean toward the Walker fight because of the high likelihood it would end in a ridiculous knockout.
Next for Cutelaba: Fights with Michal Oleksieczuk or Alonzo Menifield would be madness while they lasted.
Tai Tuivasa def. Stefan Struve by TKO via strikes (4:59, R1)
Tuivasa got back into the win column with a TKO finish of Struve, who is definitely looking to be at or near the end of his career at just 32 years old (which is pretty young for a heavyweight, though Struve is like 60 in fight years). Struve mostly tried to stick to the outside and throw long kicks to keep distance, but found himself getting slammed with low kicks at distance and tagged with big overhands when Tuivasa would close the distance into the clinch. Clinching seemed inadvisable for Tuivasa given how Struve likes to pull guard and work his tricky submission game, but surprisingly Struve just sort of accepted the position. Late in the round Tuivasa blitzed Struve with a combination, and when Struve tried to clinch up Tuivasa just tossed him to the ground and unloaded with punches as Struve got back to his feet before a huge right hook to the body and an glancing uppercut crumbled him against the cage; apparently all the damage was done with the body shot and he fell in a delayed reaction to it. It was good to see Tuivasa pick up a much needed win, but I've definitely gotten to the point where it's just kinda sad watching Struve go out there and sleepwalk through his fights. I hope retirement is in his not-so-distant future plans.
Struve can't catch a break, GEEZ.
And he wasn't able to do it cageside, but Tuivasa did eventually get his shoey.
Grooosss. But you do you.
Casey Kenney def. Nathaniel Wood by unanimous decision (29-28, 29-28, 30-27)
The rightfully crowned Fight of the Night was a back-and-forth affair fought at a furious pace where Kenney managed to just edge it out one two judge's scorecards, while earning a 30-27 on the other. While the opening round was somewhat clear for Kenney due to his frequent counters for Wood's low kicks on top of the solid punches he landed throughout the round, the two rounds that followed were pretty contentious, and the judges couldn't agree on them. Wood chopped at Kenney's legs with kicks throughout, sometimes even landing three or four kicks in rapid succession switching between the inside and outside of the lead leg (to the tune of 57 total low kicks), but it appeared the judges faavored Kenney's head and body work, particularly the harder shots he landed up top. In the third round it was hard not to give some credit to his top control as well, and although there appears to be a good-sized fan contingent that believes Wood won the fight (56% on MMA Decisions, as opposed to just four of seventeen media outlets who felt the same way), it was a very close fight that neither guy really loses stock from.
Shavkat Rakhmonov def. Alex Oliveira by submission via guillotine choke (4:40, R1)
Big win for Rakhmonov in his UFC debut. 13 wins, 13 finishes. 8 of them inside the first round. Guy to keep an eye on. https://t.co/CYuvYwjtHz— Brett Okamoto (@bokamotoESPN) October 24, 2020
Rakhmonov represented the glorious nation of Kazakhstan well, showing some solid stand up to force Oliveira to clinch, where he found a tight guillotine choke for the win. After stunning Oliveira with a right hand that backed him up, Rakhmonov chased him and timed a knee to the body that hurt Oliveira and initiated his urgency to enter the clinch. After a considerable period of time trying to secure a double leg takedown, Rakhmonov gradually worked his arm underneath "Cowboy's" chin, and jumped guard on a guillotine. It was immediately tight, and after a few seconds of resistance, Oliveira relented and tapped out. It was a great first impression over a highly regarded UFC mainstay, so he'll probably get a nice step up in competition next time out.
Sam Alvey fights Da Un Jung to a split draw (29-28, 28-29, 28-28)
This was an odd one, but it was also a Sam Alvey fight so I guess it shouldn't be surprising. For what it's worth I thought he edged it out, but it was a close one. Jung spent most of the fight pressuring Alvey back to the fence, but the striking exchanges were relatively even, with Alvey finding plenty of opportunities for counter left hands and check right hooks, which over time led to Jung continuing to pressure, but hesitating in his striking. At range Alvey's low kicks also seemed to affect him, but didn't do much to temper his pressure. Jung's corner told him to start wrestling in the third, but it was actually the adjustment of throwing elbows when the exchange in the pocket that yielded major success for him. He caught Alvey with several of them, including one that dropped him early in the round and another that sent him backing up to the fence. Apparently it was enough for one judge to score the round a 10-8, which produced a split draw.
Miranda Maverick def. Liana Jojua by TKO via doctor stoppage (5:00, R1)
Maverick really impressed in her UFC debut. Historically pretty rote and stiff on the feet, it was no surprise that she found herself on the wrong end of Jojua's straight right hands as the Georgian stalked forward. It didn't take long for Maverick to get into her groove and take advantage of Jojua's limited toolset on the feet though; she launched a diverse array of strikes on the feet, giving Jojua a lot of different looks and slowing down her volume. Eventually she started find a home for lead elbows, and late in the round landed a hard one to Jojua's nose that cut her open badly. After a good round from Maverick, the cageside doctor advised that the fight be stopped due to the severity of the cut. The cut was pretty deep, but it looked like one that Jojua could've continued through. Nonetheless, I really didn't see much of a way she'd have gotten the job done outside of another sudden come from behind submission, which wasn't too likely since Maverick is the better grappler. Better-than-expected showing for Maverick, who showed herself to be a worthy addition to the women's flyweight division.
Joel Alvarez def. Alexander Yakovlev by submission via arm bar (3:00, R1)
The card opened with a brief lightweight battle that commentator Daniel Cormier pretty much called perfectly. Alvarez started off throwing hard low kicks, which Cormier said he typically does to make his opponents uncomfortable and take him down, which is where he ultimately wants to be. In short order, Yakovlev shot in for a nice single leg, dragged Alvarez to the floor, and Alvarez immediately locked in a tight arm-in guillotine. Yakovlev stayed patient and was able to slip head from the choke and settle in on top. Alvarez kept his guard closed for the most part, until he caught Yakovlev relaxing, isolated his left arm while underhooking his right leg, and swung his hips up for an armbar. Yakovlev did recognize it early enough to grab his arm to try and prevent it, and his elbow was in past the threshold, but Alvarez kept working for it. Yakovlev then made the mistake of trying to sit back to pull his arm out, which positioned his arm just right for Alvarez to extend and get the tap. Slick stuff from Alvarez, who continues to impress.
That's it for UFC 254, a solid, if top heavy card on paper that definitely delivered on the action and produced quite a few finishes. We should all take a moment to relish in the greatness that was the career of Khabib Nurmagomedov, but the UFC train just keeps on chugging, as we're onto next week, where another legendary fighter is set to take on his final fight when Anderson Silva looks to close out his career on a win against the former "next Anderson Silva," Uriah Hall. Until then, sado out!