Last night (Sat., Oct. 24, 2020), UFC hosted another show on “Fight Island,” remaining inside the Flash Forum on Yas Island in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates for UFC 254. One of the biggest pay-per-view (PPV) events of the year, the main event was a majority of the appeal, as the Lightweight title would finally be unified. The main card dropped off a bit after the first three fights, but there were actually better bouts on the undercard!
Let’s take a closer look at the slickest techniques and best performances:
A Legend Retires
Both champions entered the cage famous for drowning opponents. Gaethje did so via violence and exhaustion, whereas Nurmagomedov pinned his opponents to the mat until they sought the sweet release of death (or a simple submission).
As it turns out, Nurmagomedov can implement Gaethje’s brand of pressure as well. After a brief feeling out process, Nurmagomedov rushed Gaethje in pursuit of something quite similar to a brawl. Gaethje chopped at the leg as Nurmagomedov advanced, but the grappler held his own, sticking Gaethje with jabs and front kicks in the process.
All the while, the takedown threat was always there.
The pair of times Nurmagomedov truly committed to the takedown, he landed it, cutting the angle well to force Gaethje to his back. Both times, Nurmagomedov immediately landed in mount. Clearly, Gaethje was trained to avoid turning away from his foe, which is great ... except Nurmagomedov has some slick submission from mount too!
Nurmagomedov went to the S mount twice, climbing high up into the armpit of his foe to attack the armbar and triangle. He ran out of time in the first round, but there was no escape in the second, as he put Gaethje to sleep quickly.
That’s one hell of a way to ride off into the sunset.
Don’t Call It A Comeback
Ever since Robert Whittaker lost his title to Israel Adesanya, I’ve never been a fan of the storyline that resulted.
Far and wide, fans and pundits knocked his performance and speculated whether or not his wars with Yoel Romero made him damaged goods. True, fighting “The Soldier Of God” for 50 minutes may be unhealthy, but there was nothing in his performance against Adesanya that showed a slide — “Stylebender” is one of the sport’s best! It is not unreasonable to lose to that man.
That narrative continued even as Whittaker battled through Darren Till, showing off plenty of craft and explosiveness en route to a clear-cut decision win. Again, it was written off because Till is less established.
What’s the excuse this time? Whittaker put on a vintage performance last night, allowing his foe to land fewer than 10 significant head strikes in 15 minutes. Cannonier did manage to score some solid low kicks, but otherwise, it was all “Bobby Knuckles,” who also countered those kicks time and time again. Whittaker did real damage, snapping his foe’s head back with several right hands, and landing his trademark high kick to seal the deal with a near-finish in the final frame.
Whittaker lost one fight to arguably the best striker in the sport. He didn’t fall off, and he’s not back — he’s been this good.
Volkov Breaks Harris Down
Walt Harris did really well for the first couple minutes.
“The Big Ticket” looked lean in the walkout to the cage, and his performance showed that. Harris was firing fast combinations, stringing together his punches and kicks better than ever before. For a moment, it looked like his speed and power might be a serious problem for Volkov, who mostly was on the defensive.
Instead, “Drago” was just finding his timing. Once the lanky Russian starting shooting out long jabs and crosses, he was intercepting Harris’ bursts with great consistency. Those straight shots limited Harris, forcing him to fight with his back to the fence on the outside — a bad place to be against a rangy kickboxer with tons of experience.
The finish came when Volkov’s favorite snap kick dug into the mid-section. Even Harris’ new abs could not protect him, as he folded over from pain and succumbed to strikes in the second round.
UFC put Phil Hawes vs. Jacob Malkoun together as a showcase fight for Hawes, and he delivered.
What more can you ask of a young fighter making his debut? Hawes immediately walked his opponent to the fence, and the third punch he threw put him down hard. A few more follow up shots put his opponent completely unconscious. It was a mismatch designed to promote an explosive up-and-comer, and it did just that.
Look, Tai Tuivasa is not the first man to knock out Stefan Struve.
As such, I don’t want to go too overboard with praise for the Australian hitter. However, he did impress for the first time in a while, and the prospect seems to be moving in the right direction. Opposite “The Skyscraper,” Tuivasa managed range quite well. At distance, he was chopping at the lead leg and looking to counter kicks with big swings — smart!
What impressed me more was Tuivasa’s clinch work. Struve is actually pretty tricky in the clinch, and I would have advised Tuivasa avoid that range. Instead, Tuivasa trusted his work at American Kickboxing Academy to keep him safe, and it paid off. By jamming his forehead into Struve’s chin, Tuivasa nullified his opponents takedowns and bided his time, waiting for moments to unleash flurries of offense.
It’s also promising that Tuivasa looked far leaner than in past appearances.
A New Welterweight To Watch
Shavkat Rakhmonov pretty much styled on Alex Oliveira last night in his UFC debut to advance to 13-0.
Oliveira is a predictable challenge, but he’s proven a very difficult one. Early on, he landed his sprinting right hand that seems to catch pretty much everyone off-guard at some point. Then, Rakhmonov started finding his range, and moments later, a clean right hand followed by a hard knee to the mid-section prompted some wrestling from the Brazilian.
When the stand up isn’t working, Oliveira relies on muscly double legs along the fence. It’s not complicated, but “Cowboy” is a serious athlete, and it gives most of his opponents trouble. Rakhmonov didn’t appear bothered, however, as he pushed back in the clinch until Oliveira went to the single leg.
Rakhmonov wrapped up the neck, jumped guard, and finished his foe quickly.
- Lauren Murphy defeats Liliya Shakirova via second-round rear naked choke: Taking out a top five-ranked contender on a short-notice debut is a tough task at any weight class. Shakirova gave it a game attempt, but all her energy expenditure in the first round from lots of movement and kicks caught up to her. Murphy was able to score a takedown on her slowing foe in the second, and she hopped onto the neck to remain one of the next fighters in line to face Valentina Shevchenko.
- Magomed Ankalaev defeats Ion Cutelaba via first-round knockout: Ankalaev may typically win fights by throwing opponents to the mat and destroying them, but he really showed off his counter punching chops in this bout. Any time Cutelaba attempted to get fancy — whether via a spin or stance switch — Ankalaev was there to meet him with a crisp cross or check hook ... or both! After all the drama, Ankalaev proved himself a clear notch above “The Hulk,” and Light Heavyweight’s best prospect appears ready for a top 10 challenge next.
- Miranda Maverick defeats Liana Jojua via first-round TKO: Miranda Maverick won this bout on the strength of physicality. She punched straight forward, hardly concerned with what was coming back her way, and it worked! She did damage, both with her straight punches and body kicks, and that was before an elbow destroyed her opponent’s nose in the closing moments of the first round. The doctors called the bout, and Maverick earns her debut win in style.
- Joel Alvarez defeats Alexander Yakovlev via first-round armbar: Throwing up submissions from bottom position is not a recipe for consistent success inside the modern UFC ... unless you’re Joel Alvarez, apparently! Once again, Alvarez handed a veteran Lightweight a defeat from within his own guard. This time, he did so via the armbar, reaching between the legs to quickly swivel his hips and attack the arm. Yakovlev tried to hang tough, but he was soon knocked over and forced to tap.
For complete UFC 254: “Khabib vs. Gaethje” results and play-by-play, click HERE!