ABU DHABI – UFC 254 is now in the books, and what a historic night it was. Between Nurmagomedov’s retirement and what that means for the lightweights, Whittaker most likely earning himself another title shot, and much more. There is a lot to discuss after this one. Let’s start with the main event.
Nurmagomedov vs. Gaethje
In the main event, Khabib Nurmagomedov turned in another dominant and arguably his most impressive performance against his most dangerous opponent yet in Justin Gaethje. In the first round, Gaethje was able to defend the takedown for almost the entire round and continued circling around the cage to keep the fight standing. Despite not being able to earn the takedown immediately, Nurmagomedov was still able to win the first round with his constant pressure and capitalization in the striking department on Gaethje’s focus of defending the takedown.
In the second round, Nurmagomedov was able to get Gaethje down early and that was the beginning of the end for the fight. It was clear that Nurmagomedov had focused much of his training for this fight on Jiu-Jitsu and that paid dividends. Gaethje’s folk-style wrestling is a great defense to the freestyle wrestler holding you down, but jiu-jitsu is the kryptonite for this style and Nurmagomedov was clearly well-aware of this. Instead of his usual relentless ground-n-pound when in top control, he instead focused on finishing Gaethje with multiple submission threats. After taking Gaethje down in the second and quickly obtaining mount, Nurmagomedov began attacking Gaethje with a mounted triangle, to which Gaethje rolled over into full guard on top of Nurmagomedov. Nurmagomedov retained the triangle choke grip with his legs and was able to choke Gaethje out cold for the finish.
After finishing Gaethje, Nurmagomedov went to the center of the Octagon and began balling. It was such an amazing moment to see all of the emotions of Nurmagomedov losing his father, who has led him to all of the success he has had in MMA and the UFC, coming out in such a historic moment in MMA history. After Jon Anik gave Nurmagomedov the microphone for the post-fight Octagon interview, “The Eagle” officially stated his retirement from the sport and left his gloves in the center of the octagon.
What’s Next for The Fighters?
If there is one retirement that I think has the highest chance of all to remaining true in this sport, it’s Nurmagomedov’s. He is and has always been a man of principle. If Nurmagomedov says he is retired, then I have to take him at his word and believe that he for sure is retired from fighting. It is heartbreaking as an MMA fan to see someone retire so early with so much left in the tank, but what a privilege it was to see someone as amazing as him compete on the world’s stage!
I’m not 100% sure what’s next for Gaethje. It’s hard to discuss without discussing the rest of the lightweight division. Dustin Poirier is supposedly booked to fight Conor McGregor on January 23 and I would not be surprised if the UFC decides to throw a title on top of that fight. In that case, there is a trio on the outside of the title picture between Gaethje, Chandler, and Ferguson. I think the solution to this would be having Gaethje fight Chandler, and Ferguson fight Oliveira or Hooker. The winner of Gaethje and Chandler would then fight the winner of McGregor and Poirier for the title. Despite Khabib retiring, the division is still in a very good spot.
Whittaker vs. Cannonier
In the co-main event, Robert Whittaker took on the rising star Jared Cannonier in a very impressive performance. Cannonier was able to land very hard and damaging leg kicks to the lead leg of Whittaker, but it wasn’t enough to stop “The Reaper” from continuing his pressure forward and winning rounds. In a 5-round fight, Cannonier’s gameplan may have worked very effectively with chopping down Whittaker’s legs but in a 3-rounder like this one, it was not successful for the contender.
What’s Next for The Fighters?
The next logical step for “The Reaper” is a rematch against Adesanya. However, I am not sure that is what Whittaker wants. He is very reluctant to say anything about fighting Adesanya next. When he returned after taking some time off after his loss to Adesanya, he answered Ariel Helwani’s questions of wanting to get back to fighting Adesanya for the title by discussing his desire to just fight top guys and if he happens to win the title then fine. He then avoided Jon Anik’s leading question in the post-fight Octagon interview, if the champion is next after his win by stating that the work is done and he is going home to his family now. It will be interesting to see if Whittaker fights Adesanya next, or if he chases another fight instead.
I think there are a few interesting fights for Cannonier at this point. A fight with Costa would make a lot of sense right now after they are both coming off of losses and are both in the top 5 of the division looking to get back into title contention. I would also like to see Cannonier vs. Till as well, with both men coming off of losses to Robert Whittaker. I don’t think this is the end for the Cannonier, but there some things he needs to work on before he takes his crack at the dominant champ reigning over the division.
Khabib Nurmagomedov def. Justin Gaethje via Triangle Choke Submission in Round 2 (1:34)
Robert Whittaker def. Jared Cannonier via Unanimous Decision (29-28, 29-28, 29-28)
Alexander Volkov def. Walt Harris via TKO in Round 2 (1:15)
Phillip Hawes def. Jacob Malkoun via TKO in Round 1 (0:18)
Lauren Murphy def. Liliya Shakirova via Rear-Naked Choke Submission in Round 2 (3:31)
Magomed Ankalaev def. Ion Cutelaba via TKO in Round 1 (4:19)
Tai Tuivasa def. Stefan Struve via TKO in Round 1 (4:59)
Casey Kenney def. Nathaniel Wood via Unanimous Decision (29-28, 29-28, 30-27)
Shavkat Rakhmonov def. Alex Oliveira via Guillotine Choke Submission in Round 1 (4:40)
Da-Un Jung vs. Sam Alvey fight to split draw (29-28, 28-29, 28-28)
Miranda Maverick def. Liana Jojua via TKO (Doctor’s Stoppage) in Round 1 first-round TKO (5:00)
Joel Alvarez def. Alexander Yakovlev via Armbar Submission in Round 1 (3:00)