What a PPV that was. UFC 254 delivered on all of the hype and then some. We saw “The Eagle’s” last fight, a reaper rising at middleweight and a debut for the ages. Here are this week’s winners and losers.
Khabib Nurmagomedov solidified himself as the greatest lightweight of all time and one of the greatest pound-for-pound fighters in MMA history with his victory over Justin Gaethje. The undefeated Russian swarmed his opponent in the first round and made “The Highlight” look like a tired mess on the way back to his stool.
Nurmagomedov then became the first fighter in UFC history to win three consecutive title fights by submission and got Gaethje to tap furiously at the start of the second round. What followed next shocked the sporting world even more than Khabib’s relentlessly impressive title defence.
The 32-year-old broke down in tears in the Octagon, before announcing his retirement from the sport. The retirement comes a few months after Khabib’s father and lifelong coach, Abdulmanap Nurmagomedov passed away due to coronavirus related complications.
Nurmagomedov, who retires with a perfect record of 29 wins and 0 losses, promised his mother that the bout with Gaethje would be his last and leaves the sport on an ultimate high. Undefeated. Undisputed. Untouched. Long live the king.
Saturday night’s co-main event between Robert Whittaker and Jared Cannonier was as close as a fight could be on paper. The middleweight division’s two best contenders put on an entertaining scrap which “The Reaper” won by a unanimous decision.
Whittaker once again displayed his striking skills and defensive ability and used a kick-heavy attack to subdue Cannonier, who was undefeated at middleweight before the bout. Most of the talk surrounding the future of the division centred around Cannonier, but it would be tough to deny Whittaker a rematch against current middleweight king Israel Adesanya.
Since losing to “The Last Stylebender” last October, Whittaker has now beaten two top contenders in Darren Till and Jarred Cannonier and seems open to fighting Adesanya again in 2021.
Well, that was quick. Phil Hawes destroyed fellow debutant Jacob Malkoun in just 18 seconds and sent the MMA world into meltdown. Hawes was considered a talented prospect for a while but his loss on DWCS back in 2017 led to questions about whether or not he could compete against the best.
Hawes is now riding a 5 fight win streak, in which he has stopped all of his opponents. “Megatron” then delivered a message to the world, that was nearly as cold as his knockout win.
Honourable mentions: Lauren Murphy and both Casey Kenney and Nathaniel Wood.
Losers- Walt Harris
Walt Harris seems like a good dude and I wish him the best. But his defeat to Alexander Volkov on Saturday night was his second knockout loss in a row and his overall performance was poor.
Fatigue is a part of the sport, and getting tired is a normal thing. What isn’t normal is looking up at the clock 30 seconds into the second round and looking like an exhausted mess the entire bout. Yes, Volkov and Overeem are top heavyweights, but you can’t claim to be the division’s best striker and look so out of your depth against the world’s best.
Hopefully, Harris can bounce back, but a lot of work needs to be done before he can realistically compete against the promotion’s best heavyweights.
Ion Cuteleba’s second consecutive loss at the hands of Magomed Ankalaev marks the end of one of the UFC’s strangest sagas. The pair first fought in February of 2019, in a bout famous for its controversial ending.
In the first meeting, Cuteleba got rocked early and seemed to play possum hoping Ankalaev would walk onto one of his punches. Instead, the referee waved the fight off to which the arena and Cuteleba himself, erupted in anger. The rematch was cancelled twice before the pair finally settled the score at UFC 254.
Cuteleba lost by knockout, again, except without any controversy this time in what was a vicious stoppage. Ankalaev looks like a potential contender in the wide-open light heavyweight division, but Cuteleba has now lost three straight fights by stoppage and hasn’t won since mid-2018. The Moldovan’s UFC future looks bleak at this moment and time.
Last week I wrote about the importance of the UFC 254 main event for the competitive balance of the UFC’s lightweight division. Khabib Nurmagomedov’s retirement has made much of what I talked about seem irrelevant, as the division is now wide open.
However, Gaethje was still promoted as the guy that was set to push Khabib all the way, and he failed to compete with him. Gaethje looked tired after the first round and was broken down by the constant pressure the Russian put on him.
We have become accustomed to seeing Gaethje as the hammer, on Saturday night he was the nail. I won’t be too critical, because nobody has ever come close to beating Khabib, and because Gaethje took his loss with grace and dignity. But I had to place him on this side of the list.
It will be interesting to see where the chips will fall on this very intriguing lightweight landscape, but it seems that Gaethje will be looking in from the outside as either Conor McGregor or Dustin Poirier possibly lift the belt in January.