Khabib vs. Gaethje: U.F.C. 254 Live Results

Khabib vs. Gaethje: U.F.C. 254 Live Results

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As heavyweight contender Walt Harris entered his bout with Alexander Volkov, announcers on the U.F.C. 254 broadcast team raved about his renewed commitment to fitness. After his last bout, a knockout loss to Alistair Overeem, Harris bought a road bike and started cycling. As a result, he lost 30 pounds, showed up looking leaner, and started the second round looking fresh.

But this wasn’t a bike race, and after winning the first round with efficient punching, Volkov finished the bout with a front kick to the stomach — a technique as straightforward as it sounds. He stepped forward with his left foot, raised his right knee then kicked with full force to the center of Harris’s belly. Harris groaned on impact, and hit the ground so quickly that broadcasters wondered whether Volkov connected with a low blow.

A replay confirmed the blow was legal, and Volkov celebrated his 32nd birthday with his 32nd professional win.

Upcoming

Robert Whittaker

vs.

Jared Cannonier

Jared Cannonier debuted in the U.F.C. as a heavyweight, facing Shawn Jordan in January 2015. But at 6 feet tall, Cannonier was among the smaller fighters in the weight class, and the size disadvantage helped doom him against the taller, bulkier Jordan, who won via first-round knockout.

Since then, Cannonier has downsized twice — first to light heavyweight, with its 205-pound weight limit, and then to middleweight, capped at 185 pounds. And his profile has risen as his waistline has shrunk.

As a heavyweight U.F.C. rookie, Cannonier lost in an undercard fight. Tonight as a middleweight, he faces former champ Robert Whittaker in the co-main event. The winner will likely face the current champion, Israel Adesanya.

Knockout

Alexander Volkov

defeats

Walt Harris

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Alexander Volkov

vs.

Walt Harris

Credit…Zuffa Llc, via Getty Images

Phillip Hawes looks the part. He’s a densely-muscled former junior college wrestler, and a hard-punching mixed martial arts fighter who, at 31, is finally looking to cash in on his vast potential.

Jacob Malkoun entered Saturday’s fight with a fearsome reputation that explained his relatively modest record. His camp maintained that Malkoun was 4-0 mainly because other fighters avoided him, depriving him of a chance to rack up more wins. Saturday’s matchup with Hawes was to serve as a coming-out party, but also show that other fighters had real reason to dodge him.

Then Hawes’ right fist met Malkoun’s left jaw early in the first round. And then Hawes unleashed another salvo of lefts and rights as Malkoun drooped to the canvas and the referee stepped between them to stop the fight.

The win improves Hawes to 9-2, and the fighter from North Bergen, N.J., still hasn’t gone the distance as a professional. His nine wins include seven knockouts and two submissions, and his two losses have both come by stoppage.

Knockout

Phillip Hawes

defeats

Jacob Malkoun

Liliya Shakirova, a wrestling specialist from Uzbekistan, is so new to the U.F.C. that her profile on the promotion’s website lists the same figure for her height, her weight and her reach: zero.

Once she and Lauren Murphy squared off, it became clear Shakirova wasn’t that small, but Murphy possessed size and strength advantages that she imposed throughout Round 1. While Shakirova — a late replacement for Murphy’s original opponent, Cynthia Calvillo — managed to take Murphy to the mat once, the 37-year-old Murphy foiled every subsequent takedown attempt.

In Round 2, Murphy toppled Shakirova onto her back, and after some grappling on the mat, snaked her forearm beneath Shakirova’s chin and squeezed. From there, Shakirova faced two choices: submit or pass out. She submitted.

Murphy improved to 14-0, and moved into prime position to challenge the U.F.C. flyweight champ, Valentina Shevchenko — a bout Murphy campaigned for in the octagon immediately after winning.

Upcoming

Jacob Malkoun

vs.

Phillip Hawes

Choke Submission

Lauren Murphy

defeats

Liliya Shakirova

Credit…Zuffa Llc, via Getty Images

When ring announcer Bruce Buffer called Ion Cutelaba’s name, the 28-year-old Moldovan light heavyweight made a throat-slash gesture, directed at the general audience but intended for his opponent, Magomed Ankalaev. When the two men fought earlier this year, Ankalaev won in 38 seconds and Cutelaba insisted the result was a fluke.

Less than five minutes after that display of bravado, Cutelaba was unconscious, deposited onto the canvas by a sharp left hand from Ankalaev, who pounded on him until the referee stopped the bout.

Ankalaev, 26, of Dagestan, said it was interesting “to run it again, and prove to myself that I could beat him.”

It was the 14th win of Ankalaev’s career. His lone loss came in his U.F.C. debut in 2018.

Upcoming

Lauren Murphy

vs.

Liliya Shakirova

Knockout

Magomed Ankalaev

defeats

Ion Cutelaba

Upcoming

Magomed Ankalaev

vs.

Ion Cutelaba

Credit…Zuffa Llc Via Getty Images

In a sport full for wrestlers, jiu-jitsu artists and Muay Thai boxers, Tuivasa is a throwback who lists his specialty as “street fighting.”

Heading into Saturday’s showdown with Stefan Struve, a 7-foot kickboxer from Holland, Tuivasa trained more seriously — cutting out beer and dipping easily under the U.F.C.’s 265-pound weight limit.

Then he overwhelmed Struve in a close-quarters mugging, before dropping him for good with a stunning uppercut, ending the fight with one second remaining in Round 1.

The win breaks a three-fight losing streak for Tuivasa, who improves his record to 10-3.

Nathaniel Wood and Casey Kenney fought at a catchweight of 140-pounds, and spent the first round trading the kind of high-speed, high-impact strikes that enthrall audiences both at home and — pre-pandemic — in person.

Wood, 27, from London, spent the round circling and landed several kicks to the inside of Kenney’s thigh, then several more to the meaty part of his quadriceps. Kenney, 29, from Tucson, Ariz., moved forward, and tattooed Wood with a series of several left hands.

Heading into the second, a question emerged: Which man would tire first?

Kenney appeared to breathe more heavily in the second, but he still landed big punches. Wood looked fresher, but sported a welt on his forehead that stretched from his eyebrow to his hairline. In round three, Kenney wrestled Wood to the mat, and the takedown sealed a unanimous decision win.

Kenney improves to 16-2-1, while Wood’s record falls to 17-5.

Credit…Zuffa Llc Via Getty Images

Knockout

Tai Tuivasa

defeats

Stefan Struve

U.F.C. heavyweight veteran Stefan Struve, who faces Tai Tuivasa on Saturday’s undercard, is a walking, punching, kicking record.

At 7 feet, Struve is the tallest competitor in U.F.C. history, and the tallest combat sport athlete competing this year. Julius Long, an American heavyweight boxer based in New Zealand whose nickname is the Towering Inferno, stands 7-foot-1 and is listed as active on the boxing stats database Boxrec, but has not fought since August of 2019.

And, yes, Struve played another sport before specializing in mixed martial arts.

It was soccer.

Upcoming

Stefan Struve

vs.

Tai Tuivasa

Unanimous Decision

Casey Kenney

defeats

Nathaniel Wood

Credit…Zuffa Llc, via Getty Images

Shavkkat Rakhmonov, a 26-year-old from Kazakhstan making his U.F.C. debut, introduced himself to Alex Oliveira with a knee strike early in the first round. The blow connected to Oliveira’s chest, knocking the fighter nicknamed Cowboy back toward the fence. If it had landed a few inches higher, it might have hit Oliveira’s chin and ended the fight instantly.

Later in the round Rakhmonov wrapped his legs around Oliveira’s waist, his arm around the Brazilian’s neck and locked in what mixed martial artists call a guillotine choke, squeezing until Oliveira tapped to concede the bout.

Rakhmonov entered the fight as a U.F.C. rookie — the emphatic win over the rugged Oliveira should make him a contender.

Da-Un Jung, a hard-punching prospect from South Korea, entered his light heavyweight bout against Sam Alvey on a 12-win streak while Alvey, a veteran American, had lost four straight. On paper, a fight like this is a test for a fighter like Jung — the kind that future champions often pass.

But from the opening bell Alvey, a southpaw from Temecula, Calif., beat the heavily favored Jung to the punch, peppering him with looping left hands and right uppercuts that sneaked between Jung’s gloves and rattled his chin. The second round resembled the first, and Jung entered round three appearing to need a knockout.

He didn’t get it, but he found his range and rhythm, knocking Alvey woozy with several elbow strikes to the draw.

The judges saw the bout as a split-decision draw — one each favored Jung and Alvey, and the third scored it evenly.

Jung didn’t win, but he’s still unbeaten in 13 straight.

Alvey didn’t lose, but he’s still winless in his last five fights.

Upcoming

Nathaniel Wood

vs.

Casey Kenney

Choke Submission

Shavkat Rakhmonov

defeats

Alex Oliveira

Upcoming

Alex Oliveira

vs.

Shavkat Rakhmonov

Split Draw

Da-Un Jung

vs.

Sam Alvey

Saturday’s card was scheduled to include a lightweight bout between prospect Islam Makhachev and Rafael dos Anjos, a Brazilian veteran. But dos Anjos tested positive for the coronavirus before traveling to Abu Dhabi from California, where he lives and trains.

Unable to bring a replacement on short notice, the U.F.C. pulled the bout from the card.

Makhachev and dos Anjos are now scheduled to meet Nov. 14 in Las Vegas.

Credit…Zuffa/Llc, via Getty Images

Nurmagomedov told reporters this week that he’s focused only on his title defense against Gaethje, but other fights — and other fighters — still loom heavily over Saturday’s main event.

Tony Ferguson, whom Gaethje defeated to earn a title shot, told reporters this week that he’d like his long-awaited shot at Nurmagomedov. The two men have been matched up four times, with each bout canceled for reasons ranging from a knee injury to the coronavirus pandemic.

On ESPN’s “First Take,” Nurmagomedov grimly rejected a suggestion he fight Conor McGregor again.

“Right now, even, I don’t want to talk about this,” he said.

But Nurmagomedov did concede that he’d like to face former welterweight champ Georges St.-Pierre, whose 2019 retirement may or may not be permanent.

Upcoming

Da-Un Jung

vs.

Sam Alvey

Technical Knockout

Miranda Maverick

defeats

Liana Jojua

Upcoming

Liana Jojua

vs.

Miranda Maverick

Armbar Submission

Joel Alvarez

defeats

Alexander Yakovlev

Credit…John Raoux/Associated Press

Nurmagomedov, 32, is a suffocating pressure fighter who supplements his relentless wrestling with well-placed punches and kicks. His 28-0 record is rare in a sport in which the elites are often pushed to fight top competition.

“I know he knows how to wrestle,” Nurmagomedov said of Gaethje. “But what about wrestling for 25 minutes?”

Gaethje, 31, was an All-American wrestler his junior year at the University of Northern Colorado. But as a mixed martial artist, he prefers crowd-pleasing, high-impact strikes. Against Nurmagomedov, Gaethje intends to wrestle just enough to keep the fight on his terms, and he has said he didn’t even study video of Nurmagomedov during training camp.

“I’m always focused on being my best self,” Gaethje said. “I will not allow him to put me on the fence. If I do, then I’m screwed.”

Credit…Christopher Pike/Reuters

When the New York State Athletic Commission refused to approve Nurmagomedov-Ferguson in April, as coronavirus cases overwhelmed New York City, the U.F.C. began an intensive search for a new site, with a local commission comfortable allowing fights during a pandemic. White mentioned the possibility of a private island for fighters based outside the United States, and the U.F.C. also hatched a plan to move the Nurmagomedov-Ferguson fight to an arena on Native American tribal land in California.

The card eventually landed in Jacksonville, Fla., with Gaethje replacing Ferguson. And by June the U.F.C. and Abu Dhabi’s Department of Culture and Tourism announced they would collaborate on a restricted environment on Yas Island, where the U.F.C. would host four events over a two-week span in mid-July.

After hosting 15 events at the Apex, a U.F.C.-owned training center and venue in Las Vegas, in August and September, the company returned to Abu Dhabi for five more cards, including Saturday’s fights at U.F.C. 254.

The situation is serviceable — allowing the U.F.C. to stick to its schedule and deliver fights for its television partner, ESPN. And White proudly points out that the company has not had to lay off employees during the pandemic.

But it is not ideal for one of the biggest fights of the year, especially when the original plan involved filling an N.F.L. stadium.

“If the world comes back to normal, these fights can happen anywhere,” White said. “This was, without a doubt, the most challenging year of my career, but it has also been the most rewarding.”

Nurmagomedov, the U.F.C.’s 155-pound champion, has competed only twice in the last 24 months, partly because of the pandemic. His most recent win came through a third-round submission by Dustin Poirier in September 2019.

The previous October, he collared McGregor in the fourth round of their grudge match, squeezing McGregor’s neck and jaw until he submitted. After the final bell, Nurmagomedov dived into the audience to fight hecklers from McGregor’s entourage, igniting a brawl that got both fighters suspended in Nevada.

During Nurmagomedov’s absence, Gaethje’s profile has grown. He stepped in for Nurmagomedov and knocked out Ferguson, earning the U.F.C.’s interim lightweight title. That guaranteed Gaethje a shot at Nurmagomedov for the undisputed belt.

From a business standpoint, White insists that Nurmagomedov comes with a built-in audience of paying customers, even if coronavirus restrictions will keep them from watching in person.

Nurmagomedov has 22 million followers on Instagram, and White said a recent Nurmagomedov video on the U.F.C.’s Facebook page had accumulated more than 100 million views. He also said that Nurmagomedov’s character was the most frequently selected by online players of the U.F.C.’s video game.

Though most U.F.C. pay-per-view events, regardless of where they occur, take place during prime time hours for U.S. viewers, Saturday’s main card begins at 2 p.m. Eastern time. That start time is better suited to Nurmagomedov fans in Russia and the Republic of Dagestan, where he grew up. The pay-per-view will also begin at 10 p.m. local time in Abu Dhabi, where Nurmagomedov defeated Poirier and where he trained for this fight.

“Apparently, people in the business don’t know this, but Khabib is one of the biggest stars in sport, not just the U.F.C.,” White said at the news conference this week. “I could just rattle off numbers all day.”



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