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Khabib Nurmagomedov stands alone.
In his first appearance since the death of his father, the American Kickboxing Academy ace choked Justin Gaethje unconscious with a second-round triangle to retain his undisputed Ultimate Fighting Championship lightweight title in the UFC 254 headliner on Saturday at the Flash Forum in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates. Gaethje (22-3, 5-3 UFC) went limp 1:34 into Round 2, as he was submitted for the first time in his 25-fight career.
Afterward, Nurmagomedov (29-0, 13-0 UFC) announced his retirement.
“The Eagle” pushed his counterpart beyond his bounds with relentless pressure and maniacal forward movement. Gaethje connected with a number of his patented leg kicks but could not keep the champion at bay. Nurmagomedov struck for a takedown in the closing seconds of the first round, advanced to full mount and threatened with an armbar. It was a harbinger for what was to come.
Nurmagomedov executed another takedown early in Round 2, framed an arm-triangle and then moved to a mounted triangle. Before Gaethje could muster a defense, the choke was cinched and his fate was sealed.
Rejuvenated Whittaker Denies Cannonier
Onetime middleweight champion Robert Whittaker likely cemented himself as the No. 1 contender at 185 pounds, as he laid claim to a unanimous decision over Jared Cannonier in the three-round co-main event. All three cageside judges arrived at the same verdict: 29-28 for Whittaker (22-5, 13-3 UFC).
Cannonier (13-5, 6-5 UFC) focused his efforts on “The Ultimate Fighter: The Smashes” winner’s legs, delivering a series of damaging kicks behind the knee. It was not nearly enough to keep Whittaker at bay. “The Reaper” buried one jab after another into Cannonier’s face, his repeated punches resulting in visible swelling and ultimately a crescent-shaped cut beneath the MMA Lab export’s right eye. Whittaker nearly finished it in the third round, where he uncorked a devastating jab-cross-head kick combination that had his counterpart stumbling across the cage. Cannonier somehow survived and even wobbled the former titleholder with a sneaky straight right hand in the waning moments of the fight. However, Whittaker quickly gathered himself, drew the Dallas native into the clinch and let the remaining seconds tick off the clock.
Whittaker, 29, has won 11 of his last 12 fights—an October 5, 2019 knockout loss to current middleweight king Israel Adesanya his only misstep.
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Volkov Body Kick Vanquishes Harris
Former M-1 Global and Bellator MMA champion Alexander Volkov cut down Walt Harris with a body kick and follow-up punches in the second round of their heavyweight showcase. Harris (13-9, 6-8 UFC) bowed out 1:15 into Round 2, suffering his second setback in five months.
The 31-year-old Volkov (32-8, 6-2 UFC) controlled the exchanges with superior standup skills, as he utilized his 80 inches of reach to the fullest extent. He fired stiff jabs to the head, hammered the body with kicks and had Harris reeling more than once in the first round. The situation did not improve for “The Big Ticket.” Volkov doubled over the Alabama native with a front kick between the liver and the solar plexus early in the second round, offered no refuge and assaulted him with punches until the job was done.
Volkov has posted eight victories across his past 10 appearances.
Hawes Wrecks Undefeated Malkoun
Sanford MMA Phil Hawes needed less than half a minute to bury fellow Octagon rookie Jacob Malkoun with punches in the first round of their featured middleweight pairing. Malkoun (4-1, 0-1 UFC) met his end 18 seconds into Round 1, as he crashed and burned for the first time as a professional.
Hawes (9-2, 1-0 UFC) from the start moved forward with purpose, corralled the PMA Super Martial Arts representative along the cage and unleashed his fists. He staggered Malkoun with a right hand, paused to survey the scene and swooped in for the kill. Two sweeping hooks, one from each hand, sent the unconscious “Mamba” facedown to the canvas.
The 31-year-old Hawes has now recorded five consecutive wins.
Murphy Choke Submits Shakirova
Former Invicta Fighting Championships titleholder Lauren Murphy submitted Liliya Shakirova with a rear-naked choke in the second round of their women’s flyweight showcase. A short-notice replacement for Cynthia Calvillo, Shakirova (8-2, 0-1 UFC) conceded defeat 3:31 into Round 2.
The 37-year-old Murphy (14-4, 6-4 UFC) bided her time while the Octagon newcomer ran her gas tank dry with incessant lateral movement and quick-twitch strikes. Shakirova was effective in punching and kicking at range through the first five minutes. However, by the time the second round arrived, she was on fumes. Murphy hit the accelerator, executed a takedown and wheeled around to the back when the opportunity presented itself. Soon after, the choke was in place and the result was a formality.
Murphy will carry a four-fight winning streak into her next assignment.
Emerging Ankalaev Flattens Cutelaba
Akhmat Fight Team export Magomed Ankalaev wiped out Ion Cutelaba with punches in the first round of their long-delayed light heavyweight rematch. Cutelaba (15-6, 4-5 UFC) succumbed to blows 4:19 into Round 1, as he lost for the third time in four appearances.
Ankalaev (14-1, 5-1 UFC) was patient and measured. He connected with a front kick to the face, drew Cutelaba into punching range and let his hands and reflexes do the rest. Ankalaev knocked down the Moldovan with a counter straight left, reset and went back on the hunt. He countered an ill-conceived Cutelaba backfist with a crushing left hook, pounced on his fallen rival and rendered him unconscious with a volley of punches and hammerfists.
The 28-year-old Ankalaev has rattled off five straight victories and now owns a 2-0 lead in his head-to-head series with Cutelaba.
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