Khabib Nurmagomedov Retains Lightweight Title, Announces Retirement
BarnBurner Sports Writer
Saturday, October 24, 2020
Khabib Nurmagomedov defended his lightweight title with a second round submission victory over Justin Gaethje in the UFC 254 headline event at Fight Island, Abu Dhabi, Saturday night. In the immediate aftermath, an emotional Nurmagomedov announced his retirement in the octagon, citing the recent passing of his father and fulfilling a promise he made to his mother that, without his father in his corner, this would be his last fight.
The sudden realization that fans around the world had witnessed the last fight of arguably the best pound for pound fighter in UFC history made the beauty of Nurmagomedov’s performance seem almost secondary on this night.
Khabib pressed Gaethje from the outset and while Gaethje landed some significant strikes, it was apparent that he was struggling with Nurmagomedov’s patented pressure. A takedown by Nurmagomedov late cemented his first round advantage. The second round saw more of the same, Nurmagomedov scoring another takedown and from there the champion went to work, applying a triangle choke that forced Gaethje to tap, the challenger ultimately losing consciousness after his initial taps were not seen by referee Jason Herzog.
Nurmagomedov retires from the sport undefeated, 13-0 in the UFC and 29-0 in his MMA career. His dominance of the sport may never be seen again.
The co-main featured a battle between Robert Whittaker and Jarod Cannonier, the number one and two ranked contenders in the middleweight division respectively. In an impressive performance, Whittaker, the former middleweight champion, earned a unanimous decision dominating the final two rounds to secure the victory. Cannonier enjoyed some early success with front leg kicks but could muster little else in the way of an attack, kept at bay by Whitaker’s stinging jab. In the last round, Whittaker followed a left-right combination with a right leg kick that caught Cannonier on the side of the head, sending the former heavyweight staggering backwards against the fence. Whittaker pounced on Cannonier, driving him to the canvas and, for a moment, it looked like the fight would be stopped. But Cannonier gamely fought to his feet and managed to land a hard right that wobbled Whittaker with just over a minute remaining. The round ended without further incident and Whittaker was a deserving winner, holding a 59-17 advantage in head strikes.
In a heavyweight clash between fighters looking to get back on track, Alexander Volkov scored an impressive second round tko over Walt Harris. After holding a decided edge in the opening round, Volkov landed a powerful front leg kick early in the second that caught Harris squarely in the mid section. Doubled over and obviously hurt, Harris stumbled back against the fence and Volkov closed the deal. The pivotal win improves Volkov’s record to 32-8 and reestablishes his contender status in the heavyweight division.
Middleweight Phil Hawes electrified viewers in his UFC debut, knocking out Jacob Malkoun in just eighteen seconds. Pressing forward immediately, Hawes landed a vicious blow that caught Malkoun behind his left ear and followed with a brief assault to put this one away. Hawes improves his professional record to 9-2, the victory capturing the attention of everyone in the division.
Fifth ranked flyweight Lauren Murphy registered her fourth consecutive victory, submitting Liliya Shakirova with a rear naked choke in the opening frame. With the win Murphy has her sights set firmly on a title shot versus champion Valentina Shevchenko.
In a highly anticipated rematch, Magomed Ankalaev knocked out Ion Cutelaba in the first round of their light heavyweight encounter. Their first fight was marred by what many felt was a premature stoppage that gave Ankalaev the victory. This time Ankalaev left no doubt, flooring Cutelaba with a devastating left and following up with hammer fists to bring the bout to a stunning conclusion.
The UFC 254 card was outstanding, a fitting end to the UFC’s highly entertaining five week stay at Fight Island. The UFC returns to the Apex in Las Vegas next Saturday, the Fight Night headline event an intriguing middleweight matchup between Uriah Hall and former champion Anderson Silva.