Khabib Nurmagomedov put his stamp on UFC 254, extending his reign as the most dominant fighter in the world before announcing his retirement.
Nurmagomedov (29-0) ended the UFC Lightweight Championship unification fight just over a minute and a half into the second round, locking on a triangle choke that Justin Gaethje (22-3) could not break. Gaethje battered and bruised Tony Ferguson in May to put himself in position for this title fight, but just like every other fighter to face the undefeated Nurmagomedov, this bout ended with Nurmagomedov’s pace and pressure simply too much to overcome.
Nurmagomedov and Gaethje started their fight in the middle of the afternoon, allowing a better opportunity for fans, particularly those across eastern Europe, to watch the card. It also provided a chance for more viewers to see an emotional Nurmagomedov announce his retirement.
This marked Nurmagomedov’s fight first since the passing of his father, Abdulmanap Nurmagomedov, who also was his coach and trainer. Following the victory, Nurmagomedov said there is nothing left for him to accomplish in mixed martial arts, adding that he made a promise to his mother that he would no longer fight without his father in his corner. The potential for a dream fight against Georges St-Pierre still looms, but this certainly adds an unexpected obstacle to making that fight.
Robert Whittaker also reasserted his dominance in a convincing victory against Jared Cannonier. The win instantly elevates Whittaker (22-5) to a place all to himself as the top contender for Israel Adesanya’s Middleweight Championship. The fight appeared on the verge of a third-round finish, but Cannonier (13-5), who had won all three of his fights since moving to middleweight, showed resilience by finding a way to finish the third. Even after a slow start, Whittaker’s combinations were too much for Cannonier.
Adesanya and Jon Jones appear headed for a dream fight, but in terms of the middleweight division, Adesanya’s next opponent is Whittaker. Their fight was extremely one-sided when Adesanya won with a second-round knockout in October 2019, ending a nine-fight winning streak for Whittaker. A rematch for the belt, based off this performance against Cannonier, looks to be a much more competitive fight.
Here are the results from UFC 254 from “Fight Island” in Abu Dhabi:
• Light Heavyweight bout: Magomed Ankalaev defeated Ion Cutealba by KO
• Women’s Flyweight bout: Lauren Murphy defeated Liliya Shakirova by submission with a rear-naked choke
• Middleweight bout: Phil Hawes defeated Jacob Malkoun by KO
• Heavyweight bout: Alexander Volkov defeated Walt Harris by TKO
• Middleweight bout: Robert Whittaker defeated Jared Cannonier by unanimous decision
• UFC Lightweight Championship Unification bout: Khabib Nurmagomedov defeated Justin Gaethje to become the undisputed Lightweight Champion
The remainder of the card offered some solid fights, though this event was built entirely around the top of the card, especially the main event. UFC 254 benefited from four straight finishes on the main card, adding excitement to fights that did not have championship ramifications.
Alexander Volkov (32-8) celebrated his birthday with a KO victory against Walt Harris (13-9, 1 NC), but he remains out of the upper echelon of heavyweight elites. Magomed Ankalaev (15-1) defeated Ion Cutealba (15-6, 1 NC) by KO in light heavyweight action, and Phil Hawes (9-2) made a spectacular UFC debut by finishing Jacob Malkoun (4-1) in a middleweight bout by KO, but neither Ankalaev nor Hawes are anywhere near title contention. Lauren Murphy (14-4) did the most to raise her stock, defeating Liliya Shakirova (8-2) with a rear-naked choke, but she still has considerable ground to cover before approaching the level of Women’s Flyweight Champion Valentina Shevchenko.
The aftermath of UFC 254 effectively ends any speculation that either Conor McGregor or Dustin Poirier will get a rematch against Nurmagomedov. If there ever were anyone to stick to their word about stepping away from fighting, it is Nurmagomedov. If this is the end, Nurmagomedov exited in style, reminding Gaethje, and the entire fight world, that he operates within an entirely different realm of dominance.
Justin Barrasso can be reached at JBarrasso@gmail.com. Follow him on Twitter @JustinBarrasso.