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UFC 266 Recap: Volkanovski Defends Featherweight Title in Signature Win Against Ortega

Alexander Volkanovski and Brian Ortega painted a violent masterpiece at UFC 266.

Volkanovski (23–1) defeated Ortega (15–2, 1 NC) by unanimous decision in an incredibly tense, action-packed bout. The final three rounds of the fight were exceptional, and it was remarkable to see Volkanovski escape two signature submission attempts from Ortega. There is no doubt that Volkanovski is the best featherweight in the world, though Ortega is right behind him.

This was a night of champions. In the co-main, Valentina Shevchenko obliterated Lauren Murphy. Shevchenko (22–3) showed patience until she dropped Murphy (15–5) in the fourth round, then hit her with a nonstop ground-and-pound attack to win the fight by TKO.

Murphy was simply never a threat to win. She never put the slightest scare into Shevchenko, showing the difference between Shevchenko and the rest of the division. Shevchenko has no equal in the flyweight division, and she also currently has no viable challengers.

Even with one eye closed shut, Curtis Blaydes still did everything necessary to defeat Jairzinho Rozenstruik by unanimous decision. This was a win that Blaydes (15–3, 1 NC) desperately needed after losing in February to Derrick Lewis. Blaydes executed a smart game plan, and there were only rare instances where Rozenstruik (12–3) appeared to have any shot at victory. He did hit Blaydes with a staggering knee to the eye. Despite the eye swelling shut, Blaydes continued to fight, wisely bringing the fight to the mat over the final five minutes. The win keeps Blaydes in the top-five of the heavyweight division.

A highly anticipated part of the card occurred when Nick Diaz made his return to the Octagon for the first time since 2016. He faced Robbie Lawler, who he had defeated by KO in their first meeting in 2004. 17 years later, they met for a rematch, which started off with an exceptionally fun first round.

Diaz (26–10, 2 NC) looked great boxing in the opening round, but quickly ran out of gas. Lawler (29–15, 1 NC) dropped him with a TKO in the third round, ending his four-fight losing streak and finally avenging his 2004 defeat to Diaz. It will be very surprising if Diaz ever fights again in the UFC, as he lost momentum very quickly in this bout.

In the opener, Jessica Andrade imposed her will upon Cynthia Calvillo. Andrade (22–9) dominated Calvillo (9-3-1) with her boxing, delivering such a vicious beating that the fight needed to be called with six seconds remaining in the opening round. A former women’s strawweight champion, Andrade then called out the winner of this November’s Rose Namajunas-Weili Zhang fight.

UFC 266 was a solid pay-per-view, but reached an entirely new level because of the performance by Volkanovski and Ortega. Next in line for a shot at Volkanovski is the winner of Max Holloway-Yair Rodriguez, but Ortega was magical tonight and a rematch would be appointment-viewing. Yet, the story of the night was the perseverance of the champ, as Volkanovski picked up his twentieth straight win by overcoming significant adversity, including a mounted guillotine.

FEATHERWEIGHT TITLE FIGHT: ALEXANDER VOLKANVSKI (C) VS. BRIAN ORTEGA -- 12:36 AM ET

Alexander Volkanovski remains the undisputed UFC featherweight champion.

Volkanovski (23-1) put forth a signature win in his title defense against Brian Ortega, earning a unanimous decision victory. This was superb, with the final three rounds delivering nonstop action and carving itself into UFC history.

The opening round was competitive, with both fighters busting open their opponent. Volkanovski’s early kicks to the body were ineffective, with Ortega (15-2, 1 NC) catching them and landing his own shots. The size advantage worked in Ortega’s favor, though Volkanovski certainly took full advantage of his speed.

Volkanovski dropped an elbow on Ortega’s face in the second round, which was the most significant strike of the round. The trash talk picked up after the second round, which were five critical minutes for Volkanovski, who readjusted and gained control of the fight by using his movement to initiate his offense.

A head clash in the third round caused a bloody nose for Ortega, exacerbated by Volkanovki’s combinations. The fight then reached an entirely new level of intensity as Ortega dropped Volkanovski, then quickly locked on a triangle. Volkanovski broke free, only for Ortega to lock on a guillotine, which Volkanovski also escaped. Volkanovski finished the round by punishing Ortega for the submission attacks, nearly ending the fight with an outrageously painful ground-and-pound as the round ended.

The fourth round saw Ortega again bring Volkanovski to the mat, which Volkanovski again reversed into another round of ground-and-pound. The disparity in ground strikes was jarring, with Volkanovski reaching 50 before Ortega even hit his fifth.

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This was a fight that deserved to go the distance. Volkanovski simply could not put Ortega away, even after laying in thick shots to the head, but his footwork and shot placement were too much. And incredibly, Volkanovksi rarely slowed down during the course of the five rounds. Ortega continued to pose a threat even in the waning moments, but never landed a knockout blow.

This was, by far, the fight of the night, and it is destined to be run back.

WOMEN’S FLYWEIGHT TITLE FIGHT: VALENTINA SHEVCHENKO (C) VS. LAUREN MURPHY -- 11:52 PM ET

Valentina Shevchenko pummeled Lauren Murphy, then did her signature dance in the middle of the Octagon to celebrate.

Shevchenko (22-3) put forth an unrelenting attack, and her ground-and-pound attack on Murphy (15-5) in the fourth round caused a referee stoppage. Murphy looked overwhelmed from the moment this bout started, and her only moment of optimism came when Shevchenko once tripped.

This was another dominating effort, and Shevchenko is running out of opponents in the flyweight division. A third bout against Amanda Nunes is the most compelling (and competitive) option for her moving forward.


MIDDLEWEIGHT FIGHT: NICK DIAZ VS. ROBBIE LAWLER -- 11:17 PM ET

17 years later, Robbie Lawler got his revenge in the cage against Nick Diaz.

Lawler (29-15, 1 NC) looked fantastic, ending a four-fight losing streak and defeating Diaz (26-10, 2 NC) by TKO in the third round.

For two rounds, this was better than expected. It started off with a fast pace, and Diaz hit Lawler with pure volume in the opening round. Watching Diaz, with his eyes on his target, laying in his shots was a page out of MMA history. But Lawler was relentless, and he finally landed a shot in the third round that completely rocked Diaz.

While still dangerous, Diaz looked older and slower. He took some criticism for not getting off the mat to continue, but even if he had, it was delaying the inevitable, as Lawler was in a far better position to win a five-round fight.


HEAVYWEIGHT FIGHT: CURTIS BLAYDES VS. JAIRZINHO ROZENSTRUIK -- 10:43 PM ET

Curtis Blaydes defeated Jairzinho Rozenstruik by unanimous decision, earning an important victory in the heavyweight division.

The most damaging strike of the fight was a knee from Rozenstruik (12-3) to the eye of Blaydes (15-3, 1 NC). Wisely, Blaydes worked the majority of the third round on the mat. Had he stayed on his feet, it is highly likely the referee would have stopped the bout due to the severity of his eye injury.

Outside of a potential referee stoppage, there was rarely a moment when it did not appear Blaydes was in control. He had six minutes of ground control time compared to zero for Rozenstruik. Following the win, he called out Francis Ngannou, Cyril Gane, Stipe Miocic, and Jon Jones, seeking to finally break into the top of the division.


WOMEN’S FLYWEIGHT FIGHT: JESSICA ANDRADE VS. CYNTHIA CALVILLO -- 10:21 PM ET

Cynthia Calvillo was not saved by the bell.

In the final seconds of the opening round, Jessica Andrade unleashed a vicious flurry of strikes to the face of Calvillo (9-3-1), forcing referee Herb Dean to stop the contest with only six seconds remaining. Boxing was the difference, and Calvillo simply could not defend herself at the end of the round.

Andrade (22-9) is now the first fighter to finish Calvillo, as well as the first-ever woman with 20 appearances in the UFC. While a healthy distance still separates Andrade from flyweight champion Valentina Shevchenko (which is the same situation with every other fighter in the division), Andrade was smart to call out the winner of the Rose Namajunas-Zhang Weili fight for the strawweight title.


UFC 266 weigh-in

Tonight’s UFC 266 is headlined by featherweight champion Alexander Volkanovski defending his title against second-ranked Brian Ortega.

After winning his past 19 bouts, Volkanovski is excited to re-enter the Octagon and continue his streak.

“Everyone has a puncher’s chance, but that’s the only chance Ortega has,” said Volkanovski (22-1). “He doesn’t believe he can beat me. I don’t see the belt going anywhere.”

Ortega (15-1, 1 NC) is one of the sport’s most skilled jiu-jitsu artists, and he will need to avoid boxing with Volkanovski and instead bring the fight to the mat in order to have his best shot at winning the title. But Volkanovski is the favorite for a reason, and he has given no reason to doubt his dominance. Speaking with Sports Illustrated, he noted that he also has big plans in store following this title defense.

“I want to fight regularly after this, even if that means I move up a division until we find out who’s next,” said Volkanovski. “Next year, I want to be number-one on the pound-for-pound rankings. I want to be at the top of that list.”

A second title fight on the 266 card is women’s flyweight champion Valentina Shevchenko defending her title against Lauren Murphy. Shevchenko (21-3) has won seven in a row, as well as 14 of her last 16. Every indication is that Murphy (15-4) will become the next opponent Shevchenko puts away with ease.

In a rematch 17 years in the making, Nick Diaz looks, once again, to knock out Robbie Lawler in Las Vegas. The two fought at UFC 47 in 2004, with Diaz (26-9, 2 NC) defeating Lawler (28-15, 1 NC) by KO. Neither fighter will look like his former self, yet this still has the potential to be the most electric part of the night.

Also on the card is a heavyweight bout pitting Curtis Blaydes against Jairzinho Rozenstruik, as well as a women’s flyweight fight featuring Jéssica Andrade against Cynthia Calvillo. For the heavyweights, Blaydes (14-3, 1 NC) is looking to recover from a devastating knockout loss to Derrick Lewis, while Rozenstruik (12-2) wants to prove he belongs among the top contenders of the division. This should be Blaydes’ night, especially if he can use his wrestling. And for the flyweights, a win for Andrade (21-9) will help build momentum for a rematch against Shevchenko. Calvillo (9-2-1) is coming off a defeat to Katlyn Chookagian, and she will need to find a way to counter Andrade’s power.

This is a solid card from the opener to the main event, especially with the chance to see Shevchenko dominate and the return of Diaz.

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