The Real Winners and Losers from UFC 266

Lyle Fitzsimmons@@fitzbitzFeatured ColumnistSeptember 26, 2021

The Real Winners and Losers from UFC 266

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    John Locher/Associated Press

    It happened in Vegas. But its impact won't stay in Vegas.

    The UFC was back in the desert for its monthly pay-per-view show, moving a few miles from the Apex home base to the T-Mobile Arena to produce a dual-title event with another five-rounder on the card as well.

    UFC 266 included a featherweight championship match between title-holder Alexander Volkanovski and challenger Brian Ortega, a women's flyweight title match between Valentina Shevchenko and Lauren Murphy, and a bonus 25-minute rematch duel that pitted Nick Diaz against Robbie Lawler.

    The latter bout was a middleweight contest that followed their initial meeting in 2004.

    Jon Anik, Daniel Cormier and Paul Felder held down the broadcast table for ESPN+, while Megan Olivi handled breaking news and features from elsewhere in the room. Din Thomas chimed in with technical analysis.

    In all, it was a 13-bout extravaganza from its start just after 6 p.m. ET to its finish after 1 a.m.

    The B/R combat sports team was in place from end to end and took in all the results on the way to producing a definitive list of winners and losers from the UFC's 10th big-ticket event of the year.

    Click through to see what we came up with, and drop a comment or two of your own to let us know how we did.

Winner: Old Guys Brawling

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    John Locher/Associated Press

    Who says classic rock can't be entertaining?

    Though Robbie Lawler and Nick Diaz were well past their best days in the Octagon, the two staples of the UFC's formative years got together for an epic rematch 17 years past their first meeting.

    The 39-year-old ex-welterweight champion and his 38-year-old opponent combined to throw more than 550 strikes and land nearly 300 before Lawler dispatched his former conqueror by TKO.

    The end came at 44 seconds of the third round after Lawler landed a short, powerful right hook over a Diaz jab and dropped the Stockton-based fighter to the floor. Lawler quickly backed off to avoid engaging Diaz on the mat, but Diaz could not answer referee Jason Herzog's order to rise.

    As a result, the fight was stopped, and Lawler had his revenge after losing in the 2004 meeting at UFC 47.

    "That's one of my favorite punches. I just needed to start throwing it a little more," Lawler said. "I've always had respect for Nick Diaz. He's a hell of a fighter. He came to battle. He got me going. I thanked him after the fight for forcing me to get out there."

    Indeed, Diaz was the busier fighter in the opening round, but his punches never deterred Lawler from coming forward and pressing the action. The ex-champ drove Diaz backward with a kick to the body early in the second and finished the session with a volley of punches that had Diaz retreating.

    Diaz was visibly tired and reddened across the face to begin the third and was out-landed, 10-6, in the third before the end came. He'd out-landed Lawler in the first two rounds by a 144-131 margin.

    "That's what I expected," Lawler said. "I expected him to bring it to me, push the pace and try to break me. That's the kind of sh-t I like to do."

    It was Diaz's first UFC appearance since a 2015 fight with Anderson Silva was followed by a failed drug test and extended suspensions.

    "I'm glad at least I put on a show," he said. "I don't have no excuses. I had a long time off. He's in great shape. I know I was leaking in here. I didn't want to make too much of a mess."

Winner: Unforgettable Violence

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    John Locher/Associated Press

    Go ahead, try and find a better featherweight title fight.

    We dare you.

    Ultimate Fighter coaching rivals Alexander Volkanovski and Brian Ortega engaged in an all-time classic in Saturday's show-closer, battling back and forth with strikes, takedowns and submission attempts before Volkanovski emerged with a five-round unanimous decision in defense of his 145-pound title.

    The win was the champion's 20th in a row overall and 10th straight in the UFC since he debuted in 2016.

    It came via 49-46, 50-45 and 50-44 margins on the scorecards, but the champion himself conceded afterward just how close it had come to going the other way—particularly during a harrowing third round in which Ortega locked in two of his signature chokes.

    "[Ortega's] good," he said. "I'm always gonna talk and say he's not on my level. I thought I got in his head, but he kept coming back stronger. I've got to give it to him."

    Ortega was outhustled and out-landed by small margins through the first 10 minutes before the classic middle session, during which Volkanovski scored early with punches but was countered with a left-hand strike that dropped him to his knees and prompted Ortega's quick transition to a mounted guillotine choke. The hold seemed tight, but the champion was still able to escape, only to find himself locked into a triangle choke soon after.

    The two were eye to eye as Ortega squeezed, but Volkanovski again wriggled free and was able to use his top position to strafe the challenger with heavy strikes for the final 20 seconds.

    "Apparently," Felder said, "Volkanovski does not need to breathe like the rest of us."

    The late damage left Ortega swollen and bleeding around the eyes to begin the fourth, and the fight appeared nearly over when referee Herb Dean and a cageside physician took a long look before allowing him to continue. Volkanovski was tripped to the floor and escaped yet another choke attempt early before spending the last three minutes hammering his foe to what wound up as a 35-6 striking edge.

    "[Ortega's] a zombie," Cormier said. "He walks through strikes that most guys can't take."

    The challenger rallied in the final round and had Volkanovski retreating at the final horn, which was followed by an extended conversation and embrace.

    "I thought it was done. That's exactly what we trained for," Ortega said of his choke attempts. "That little bastard's f--king tough as hell. I heard him gurgling, but he slipped out."

Loser: Challenger's Luck

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    John Locher/Associated Press

    Lauren Murphy was long on backstories but short on answers.

    Though she'd sounded confident and carried herself bravely into a title match with flyweight superstar Valentina Shevchenko, the Texas-based challenger dubbed "Lucky Lauren" was simply overmatched from end to end of a scheduled 25-minute co-main event.

    Murphy, ranked No. 3 at 125 pounds, was beaten by TKO at 4:00 of Round 4.

    It was the sixth successful title defense for the 33-year-old, who'd won her belt from Joanna Jedrzejczyk at UFC 231 in 2018. She's won eight in a row and 11 of 13 since arriving at the promotion in 2015, losing twice by narrow decisions to Amanda Nunes in 2016 and 2017.

    For Murphy, it's the fifth loss in 12 UFC fights since her arrival in 2014 and ended a five-fight win streak that had stretched back to a decision loss to Sijara Eubanks in 2018.

    She was consistently beaten to the punch by her faster and sharper opponent, which rendered her less willing to press the action and ultimately on the wrong end of nearly every prolonged exchange.

    The decisive sequence came after Shevchenko countered a Murphy kick with a short right hook that landed flush and instantly rendered its victim stiff-legged and wobbly.

    She was driven back to the fence by a follow-up volley and quickly taken down to the floor, where Shevchenko landed a series of punches and elbows that prompted referee Keith Peterson to halt matters.

    "It feels amazing. It's the best feeling," Shevchenko said. "When you feel like it's a moment you can get your finish, you've got to go, go, go for it."

Winner: Civil Combat

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    John Locher/Associated Press

    Combat sports is a hurt business.

    But that doesn't always have to mean animosity between competitors.

    Though Jessica Andrade and Cynthia Calvillo weren't particularly nice to each other during the time they spent competing on Saturday night, they more than made up for any bitter feelings when it was over.

    Embraces, handshakes and dual hoists into the air were the rule of the post-fight moment after Andrade dispatched Calvillo in a meeting of the first- and fifth-ranked fighters in the flyweight division.

    The end came at 4:54 of Round 1, after an uppercut and left hook initially drove Calvillo back to the fence, and a subsequent barrage of uncontested punches left her turned away from her foe, ultimately prompting an intervention from referee Dean.

    "She was tough," Andrade said, "but I knew that boxing was going to be the focus."

    The win came on Andrade's 30th birthday, and the finish was the fifth in her UFC career since her debut in 2013, second among women to only dual-champ Amanda Nunes, who has seven.

    Andrade called out former foes Rose Namajunas and Zhang Weili, both of whom she faced within four months in 2019. She beat Namajunas by second-round KO to win the strawweight title at UFC 237 before losing it to Weili in one round in a Fight Night main event.

Loser: Refereeing

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    Cooper Neill/Getty Images

    There's punishment. And then there's punishment.

    The beating ex-title challenger Marlon Moraes took in the prelim card finale certainly qualifies as the latter.

    And then some.

    The Brazilian is known primarily as a power puncher himself, but he was on the receiving end of more than 100 consecutive strikes before referee Keith Peterson finally pulled the plug at 4:25 of the second round in their scheduled three-rounder at bantamweight.

    On a positive note, there was winner Merab Dvalishvili of Georgia.

    "A star is born tonight after turning in one of the greatest comebacks in UFC history," Anik said. "That was one for the history books."

    Indeed it was. And the first five minutes alone should qualify as one of the top rounds of the year thanks to Dvalishvili's remarkable rally, but the fact that it ended with a nearly unfettered barrage to a grounded Moraes ought to have kept the second round from being quite so brutal.

    But it didn't.

    Instead, the frenetic Georgian went right back on the offensive when things got back to business, quickly getting his man back on the ground and battering him with fists and elbows.

    Moraes offered no real defense or attempt to escape, and Peterson inexplicably failed to issue the typical "fight or I'll stop it" warning as the one-sided onslaught continued.

    In fact, the ESPN crew suggested Moraes had even been knocked out momentarily, but no end came until just 35 seconds remained.

    In the second round alone, the strike totals were 142 to 0.

    And that was after a first round that ended 104 to 34.

    That's ridiculous—in any language.

    "You don't want to see someone taken anymore," Felder said. "Moraes had taken enough shots."

Winner: Punching out the Candles

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    Cooper Neill/Getty Images

    If you didn't know, now you know—Philadelphia heavyweight Chris Daukaus can punch. Hard.

    The newly-minted 32-year-old police officer—his birthday was Saturday—announced his presence as a factor with authority, knocking veteran No. 7 contender Shamil Abdurakhimov out with a single right hand less than 90 seconds into the second round of their scheduled three-rounder.

    Daukaus arrived at No. 10 and had already scored four straight KOs, three in the UFC, before encountering the 40-year-old Russian who'd won five of eight in the Octagon since debuting in 2015.

    A left hand dropped Abdurakhimov in the final 30 seconds of the first round, and Daukaus followed up with about two dozen strikes on the ground, but referee Mark Smith gave the stricken fighter a chance to reach the end of the session. He seemed stable at the start of the second but was clipped by a right hand and went to his back again, taking another ground shot before Smith jumped in.

    The official time was 1:23 of the second, and Daukaus soon followed with a series of callouts, including a challenge of former two-time champion Stipe Miocic in a would-be battle of police officer and fireman.=

    Also on the hit list were the winner of Saturday's main card bout between Blaydes and Rozenstruik and a planned UFC 267 clash between contenders Alexander Volkov and Marcin Tybura.

Winner: Getting to Work Early

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    Jeff Bottari/Getty Images

    There weren't so many people in the arena. 

    And probably not too many yet tuned into the broadcast.

    But that doesn't mean the portion of the show that occurred between 6 and 8 p.m. was uneventful.

    On the contrary, there was a lot going on.

    Maryland-based welterweight Matthew Semelsberger arrived to the final fight of his promotional contract in style, rendering opponent Martin Sano defenseless with the first punch he threw while scoring a 15-second KO in their scheduled three-rounder at 185 pounds.

    It was the second quick erasure in three fights for the 28-year-old, just a second longer than his win over Jason Witt on a Fight Night show in March. In between, he'd dropped a unanimous decision to Khaos Williams on another Fight Night card in June.

    "It felt amazing," Semelsberger said. "I'll take the quick knockout. But I was coming in ready for a war."

    Elsewhere, two of the other three early bouts ended in finishes, both on rear-naked chokes.

    Featherweight Jonathan Pearce ended his fight with Omar Morales via that method in the second round, while underdog Jalin Turner finished off lightweight Uros Medic with his own at 4:01 of the first.

    Only middleweight newbie Nick Maximov went the distance to get his W, winning two of three rounds on all three official scorecards in toppling short-notice opponent Cody Brundage by unanimous decision.

    It was a successful UFC debut for Maximov, who appeared on Dana White's Contender Series in 2020.

UFC 266 Full Card Results

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    Alex Bierens de Haan/Getty Images

    Main Card

    Alexander Volkanovski def. Brian Ortega by unanimous decision (49-46, 50-45, 50-44)

    Valentina Shevchenko def. Lauren Murphy by TKO, 4:00, Round 4

    Robbie Lawler def. Nick Diaz by TKO (punches), 0:44, Round 3

    Curtis Blaydes def. Jairzinho Rozenstruik by unanimous decision (30-27, 30-27, 30-27)

    Jessica Andrade def. Cynthia Calvillo by TKO (punches), 4:54, Round 1

    Prelims

    Merab Dvalishvili def. Marlon Moraes by TKO (punches), 4:25, Round 2

    Dan Hooker def. Nasrat Haqparast by unanimous decision (30-27, 30-27, 30-26)

    Chris Daukaus def. Shamil Abdurakhimov by TKO (punch), 1:23, Round 2

    Taila Santos def. Roxanne Modafferi by unanimous decision (30-27, 30-27, 30-27)

    Early Prelims

    Jalin Turner def. Uros Medic by submission (rear-naked choke), 4:01, Round 1

    Nick Maximov def. Cody Brundage by unanimous decision (29-28, 29-28, 29-28)

    Matthew Semelsberger def. Martin Sano by KO (punch), 0:15, Round 1

    Jonathan Pearce def. Omar Morales by submission (rear-naked choke), 3:31, Round 2

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