Tagged in: MMA

Khabib Nurmagomedov adding Kevin Lee, 165-pound weight class to his promotion, Eagle FC

As an active fighter, Khabib Nurmagomedov was one of the most influential figures in mixed martial arts. It seems he will continue to be one in his retirement.

Nurmagomedov, 33, revealed on Wednesday that his MMA promotion, Eagle FC, has signed former UFC lightweight Kevin Lee to an exclusive contract. Nurmagomedov also said his company plans to permanently open a new 165-pound weight class — a topic of debate in the sport for some time.

Lee (18-7) fought in the UFC from 2014 to 2021. He competed at 155 and 170 pounds but campaigned — unsuccessfully — for the addition of a 165-pound weight class.

“It’s going to be big news for a lot of fighters around the world,” Nurmagomedov told ESPN. “I know a lot of fighters want 165. A lot of fighters can’t make 155 and they are a little small at 170.

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“Honestly, this is not only about Kevin Lee. This is about a lot of fighters. I know because when I was a fighter, how I was feeling in there and I was talking with a lot of fighters around the world, they were asking, ‘Why other promotions — UFC, Bellator, PFL — why they not make 165?'”

Nurmagomedov even encouraged UFC lightweight Dustin Poirier to join his 165-pound weight class.

Poirier is signed to the UFC and just came up short in a title bid versus Charles Oliveira at UFC 269 over the weekend in Las Vegas.

Born in Dagestan, Nurmagomedov purchased Eagle FC in 2020. The promotion is holding its first U.S.-based event on Jan. 28 in Miami. The retired former champ says he has big plans for his promotion, and expects it to become a global brand.

“I have so much knowledge and I can share my knowledge with a lot of people,” Nurmagomedov said. “I can make comfortable position for a lot of fighters around the world. Right now, we are going to create a new system.

You guys will know very soon about this platform, where fighters will be happy. More happy than they’ve been with other organizations. Nothing against our big brothers, but this business have to move on.”

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UFC 269 Who has the edge in the two title fights?

Two titles will be on the line Saturday night at UFC 269. The UFC’s final pay-per-view of 2021 will feature two veteran lightweights who have waited a long time to be a champion.

Brazil’s Charles Oliveira (31-8) claimed the vacant title in May and will make his first defense versus Dustin Poirier (28-6) in the main event of UFC 269 in Las Vegas (10 p.m. ET, ESPN+ PPV).

Even though Oliveira is the champ, and has won nine in a row, many in the sport consider he needs to defeat Poirier to validate his status as a real champ.

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Poirier, of Louisiana, could have fought for the championship earlier this year, but he elected to take a lucrative detour versus Conor McGregor.

Now that he’s coming off back-to-back victories over McGregor, Poirier has set his focus solely on claiming the undisputed title, something he’s never done in his decorated MMA career.

In the other title fight of the night, Amanda Nunes (21-4) makes her sixth bantamweight title defense versus Julianna Pena. Nunes has made it look relatively easy at the top in recent years, as she has dominated both the 135- and 145-pound weight classes.

Pena, of Spokane, Washington, has been very vocal in her belief that she is the one to truly challenge the female GOAT. Pena is only 2-2 in her past four fights, but she has a physical, grinding style of offensive wrestling, which she used most recently to defeat former U.S.

Olympic wrestler Sara McMann at UFC 257 in January. As usual, Nunes is a strong favorite to retain her title, but does Pena have a chance at the upset?

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Nick Diaz joins brother Nate back in UFC, agrees to September bout vs. Robbie Lawler in Las Vegas

Nick Diaz is formally returning to the UFC.

According to his longtime attorney, Ross Goodman, Diaz, 37, signed a fight agreement Tuesday to face Robbie Lawler at UFC 266 on Sept. 25 in Las Vegas.

Lawler has not signed his agreement yet, sources told ESPN, but wants the fight, and is expected to sign his side shortly. The non-title fight is expected to be five rounds, and will be on the main portion of the pay-per-view card.

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Diaz (26-9) is the older brother of UFC star Nate Diaz, and a pioneer in mixed martial arts.

He is a former Strikeforce welterweight champion, and was involved in big fights with the UFC versus B.J. Penn, Carlos Condit, Georges St-Pierre and Anderson Silva from 2011 to 2015.

In September 2015, the Nevada State Athletic Commission suspended Diaz for five years after he tested positive for marijuana metabolites after his fight versus Silva in UFC 183. It was his third marijuana-related offense in the state of Nevada, which led to the harsh punishment.

Ironically, the NSAC voted just last week in favor of no longer disciplining combat sports athletes for marijuana use.

Diaz and Lawler have a history that runs back to 2004. They met on the undercard of UFC 47. Diaz won via knockout in a highly entertaining contest.

Lawler (28-15) is a former UFC welterweight champion. He won the 170-pound title by defeating Johny Hendricks in 2014 and defended it twice in instant classics versus Rory MacDonald and Condit.

The 39-year-old has dropped his past four bouts, all against very high-level competition.

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Dustin Poirier wins trilogy rematch by TKO after Conor McGregor injures leg in Round 1

Dustin Poirier now owns two triumphs over the biggest star in the history of mixed martial arts. This one, though, didn’t end in the cleanest way.

Poirier hit Conor McGregor with a combination at the end of the first round of Saturday night’s highly anticipated UFC 264 main event. McGregor went to plant his left foot and his leg buckled, sending him to the mat. Poirier followed up with punches on the ground as time expired in the round.

With McGregor clearly hurt, referee Herb Dean called the lightweight fight. The official result was Poirier by TKO (doctor’s stoppage) at 5:00 of the first round. A stretcher was brought in to transport McGregor to the hospital. The video replay showed McGregor’s lower leg bent gruesomely as his foot hit the canvas. UFC president Dana White later stated the injury was to McGregor’s lower tibia and that he will have surgery Sunday morning.

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The finish left the sold-out crowd disappointed. There was a mixture of boos and cheers when Poirier was declared as the winner. This was one of the most anticipated trilogy fights in UFC history.

“I beat the guy,” Poirier said in his postfight interview.

Poirier explained that he hurt McGregor’s ankle on a checked kick and then the ankle buckled at the end of the first round. McGregor denied that it was a checked kick that did it. Poirier picked up his 15th career first-round finish.

“This is not over,” McGregor said.

White said Poirier will fight for the UFC lightweight title next versus champion Charles Oliveira and that when McGregor is healthy he will probably get a fourth fight against Poirier.

“When Conor is healed and ready to go, we’ll do the rematch, I guess,” White said. “Poirier will do his thing until Conor is ready.”

Oliveira told ESPN’s Mike Coppinger he expects the fight with Poirier to possibly be in December.

“It’s really sad what happened [to McGregor], but if you look at Poirier’s game, he’s been improving a lot, he’s been putting a lot of pressure, so he deserves the win,” Oliveira said of Saturday night’s result.

White said he believes that had McGregor not been injured, he would have gotten out of the first round.

“His ankle snapped from throwing punches. He was fighting back,” White said. “It wasn’t like he was up against the cage with Dustin unloading punches on him. If his ankle doesn’t break, I think we get to the end of the round.”

Poirier, for his part, said he and McGregor “are going to fight again, whether it’s in the Octagon or on the sidewalk. … He was saying that he was going to kill me. You don’t say stuff like that.”

Poirier said he wasn’t sure he felt a sense of closure following the trilogy.

“I need to digest it all, because right now, it kind of feels weird,” he said. “It’s not a good feeling.”

Poirier stopped McGregor at UFC 257 in January via second-round TKO. In 2014, at UFC 178, McGregor knocked out Poirier in less than two minutes.

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Robert Whittaker beats Kelvin Gastelum via unanimous decision in Las Vegas

Robert Whittaker doesn’t create a lot of headlines. He doesn’t talk any trash. Never has he made a spectacle of himself.

But quietly, Whittaker has built a résumé that rivals some of the most impressive in mixed martial arts.

The former UFC middleweight champion put forth another brilliant performance Saturday, defeating Kelvin Gastelum by one-sided unanimous decision (50-45, 50-45, 50-45) in the main event of UFC Fight Night in Las Vegas.

Whittaker beautifully mixed up his striking over all five rounds, landing jabs, straight rights, left hooks, leg kicks and even a front kick to Gastelum’s jaw in the final frame. It was a sublime showcase against another one of the top middleweight fighters in the world.

“I’m feeling on top of the world,” Whittaker said. “Obviously, this was a very hard fight. A lot of people were selling Kelvin short. … He’s one of the best fighters in the division. That was a very tough fight.”

ESPN had Whittaker ranked No. 2 in the world at middleweight coming in. This victory should put him in line for a shot at champion Israel Adesanya, who beat him for the belt two years ago.

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“Nothing but respect,” Whittaker said of Adesanya. “He’s a great fighter. But I think we should talk, mate. I think it’s time we crossed paths again.”

Whittaker and Gastelum were first supposed to fight at UFC 234 on Feb. 10, 2019, when Whittaker was the UFC middleweight champion. But Whittaker withdrew from the fight the day of the card due to a hernia. A collapsed bowel caused him to have to undergo emergency surgery.

On Saturday, Gastelum was replacing Paulo Costa, Whittaker’s original opponent, who had to pull out due to lingering effects of COVID-19.

The change of opponent did not affect Whittaker at all. He rocked Gastelum in the first round with a head kick and never really slowed down from there. The very tough Gastelum hung around for all 25 minutes, but rare was a minute when Whittaker was not in total control.

Later in the first round, Whittaker took Gastelum down and landed some ground-and-pound. In the second, Gastelum had some success with his boxing and straight left hands, but Whittaker landed some nice jabs and counters. Whittaker rocked Gastelum again with a combination in the third, a round in which Gastelum had some success early.

Whittaker landed two nice uppercuts in the fourth round and got right up from a Gastelum takedown. In the fifth, Whittaker was starting to wear some of Gastelum’s offense — Gastelum was bruised up, as well — but Whittaker capped the technical performance with a surprising front kick to Gastelum’s face.

Whittaker outlanded Gastelum in meaningful strikes 150-62, and 115 of those from Whittaker were to the head, according to UFC Stats.

Whittaker (23-5) has won three consecutive fights and 12 of his past 13 overall. The New Zealand-born Australia resident has just one loss since 2014, versus Adesanya. Whittaker, 30, held the middleweight belt from 2017 to 2019, dropping it to Adesanya at UFC 243 in October 2019.

Whittaker is 14-3 in UFC.

Gastelum (16-7, 1 NC) was coming off a unanimous decision victory over Ian Heinisch at UFC 258 on Feb. 13. The California native had lost three straight prior to that.

The 29-year-old Gastelum was once considered one of the best middleweight fighters in the world, fighting Adesanya for the interim belt at UFC 236 in April 2019.

Saturday’s card was held with no fans at the UFC Apex, a facility across from the promotion’s corporate campus, with COVID-19 protocols in place.

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Derrick Lewis KO’s Curtis Blaydes in biggest UFC main event upset in 5 years

Curtis Blaydes made no apologies about his strategy coming into a huge heavyweight fight with Derrick Lewis. Blaydes was going to use his dominant wrestling early and often. He told anyone who would listen.

Maybe it was a decoy. But Blaydes should have stuck to his original game plan, as Lewis crushed him with an uppercut knockout at 1:26 of the second round in Saturday’s main event of UFC Fight Night in Las Vegas.

Blaydes gained confidence on the feet in the first round and attempted only one takedown, which Lewis stuffed. And Lewis, one of the most dangerous KO artists in the history of MMA, made him pay.

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It was the biggest upset in a UFC main event since Michael Bisping defeated Luke Rockhold at UFC 199 in 2016, according to ESPN Stats & Information research. Lewis was a +350 underdog, per Caesars Sportsbook by William Hill, ESPN’s odds provider. Bisping was +400 against Rockhold five years ago.

With the stoppage, Lewis ties Vitor Belfort with the most knockouts in UFC history (12).

Lewis also is now tied for the second-most wins in UFC heavyweight history (16) with Frank Mir. Andrei Arlovski is the all-time UFC heavyweight victories leader, with 19.

Saturday’s finish came when Blaydes ducked in, trying to close the distance for a clinch or a takedown. Lewis saw it coming and let loose with a massive uppercut. Blaydes’ body shook on impact, and he was unconscious as he fell to the canvas. Lewis followed up on the ground with punches, until referee Herb Dean came in to pull him off.

“That was the only punch I was waiting for the entire fight,” Lewis said. “I knew he was gonna come in. … That’s all I was waiting for. I wasn’t worried about throwing a one-two, a jab or anything.”

The fight was originally arranged for Nov. 28, but Blaydes tested positive for COVID-19, and the contest was pulled one day prior to the event before official weigh-ins.

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Kamaru Usman defeats Gilbert Burns by TKO to retain UFC welterweight title

Kamaru Usman and Gilbert Burns were full of emotion while embracing in the middle of the Octagon on Saturday night. Burns had blood and tears running down his face. Some of their cornermen behind them were trying not to cry.

Usman stopped Burns, his former teammate, via TKO at 34 seconds in the third round to defend his UFC welterweight title in the main event of UFC 258 in Las Vegas.

Usman landed a right hand as he was switching stances to floor Burns, then slammed Burns with punches on the ground until referee Herb Dean pulled him off.

“Gilbert is a guy that I’ve known from the start,” Usman said in his postfight interview. “I love him. This one was tough for me to deal with.” Usman picked up his 13th consecutive win, surpassing legend Georges St-Pierre for the most consecutive victories in UFC welterweight history.

Only Anderson Silva has won more than 13 straight fights in UFC history, winning 16 in a row from 2006 to 2012.

Usman is tied with six other fighters with 13 consecutive wins.

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Usman and Burns were teammates in South Florida since 2012, first with the Blackzilians and most recently with Sanford MMA.

Usman departed for Colorado to train under coach Trevor Wittman last year after the initial fight with Burns was scheduled for July.

But Burns tested positive for COVID-19 and withdrew from that bout. Henri Hooft, the longtime head coach for both Usman and Burns, did not corner either man and said he would not even watch the fight.

The fight had major implications outside of the personal story. Coming in, ESPN had Usman ranked No. 5 in the world in its pound-for-pound MMA rankings. In the welterweight division, ESPN has Usman ranked No. 1 and Burns at No. 5.

Burns rocked Usman twice early with huge right hands. But Usman hung in through a tumultuous first round. He then took over in the second, working a beautiful jab and stymieing Burns’ power and explosiveness. Usman’s striking looked better than ever, as he switched stances and landed with power from each one.

In the second round, Usman dropped Burns twice, the second time with a jab. In the third, it was a right hand that resembled a jab that put Burns on his butt before Usman pounced and finished on the ground.

Usman outlanded Burns 83-45 in significant strikes, per UFC Stats.

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Conor McGregor’s chance to lure Khabib Nurmagomedov back; Max Holloway’s lock on title shot

The UFC’s 2021 debut on ABC was big news for everything that happened inside the Etihad Arena in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates, on Saturday, and everything that didn’t.

Max Holloway put on one of the most punishing, one-sided displays of boxing in UFC history, landing a record 445 significant strikes in his unanimous decision triumph over Calvin Kattar. Despite absorbing all of that damage, Kattar stood up to the barrage and made it to the final bell.

But just as big as Holloway’s declarative statement for a return shot at the featherweight championship was, the biggest question going into the night centered around the recently retired Khabib Nurmagomedov.

While Nurmagomedov announced his retirement after defeating Justin Gaethje in October, Dana White has been actively trying to draw him back into the fold for one more megafight, with Conor McGregor the likeliest opponent.

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White promised an update on Nurmagomedov’s position on a return fight, and while there wasn’t a definitive answer either way, White’s assertion that Nurmagomedov could be persuaded back into action with a particularly dominant performance in either of two key fights at UFC 257 — set to be headlined by McGregor and Dustin Poirier — left the door open a crack.

With an eye toward the fallout of Saturday’s events, Brett Okamoto answer some of the UFC’s most pressing questions as they project what’s to come.

A rematch versus Khabib Nurmagomedov is Conor McGregor’s to lose

Okamoto: One million percent. Nurmagomedov has spent the past two years basically saying he has no interest in McGregor, but the narrative around McGregor has changed in the past two years. After Nurmagomedov defeated him in 2018, McGregor’s career was really up in the air. It was not a question of whether he was about to retire but rather what he wanted out of the sport at that point.

A money fight once a year? Or did he want to try and get back to where he was in 2016, at the top of the lightweight division?

Would that loss to Nurmagomedov reignite his desire to be the best in the world, the same way he was obsessed with evening the score with Nate Diaz in 2016? It appears to have done the latter. McGregor looks motivated, just as he appeared motivated in 2020, before circumstances out of his control interrupted his plans for the year.

If he looks great versus Poirier and someone hands him a mic, McGregor is going to be the obvious choice to fight Nurmagomedov; and based on White’s comments on the matter, I now expect Nurmagomedov to take that fight, if offered.

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Glover Teixeira submits Thiago Santos in UFC main event

With a latent light heavyweight title shot on the line, 41-year-old Glover Teixeira managed to pull out another classic presentation. Teixeira managed to survive some big scares to submit Thiago Santos in the main event of UFC Fight Night from Las Vegas’ UFC Apex facility.

Santos, who was returning for the first time since suffering a knee injury in a split-decision loss to then-champion Jon Jones in July 2019, came out fast and hard, rocking Teixeira in the first round.

Teixeira survived the scare and fell back on his grappling, scoring a takedown and dominating the rest of the round from top position. The grappling of Teixeira would dominate in the second round as well, this time without the scare.

Teixeira put Santos down early and stayed on top for the entire round before locking in a deep rear-naked choke only to see Santos saved by the bell.

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Time running out in the second almost led to a nightmare scenario in the third round when Santos instantly dropped Teixeira with a crushing left hand and followed him to the ground, scoring with a series of heavy punches from the top position. Santos quickly ran out of gas, however, and Teixeira reversed position, ending up on top and shortly after locking in another rear-naked choke.

This time there was no safety to be found as Santos was forced to tap at the 1:49 mark of Round 3.

The victory ran Teixeira’s winning streak to five and seems to set him up to challenge recently-crowned champion Jan Blachowicz for the light heavyweight title — a belt Teixeira fought for in a losing effort in 2014. However, UFC president Dana White has recently called a fight between Blachowicz and middleweight champion Israel Adesanya “the fight to make.”

“Dana White, come on, man,” Teixeira said. “I’m an old man here. You’re going to give the shot to Adesanya and make me wait? Five fights in a row beating these young guys, it’s not easy. Give me that title shot, man.”

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Khabib announces retirement after defeating Gaethje

Nurmagomedov submits Gaethje with triangle choke in round two despite competing with broken foot; Russian reveals shock retirement following the death of his father: “Today I want to say this is my last fight. No way am I coming here without my father”

Nurmagomedov extended his undefeated record to 29-0 with a second-round submission victory in Abu Dhabi – his third successful title defense, having previously beaten Conor McGregor and Dustin Poirier.

It was also the Russian’s first fight without his father and coach, Abdulmanap, who died from complications caused by coronavirus earlier this year, and one he went into with a broken foot.

In an emotional post-fight interview

Nurmagomedov stated: “Today I want to say this is my last fight. No way am I coming here without my father. When UFC called me about Justin I spoke with my mother for three days. “She didn’t want me to fight without father and I said this is my last fight – and I have given her my word.

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UFC president Dana White revealed after the fight that Nurmagomedov had competed with a broken foot and that by retiring with a 29-0 record he has to be considered as one of the greatest MMA fighters of all time.

Nurmagomedov first claimed the UFC lightweight title with a points decision victory over Al Iaquinta at UFC 223 in 2018 before defending the title versus McGregor in Las Vegas later that year at UFC 229.

McGregor took to social media on Saturday night to congratulate Nurmagomedov and confirmed he would continue in the sport, even without the prospect of a rematch with the Russian.

“Good performance @TeamKhabib,” McGregor wrote on Twitter. “I will carry on. Respect and condolences on your father again also. To you and family. Yours sincerely, The McGregors.”

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