Tagged in: unanimous decision

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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Usman defeats Masvidal to retain belt

Kamaru Usman pushed Jorge Masvidal up against the cage. He struck Masvidal with his shoulder, stomped Masvidal’s feet and dug in with hard punches to the body.

With an opponent coming in on a week’s notice, Usman’s strategy was clear: grind and wear Masvidal out. And it worked entirely.

Usman overpowered Masvidal via unanimous decision (50-45, 50-45, 49-46) in the main event of UFC 251 on Sunday morning in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates. With the win, Usman retained his UFC welterweight title.

Usman vs. Masvidal came together only in the past eight days. Usman’s scheduled opponent, Gilbert Burns, tested positive for the coronavirus on July 3, just hours before the UFC charter was set to leave Las Vegas for Abu Dhabi.

Over the Fourth of July holiday weekend, the UFC was able to come to terms with Masvidal — who balked at the promotion’s initial offer for the fight six weeks ago — to fight for the 170-pound title as a late replacement.

“‘[Masvidal] is the biggest, baddest dude out there right now,” Usman told UFC play-by-play announcer Jon Anik after the fight. “I had to switch gears and prepare for him on a week’s notice. … I had to make a mental shift. I trained for Gilbert. I had a completely different game plan.”

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The addition of Masvidal, one of the UFC’s biggest stars, actually made the fight more highly anticipated. Masvidal and Usman had been feuding since a verbal altercation on Super Bowl radio row back in February.

Usman’s 12 consecutive victories ties lightweight champion Khabib Nurmagomedov for the longest active winning streak in the UFC. That figure also ties Georges St-Pierre for the longest winning streak in UFC welterweight history.

Usman (17-1) has never lost in the UFC.

The Nigerian-born Florida resident has not lost since his second pro bout, in 2013. Usman, 33, was coming off a fifth-round TKO over Colby Covington at UFC 245 in December, the latest UFC title-fight finish ever. This was Usman’s second title defense.

Masvidal (35-14) stopped Darren Till, Ben Askren and Nate Diaz within an eight-month span last year, making him one of the hottest pugilists on the UFC roster. The 5-second KO of Askren was the quickest in UFC history.

Masvidal, a 35-year-old Miami native, had 48 career fights coming in, which was the second-highest total ever for a fighter competing in his or her first UFC title bout.

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Gabriel Flores defeats Josec Ruiz by unanimous decision

Blue-chip lightweight prospect Gabriel Flores Jr. continued his development with a one-sided unanimous decision triumph over Josec Ruiz on Thursday at the MGM Grand Conference Center in Las Vegas.

All three judges scored it 100-89 for Flores (18-0, 6 KOs), who started quickly and outboxed Ruiz (21-3-3, 14 KOs) the rest of the way.

In the second round, Flores, 20, stunned Ruiz with a counter left hook and followed with a right cross that sent him down. It looked as though Flores might score an eye-opening knockout, but he eventually had to settle for a decision victory.

While Flores dominated every round, it was a solid learning experience for him. He got some quality rounds while facing a veteran who had never been knocked down coming into this contest.

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Flores, who recently relocated to Las Vegas from his hometown of Stockton, California, is a young fighter with a high boxing IQ and has a keen understanding of ring generalship.

Blessed with quick hands and great footwork, he is relying on his skills from the outside to win fights. Now he is waiting for some physical maturity so he can finish fights more emphatically.

After Thursday’s victory, Flores, coming off a 117-day layoff, exposed that he had suffered a lower back injury during a training session.

“It happened in my last sparring [session],” Flores said. “My lower back, it hurts severely. I feel probably 50 percent, with the punches I could’ve thrown tonight. I wasn’t tired, at all.”

Despite the victory, Flores wasn’t totally satisfied with his effort.

“Tonight was the night to show everybody what a great performance was, and I didn’t get to show them,” Flores said. “Fifty percent of me, that’s what I showed tonight.”

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