Tagged in: unanimous decision

Max Holloway edges Yair Rodriguez in bloody, back-and-forth UFC Fight Night main event

Yair Rodriguez, blood coming from several cuts on his face, pointed his finger and planted it in Max Holloway’s chest. Holloway, face swollen and bleeding from above his right eye, took his fist and patted it versus Rodriguez’s face.

Holloway’s legend continued Saturday with a unanimous-decision victory (49-46, 48-47, 48-47) over Rodriguez in the main event of UFC Fight Night in Las Vegas. And Rodriguez’s own lore leveled up after a warrior-like performance in a losing effort.

The back-and-forth bout, which ended up as one of the best of 2021, could have been a torch passing moment from Holloway, the former UFC featherweight champion, to the up-and-coming Rodriguez. Instead, Holloway, nicknamed “Blessed,” earned another huge victory in a historic career.

Rodriguez pushed Holloway to the brink, rallying with an elbow that cut Holloway in the fifth round. But Holloway held on.

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“If you want to be the best, you’ve got to beat the best — and the best is ‘Blessed,’ baby,” Holloway said in his postfight interview.

Both fighters were taken to a hospital after the fight.

Holloway outlanded Rodriguez in important strikes 230-159, per UFC stats. The 389 combined significant strikes are the third largest total in a single fight in UFC history — and Holloway has been involved in each of the top four highest totals, according to ESPN Stats & Information.

Holloway landed 251 total strikes, becoming the first fighter to eclipse 3,000 total strikes in a UFC career. His 2,848 significant strikes are also a UFC record. Holloway is the only fighter in history to have 25 UFC fights and never get knocked down.

“Insane,” UFC president Dana White said. “It was one of the best fights I’ve ever seen.”

Holloway is arguably the best featherweight in UFC history, holding the 145-pound title from 2017 to 2019 with three title defenses. ESPN has Holloway ranked tied for No. 9 in the world in its pound-for-pound MMA rankings. At featherweight, Holloway is ranked No. 2 and Rodriguez is No. 8.

“Max is an amazing fighter,” Rodriguez stated. “He has a lot of experience. He’s done an amazing job. I have nothing to do but accept [the loss].”

Afterward, Holloway was noncommittal about what he wants next. He mentioned a possible title fight at lightweight, another shot at the man who took the featherweight title from him in Alexander Volkanovski, and even being on “the short list” for a fight versus Conor McGregor, who beat Holloway in 2013.

“We’re ready whenever,” Holloway said.

Holloway, 29, owns the most wins (18), most KO/TKO wins (8) and most stoppage victories (10) in UFC featherweight history. Rodriguez (13-3, 1 NC) was undefeated in three consecutive fights coming in and has just two losses in 10 UFC fights.

The Mexico native had not fought since a unanimous-decision victory over Jeremy Stephens in October 2019. Rodriguez, 29, owns the record for the latest knockout in UFC history, a spectacular back elbow finish of “The Korean Zombie,” Chan Sung Jung, with one second remaining in the fifth and final round in November 2018.

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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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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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