UFC 266 Report: Volkanovski and Shevchenko retain titles, Robbie Lawler stops Nick Diaz
By: Eric Marcotte
UFC 266 took place on Saturday night, from the T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas, Nevada. This was a very strong card, headlined by two title fights, as well as an additional five-rounder featuring the returning Nick Diaz and Robbie Lawler. Diaz last fought in 2015, where he was issued a lengthy suspension for marijuana following his fight with Anderson Silva (who tested positive for multiple banned substances himself). His suspension was eventually reduced, but it seemed unlikely that the elder Diaz would return to the octagon. Therefore, the announcement that he was returning to MMA to face Lawler was met with much excitement. Lawler and Diaz last fought at UFC 47 in 2004, a fight Diaz won by knockout. The main event of UFC 266 featured the UFC Featherweight Champion, Alexander Volkanovski, attempting his second title defense, this time against Brian Ortega. Volkanovski and Ortega were the coaches for the latest season of the Ultimate Fighter, moving into that role after their initially scheduled matchup at UFC 260 was canceled. Volkanovski came into this fight following back-to-back wins against Max Holloway, and Ortega earned this shot based on his win against the Korean Zombie late last year. The other title fight on this card featured UFC Women’s Flyweight Champion, Valentina Shevchenko, defending her championship against the third-ranked flyweight contender, Lauren Murphy. Five consecutive wins earned Murphy this title shot, capped off by a decision win over Joanne Calderwood. Shevchenko has been one of the most dominant champions in the sport and was understandably a massive favorite heading into her sixth attempted title defense here.
The commentary team for this card consisted of Jon Anik, Daniel Cormier, and Paul Felder. Performance bonuses were awarded to Merab Dvalishvili and Chris Daukaus. Fight of the Night bonuses went out to Alexander Volkanovski and Brian Ortega.
*Jonathan Pearce def. Omar Morales by rear-naked choke at 3:31 of Round 2
*Matthew Semelsberger def. Martin Sano by KO at 0:15 of Round 1
*Nick Maximov def. Cody Brundage by unanimous decision (29-28 all)
*Jalin Turner def. Uros Medic by rear-naked choke at 4:01 of Round 1
*Talia Santos def. Roxanne Modafferi by unanimous decision (30-27 all)
*Chris Daukaus def. Shamil Abdurakhimov by TKO at 1:23 of Round 2
*Dan Hooker def. Nasrat Haqparast by unanimous decision (30-27, 30-27, 30-26)
*Merab Dvalishvili def. Marlon Moraes by TKO at 4:25 of Round 2
*Jessica Andrade def. Cynthia Calvillo by TKO at 4:54 of Round 1
*Curtis Blaydes def. Jairzinho Rozenstruik by unanimous decision (30-27)
*Robbie Lawler def. Nick Diaz by TKO at 0:44 of Round 3
*Valentina Shevchenko def. Lauren Murphy by TKO at 4:00 of Round 4 to retain the UFC Women’s Flyweight Championship
*Alexander Volkanovski def. Brian Ortega by unanimous decision (49-46, 50-45, 50-44) to retain the UFC Featherweight Championship
JONATHAN PEARCE (10-4, 145.5) VS OMAR MORALES (7-3, 145.5) – FEATHERWEIGHT
Pearce was the advancing fighter as Morales countered from the backfoot. Morales appeared to be the more skillful striker, but Pearce was eventually able to close the distance and take Morales down. While he did not do a ton of damage or threaten any submissions, Pearce was able to take Morales down repeatedly, and he ended the round strongly.
Pearce closed the distance in a much quicker fashion this time. He dumped Morales to the ground and began to work from the top position. Pearce attempted an arm triangle at one point to no success, but he was able to take the back of Morales moments later, and he locked in a rear-naked choke, forcing Morales to submit.
WINNER: Jonathan Pearce by rear-naked choke at 3:31 of Round 2
Morales had the advantage on the feet, but once Pearce began to hunt for takedowns, the dynamic of the fight changed entirely. Pearce overwhelmed Morales with his grappling, and as a result, Morales began to tire quickly, leading to the second-round finish. Pearce improved to 2-1 in the UFC with this win.
MATTHEW SEMELSBERGER (8-3, 170.5) VS MARTIN SANO (4-2-1, 170) – WELTERWEIGHT
Semelsberger landed a right hand in one of the first exchanges of the fight, and it landed clean, knocking Sano unconscious.
WINNER: Matthew Semelsberger by KO at 0:15 of Round 1
Semelsberger has some power in his hands, with this being his second UFC knockout to come in under twenty seconds. This was Sano’s first fight since 2017, and his last win came in 2014. The commentary team was certainly skeptical of Sano’s chances going into this fight, and that skepticism did seem well warranted in the end. Semelsberger’s UFC record now stands at 3-1.
NICK MAXIMOV (6-0, 185.5) VS CODY BRUNDAGE (6-1, 185.5) – MIDDLEWEIGHT
Brundage looked confident on the feet early. Maximov was finding a home for his left hook, and eventually changed levels in pursuit of a takedown. Brundage was able to defend Maximov’s initial attempt by threatening a kimura, but when he tried the same technique again, Maximov was wise to it and was able to land some strong shots on the ground towards the end a close round. 10-9 Maximov.
Maximov quickly took Brundage down to begin round two, and he took the back of Brundage, locking in a body triangle. Brundage was eventually able to escape to his feet but attempted a guillotine choke that resulted in Maximov escaping and taking his back once again. Maximov was unable to secure the finish, but this was a more decisive round in his favor. 20-18 Maximov.
Brundage’s corner was very honest with him, informing him that he needed a finish to win this fight. While he was unable to avoid the grappling in round three, Brundage found much more success on the ground throughout this round, landing some strong elbows and ground and pound, cutting Maximov open. It was a close third round, and I gave the edge to Brundage here. 29-28 Maximov.
WINNER: Nick Maximov by unanimous decision (29-28 all)
It was a grappling heavy fight, and Maximov was just a step ahead in that department for the vast majority of this fight. Brundage rebounded in round three, but it was too little too late, and Maximov took the decision win here. Maximov is now 7-0 professionally, and this marked his first UFC win.
UROS MEDIC (7-0, 156) VS JALIN TURNER (10-5, 156) – LIGHTWEIGHT
Turner took Medic down early, following a failed head kick attempt. He began to work from side control but wasn’t able to advance, and Medic worked his way to his feet with two minutes remaining. Turner landed a body shot that hurt Medic, and he just swarmed him against the cage. Medic was doing his best to stay in the fight, but Turner was eventually able to take his back, and he proceeded to lock in a rear-naked choke, resulting in the first-round submission.
WINNER: Jalin Turner by rear-naked choke at 4:01 of Round 1
Jalin Turner is regarded as a striker, but he has worked heavily on his grappling, submitting his last two opponents. Medic is a skilled fighter; however, he had no answers for Turner in this fight, and Turner was able to just overwhelm him and pick up the first-round finish. Turner is now 4-2 in the UFC following this win.
ROXANNE MODAFFERI (25-18, 125.5) VS TAILA SANTOS (17-1, 125) – FLYWEIGHT
They traded hands throughout the first minute of the fight. Santos changed levels and brought Modafferi to the ground, where she was unable to accomplish much before Modafferi made it back to her feet. She quickly recorded another takedown, however, and this time she was able to land a series of left hands from half guard. A 10-9 round for Santos.
Modafferi attempted a single leg to no success to begin round two. After spending a couple of minutes wrestling against the cage, Santos landed a big right hand that cut Modafferi open, before taking her down once more. Santos controlled the remainder of the round, and this was another easy round to score in her favor. 20-18 Santos.
Both fighters landed solid punches early in the third round, as they traded on the feet. It was Santos who had the edge in power, however, and she knocked Modafferi down before jumping into her guard. With ninety seconds remaining in the round, Modafferi escaped to her feet but was unable to secure a late finish, and the fight went the distance. 30-27 Santos.
WINNER: Talia Santos by unanimous decision (30-27 all)
Modafferi has become an increasingly well-rounded fighter over the years, but Santos seemed to have the edge everywhere the fight went in this bout. Santos is now 18-1 professionally with this win, with that one loss coming by split decision to Mara Romero Borella her UFC debut. She will likely move into the top ten at flyweight following this win over Modafferi, and it will be interesting to see who the UFC schedules as her next opponent.
SHAMIL ABDURAKHIMOV (20-5, 258) VS CHRIS DAUKAUS (11-3, 231) – HEAVYWEIGHT
There were a handful of heavy exchanges throughout the first round, but the chins of both heavyweights held up early. Daukaus kicked Abdurakhimov’s leg out from under him at one point, before allowing him back to his feet. With under a minute remaining in the first round, Daukaus connected with a perfect left hook that floored Abdurakhimov, and he landed several ground and pound shots before the end of the round. 10-9 Daukaus.
Felder stated that Abdurakhimov looked as though he had no idea what was going on between rounds. Daukaus flipped Abdurakhimov off after he refused a glove touch, and about a minute later, Daukaus knocked Abdurakhimov down yet again, this time with a right hand, and he quickly finished the fight with some brutal ground and pound.
WINNER: Chris Daukaus by TKO at 1:23 of Round 2
While the pace was slow at times, every time these fighters exchanged strikes, they were throwing bombs here. Abdurakhimov was pretty much out the second Daukaus landed that knockdown in round two, and I thought this was a bit of a late stoppage by Mark Smith here, with Abdurakhimov taking a lot of extra punishment. In his post-fight interview, Daukaus called out several top ten ranked heavyweights following this knockout, most notably, Stipe Miocic.
DAN HOOKER (20-10, 155.5) VS NASRAT HAQPARAST (13-3, 154.5) – LIGHTWEIGHT
The crowd was definitely behind Dan Hooker here. Haqparast landed a solid 1-2 early, the first notable strikes of the bout. Despite constant pressure from Hooker, this was not the most action-packed round, and the stronger strikes belonged to Haqparast when he would explode forward on occasion. Hooker worked the body with kicks throughout the round and went for an unsuccessful takedown before time expired. 10-9 Hooker, based largely on activity.
Hooker continued to apply the pressure in round two, marching forward constantly. Hooker connected with knees to the head and body but was unsuccessful in his attempts to bring the fight to the ground. The knees continued to land for Hooker, and Haqparast seemed unable to get anything of substance off in response. Late in the round, Hooker took Haqparast down, ending the round on top. 20-18 Hooker.
Haqparast knew he needed a finish going into round three, and picked up the aggression. Hooker changed levels and brought Haqparast back down, controlling the next few minutes of the round from side control. Haqparast worked his way up with just over a minute remaining but was taken right back down. The fight went the distance, and I scored it 30-27 for Dan Hooker.
WINNER: Dan Hooker by unanimous decision (30-27, 30-27, 30-26)
After a rough loss to Michael Chandler earlier this year, Hooker rebounded strongly with this performance against Haqparast. His takedowns were very well timed, and those knees were landing clean every time he threw them. Both Haqparast and Hooker had incredibly difficult journeys to make it to this fight, and both men deserve a ton of praise for not only making it to the fight but showing up on weight. In his post-fight interview, Hooker called out Beneil Dariush.
MARLON MORAES (23-8-1, 135.5) VS MERAB DVALISHVILI (13-4, 135.5) – BANTAMWEIGHT
Moraes attacked the leg early in round one, prompting Dvalishvili to just start swinging. Moraes was able to quickly return to his feet following a takedown, which was a good sign for the striker. Moraes caught Dvalishvili with a lighting quick left hook, and he landed another one moments later that dropped Merab. Moraes just started swarming Dvalishvili, landing countless powerful left hooks, and multiple times, it looked like Dvalishvili was done, but he somehow survived this onslaught and relived the pressure by taking Moraes down. Dvalishvili began to unload with ground and pound from the guard of Moraes, and he nearly knocked Moraes out near the end of an amazing round.
Dvalishvili cracked Moraes with a right-hand seconds into round two and dragged him right back to the position they ended round one in. Moraes was eating big shots every time he attempted to improve his position. The body language from Moraes was bad, and he seemed to be half out of it here. With just over thirty seconds remaining, the fight was finally stopped.
WINNER: Merab Dvalishvili by TKO at 4:25 of Round 2
This was a wild fight. Dvalishvili was on the verge of being finished in round one, and his desperation takedown changed the course of the entire fight. Moraes was beaten up and exhausted by the end of the first, and he did not seem to have much left in the tank going into round two. This resulted in an uncomfortable round, with Dvalishvili just putting a beating on Moraes until it was mercifully stopped. If he wasn’t there beforehand, this fight certainly moved Dvalishvili into title contention, and I would imagine he is only one big win away from a shot at the title.
JESSICA ANDRADE (21-9, 126) VS CYNTHIA CALVILLO (9-2-1, 126) – FLYWEIGHT
The broadcast pointed out that Andrade became the first woman with twenty UFC fights here. Andrade had the clear edge in power, but Calvillo was doing a good job with her movement, keeping Andrade from getting into a position where she would be able to just unload on her. Still, despite well-timed jabs from Calvillo, Andrade was just powering through them and landing strong hooks. With time running down in the round, Andrade landed a pair of uppercuts that hurt Calvillo, and Andrade swarmed her with a combination of strikes until the fight was stopped.
WINNER: Jessica Andrade by TKO at 4:54 of Round 1
Calvillo just didn’t have enough power in her punches and was unable to keep Andrade off of her whenever Andrade flurried forward. The stoppage was sort of humorous (for lack of a better term) after watching that last fight between Moraes and Dvalishvili, but Calvillo did not appear to take issue with it, and that is typically an indication that the referee made the right call. Andrade called out the winner of Rose Namajunas versus Weili Zhang in her post-fight interview. She is 1-1 against Namajunas and 0-1 against Zhang.
CURTIS BLAYDES (14-3, 1 NC, 261) VS JAIRZINHO ROZENSTRUIK (12-2, 257) – HEAVYWEIGHT
Blaydes was able to take Rozenstruik down on his first attempt. He landed some strong ground and pound, but Rozenstruik was able to climb back to his feet with two minutes remaining. Not much happened for the remainder of the round. 10-9 Blaydes.
The crowd voiced their displeasure with this fight after a couple more minutes of inactivity in round two. After three and a half minutes of nothing, Rozenstruik landed a jumping knee, but Blaydes was able to take him down afterward. Blaydes was unable to do anything significant damage from top position. 20-18.
Blaydes’s right eye had swollen badly from that Rozenstruik knee in round two. After two more minutes of inactivity, Blaydes recorded another takedown. While Blaydes didn’t do much from top position, he maintained it for the remainder of the round and won this fight. 30-27 Blaydes.
WINNER: Curtis Blaydes by unanimous decision (30-27)
There was an extreme lack of activity in this fight, especially from Rozenstruik, and that has unfortunately become a common theme for him. Blaydes wasn’t much more active on the feet, but he got the takedowns when he needed them, and practically won round three with one eye. Blaydes needed a win after that knockout loss to Derrick Lewis, and he got just that here, even if it wasn’t in the most exciting fashion. He called out the winner of Gane/Lewis, Stipe Miocic, and Jon Jones in his post-fight interview. Of those fights, I’d say that Stipe Miocic would be the most logical next opponent for him.
NICK DIAZ (26-9, 2 NC, 185.5) VS ROBBIE LAWLER (28-15, 1 NC, 184) – MIDDLEWEIGHT
Diaz and Lawler fought at UFC 47 in 2004, a fight that Diaz won by knockout in the second round. This fight was scheduled for five rounds, a rarity for non-title fight/non-main event bouts in the UFC.
Lawler was incredibly aggressive to begin the fight. Diaz began to fire back, as the crowd voiced their support of the elder Diaz brother. Both men dug into the body hard, and Diaz began to advance. Lawler was mixing in leg kicks, which was the one thing Diaz wasn’t attacking with in his offense. Diaz was getting comfortable with his boxing, lighting Lawler up as he advanced. Lawler was not deterred by Diaz’s output and looked confident when he went on the attack. An entertaining opening round, that I narrowly scored for Diaz. 10-9 Diaz.
Once again, it was Lawler who got off to the better start in round two, and a body shot from Lawler put Diaz on the retreat. If he was hurt, he recovered quickly, as they returned to trading punches in the pocket. Nick was landing good uppercuts, while Lawler’s overhand left seemed to be his most damaging weapon. Both men had landed over a hundred significant strikes by the end of this second round. A good round for Lawler, but another close one. 19-19.
Seconds into round three, Lawler landed a right hook that hurt Diaz badly and followed it up with an uppercut. Diaz went down, and Lawler allowed him to return to his feet, but Nick was done, and the fight was stopped.
WINNER: Robbie Lawler by TKO at 0:44 of Round 3
Both fighters showed tremendous respect for each other after the finish. The pace of this fight was remarkable for two men nearing their forties, and this was a really fun fight between the two future hall of famers. The finish was interesting a bit anti-climatic, but you can never fault a fighter for knowing when they’re done. Nick Diaz was treated as a hero by the crowd here and stated that he was happy to put on a show in his post-fight interview. Personally, I was worried that this fight was going to be sad to watch coming into tonight (think Liddell/Ortiz 3), but this was a fun fight between two of the most entertaining fighters in MMA history. This marked Lawler’s first win since 2017.
VALENTINA SHEVCHENKO (21-3, 124) VS LAUREN MURPHY (15-4, 125) – UFC WOMEN’S FLYWEIGHT CHAMPIONSHIP
While the opening round was far from action-packed, Shevchenko was getting the better of the exchanges on the feet, landing quick combinations and escaping before Murphy could fire back. As the round progressed, Shevchenko was landing harder and harder, mixing in head kicks and spinning elbows. Shevchenko ended the round with a takedown. 10-9 Shevchenko.
Murphy had very little to offer Shevchenko offensively but did stuff a takedown to begin round two. Shevchenko landed a pair of spinning back kicks to the body and took Murphy down. There was a massive speed advantage in favor of Shevchenko. Shevchenko controlled the remainder of the round from top position. 20-18 Shevchenko.
The fight continued at a slow pace in round three. Shevchenko was far ahead in this fight, and Murphy just didn’t have anything to offer Shevchenko to make up ground. At one point in the round, Daniel Cormier began to tell the story of Brandon Moreno versus Deiveson Figueiredo two, but he had forgotten both fighters as well as the ending of the fight. Another round for Shevchenko. 30-27 Shevchenko.
The commentary team was very critical of Lauren Murphy’s corner, who told her that she was doing great in the clinch. Shevchenko slipped at one point, and the crowd reacted as though she was just knocked down, even though Murphy’s punch was a mile away from her. Shevchenko landed a right hook that rocked Murphy, and she followed it up with a vicious combination before taking her to the ground. She began to throw down right hands, and the fight was stopped.
WINNER: Valentina Shevchenko by TKO at 4:00 of Round 4 to retain the UFC Women’s Flyweight Championship
It was a one-sided fight, and with all due respect to Lauren Murphy, she had absolutely nothing to offer Shevchenko here. Shevchenko has been several steps ahead of all of her flyweight opponents, and this was no exception. There isn’t a clear next opponent in line for an opportunity at Shevchenko’s championship, so there is naturally going to be a lot of talk regarding her making the move back to 135lbs to face Amanda Nunes for the third time, but I will never fault a champion for sticking in a weight class and defending their title, as dominant as they may be.
ALEXANDER VOLKANOVSKI (22-1, 144.5) VS BRIAN ORTEGA (15-1, 1 NC, 144) – UFC FEATHERWEIGHT CHAMPIONSHIP
They touched gloves to begin the fight. Volkanovski was active with leg kicks early and cracked Ortega with a right hand. Ortega was countering well whenever Volkanovski was throwing that right, so there were some dangerous exchanges for both men here. Both men had small cuts under their eyes. Additionally, both fighters were closing the distance very well here, landing strong counters. This was a close round, but I gave the edge to Volkanovski. 10-9 Volkanovski.
They exchanged right hands as Volkanovski pressured forward. Volkanovski was chipping away at Ortega’s lead leg, and he was lunging in with these right hands that were cracking Ortega. Ortega started returning fire with strong leg kicks, but this was overall a strong round for Volkanovski in my opinion. They stared each other down at the end of the round. 20-18 Volkanovski.
Volkanovski landed the first big one in round three, another hard right hand. They accidentally clashed heads, and Ortega seemed to get the worse of that exchange. Volkanovski was getting very confident on the feet and Ortega began to fire back to relieve the pressure. Volkanovski went down after a left hand from Ortega, and Ortega immediately clamped in a guillotine. Volkanovski was in trouble, but he escaped and took top position, he began to throw down brutal ground and pound. Ortega threw up a triangle off of his back, and it looked like had it locked in, but yet again, Volkanovski somehow escaped and continued to just beat down Ortega. This was an unbelievable round, and Ortega was in rough shape by the end of it. 30-27 Volkanovski.
Ortega’s right eye was swollen almost completely shut. The fight was nearly stopped between rounds, but he was ultimately allowed to continue. Ortega took Volkanovski down quickly, however, he was unable to retain top position for long. Volkanovski started throwing heavy shots from on top yet again. Herb Dean was about to stop the fight, but Ortega was able to just roll out of harm’s way momentarily, and Volkanovski allowed him to his feet. 40-36 Volkanovski.
Ortega wasn’t looking great going into round five, but he was still throwing with power, and he began to advance, knowing he needed a finish. This was Ortega’s best round of the fight, landing strong strikes, and keeping Volkanovski on the backfoot. The fight did go the distance, and I scored it 49-46 in favor of Volkanovski.
WINNER: Alexander Volkanovski by unanimous decision (49-46, 50-45, 50-44) to retain the UFC Featherweight Championship
While large portions of this fight were one-sided, this was a fantastic fight. Ortega’s submission attempts looked like fight enders in the third round, but Volkanovski showcased insanely impressive skill and resiliency by escaping them and coming back to win the round. In my opinion, this was an all-time great performance from Volkanovski, who is starting to form an impressive resume with wins over Max Holloway, Jose Aldo, Chad Mendes, and now Ortega. For Ortega, this was another brutal title bout loss, but I don’t feel like his stock went down much from such a high-quality bout. I’m not sure what fight will come next for either fighter, but there is no shortage of options throughout the featherweight rankings.