Another summer has passed, the students are back in school and the world of sports has received an injection of football, playoff-intensity baseball and the preseason for both the NBA and the NHL. However, the leader of combat sports took the crown for the weekend, as the UFC returned to pay-per-view. UFC 266 was a fight card set up to remember, and fans were not let down. From 15-second knockouts to five-round wars, Saturday night’s pay-per-view event left us with plenty to dissect.
The night played out how most experts figured it would in terms of results, as every betting favorite on the main card walked out with a win, beginning with a first round TKO for Jessica Andrade over Cynthia Calvillo. Andrade time and time again has shown she has the talent to be a champion, and she did so again on Saturday night.
In the heavyweight matchup between Curtis Blaydes and Jairzinho Rozenstruik, fans saw the return of the snoozefest that is a Curtis Blaydes fight. Following a devastating knockout loss to Derrick Lewis back in February, many wondered what Blaydes would decide to do when it came to fighting a near carbon copy of Lewis. Saturday night, Blaydes returned to his original form, taking the fight to the ground and holding Rozenstruik there until he deemed the round was his to lose. This fight finished in a decision where Blaydes claimed the win, one that he is happy to have under his belt.
The showcase matchup of the night was a fight 17 years in the making. The rematch between the infamous Nick Diaz and Robbie Lawler. Diaz was returning from a six-year layoff while Robbie Lawler had lost five of his last six fights, including his last four, dating back to December of 2017. The rematch that had the combat sports world buzzing was a solid effort from two fighters nearing their 40s, but was not anything like the previous brawl between these two. Lawler had his hand raised after just 44 seconds in the third round.
The final two matchups of the evening were for UFC gold. The co-main event featured one of the most dominant champions in the history of the sport, Valentina Shevchenko, and a contender on a five fight win streak, Lauren Murphy. Murphy hoped to be the test that Shevchenko had been looking for; however, to no one’s surprise, the champion dispatched the challenger in a bleak, one-sided affair, landing 132 total strikes while only absorbing 19 in four rounds.
The night ended with arguably the most entertaining featherweight matchup in history. Brian Ortega, fresh off a win against The Korean Zombie, Chan Sung Jung, last year, took his second stab at a UFC championship when he squared off against Alexander Volkanovski. The fight was back and forth in what was easily the fight of the night, with both fighters having opportunities to finish the fight. Ultimately Volkanovski walked out with the same belt he walked in with, chalking up his second title defense of his almost two-year reign.
As always following a UFC event, we ask the question, what is next for the top names on this card? This time around there doesn’t seem to be a clear answer for any of them.
What the future holds for the women’s flyweight champion of the world, Shevchenko, is a major question mark. She has cleared out any opponent who stepped foot in the blue corner across from her, and the matchups haven’t been close at all. She has dominated every woman who dared stand in front of her, and there aren’t many names left out there for her to fend off. It is unclear who will take that challenge next. That is something fans will have to wait to find out.
For Ortega, there will be some much needed rest time for the black belt in Brazilian jiujitsu after taking 229 total strikes from the champion on Saturday night. The next opponent for Ortega isn’t clear either, but one name that could be appetizing could be the number six-ranked featherweight, Arnold Allen.
Allen is 8-0 in the UFC and has yet to schedule a bout. Allen could quickly move into title contention with a win over Ortega, as he is potentially just one win away from a title shot of his own. A win over Ortega ensures he takes the number two-ranked spot and could possibly secure his shot at Volkanovski next. For Ortega, this would serve as an opportunity to reestablish his name in the category of the elites and prime himself for another championship push.
Finally, for the man holding the belt for the 145-pound division, Volkanovski. His path is unclear as well, but for different reasons. With the number-one ranked Max Holloway scheduled to take on the third ranked featherweight in the world, Yair Rodriguez, Volkanovski would likely have to await the winner of that fight on November 13 before he gets another chance to defend his belt.
However, Volkanovski told reporters Saturday night during the post-fight presser that he would like to stay active and to fight in the next three to four months, even if that meant moving up to lightweight at 155 pounds. There don’t seem to be any matchups there that will get the champion back in the cage though, as the top names in the division might not take a fight that won’t move them up in their division.
So it seems that Volkanovski will have to wait to see action for the foreseeable future despite his requests. UFC fans around the world will be waiting with him.