UFC 266—held Saturday in Paradise, Nevada—was headlined by a featherweight title fight between Australian champion Alexander Volkanovski and American challenger Brian Ortega. The pair recently wrapped up a trash talk-filled stint coaching The Ultimate Fighter. That added plenty of sizzle to their championship showdown.
Volkanovski dominated most of the fight, nearly finishing Ortega with strikes on more than one occasion. Ortega did reaffirm, however, that he is one of the toughest fighters in combat sports. He survived the brutal, full 25 minutes with the champ, who nearly ended things with an attempted guillotine in round three. It made for one of the best UFC title fights in recent memory.
With his unanimous decision win over Ortega, Volkanovski established himself as one of the best fighters in mixed martial arts today. It’s not clear where he’ll go from here, but one likely possibility is moving up to lightweight and a fight with Max Holloway.
At the UFC 266 post-fight press conference, Volkanovski said, “I’m expecting Max to go out there and do his thing [against Yair Rodriguez], and we’re gonna be running that trilogy. That’s gonna be a huge fucking fight.”
“[Holloway’s fight isn’t] until November, and I want to fight,” Volkanovski continued. “So, do I move up, fight at lightweight, maybe fight the champion? Give me something because I had 14 months off because of this whole [lockdown].”
UFC 266 was co-headlined by a flyweight title fight between Valentina Shevchenko, the division’s seemingly unbeatable champion, and the underdog Lauren Murphy. As expected, Shevchenko dominated, toying with Murphy en route to a fourth-round TKO.
With her win over Murphy, Shevchenko has effectively buzzsawed through her division. However, it might be time for her to head back up to a weight class to challenge the ferocious bantamweight champion, Amanda Nunes. Nunes has beaten Shevchenko twice previously—but both fights were controversial decisions. Since then, the pair have become two of the most dominant champions in MMA. It sounds like it’s time for a trilogy.
Perhaps the most compelling UFC 266 fight was a main card middleweight bout pitting former welterweight champion Robbie Lawler against fan-favorite Nick Diaz, returning from a six-year hiatus.
Lawler stalked Diaz like a predator from the opening bell, landing stinging blows to Diaz’s body and head. Diaz hung in there, firing back with hundreds of crackling punches. Lawler’s pressure proved too much for him to handle in the end. Lawler dropped Diaz with a right, and the fight was stopped.
It was Lawler’s first victory in four fights, and he seemed satisfied.
“That’s what I expected,” he said in his post-fight interview. “I expected him to push the pace and try to break me. And I didn’t let him.”
Diaz has not won a fight since a 2011 decision win over the great BJ Penn. Hard to say where he goes from here—retirement seems like a real possibility, but a fight with a fellow veteran like Donald “Cowboy” Cerrone or Demian Maia could be fun.
“At least I put on a show,” an agitated-looking Diaz said in his post-fight interview. “I knew I had it coming. There was a lot of stress coming into this one.”