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UFC 266: Lawler downs Diaz; Volkanovski outlasts Ortega

Both titles retained in final event of 2021 International Fight Week

Lawler Defeats Diaz

Steve Marcus

Robbie Lawler, left, lands a punch on Nick Diaz in a middleweight bout during UFC 266 at T-Mobile Arena Saturday, Sept. 25, 2021. Lawler beat Diaz with a third-round TKO.

Updated Saturday, Sept. 25, 2021 | 10:25 p.m.

Volkanovski Retains Featherweight Title

UFC featherweight champion Alexander Volkanovski poses before his fight against Brian Ortega during UFC 266 at T-Mobile Arena Saturday, Sept. 25, 2021. Volkanovski retained his title by unanimous decision. Launch slideshow »

Shevchenko Retains Flyweight Title

Launch slideshow »

Lawler Defeats Diaz

Robbie Lawler, left, lands a punch on Nick Diaz in a middleweight bout during UFC 266 at T-Mobile Arena Saturday, Sept. 25, 2021. Lawler beat Diaz with a third-round TKO. Launch slideshow »

Holding a towel over his bloody nose and cut-up, swollen face, Nick Diaz limped out of the octagon at T-Mobile Arena breathing heavily.

The fan-favorite mixed martial arts legend made his long-awaited comeback Saturday night in a UFC 266 featured bout, but it didn’t go according to plan. Or maybe, in a strange way, Diaz’s third-round TKO loss to Robbie Lawler in a rematch 17 years in the making went exactly as expected.

“I knew I had it coming,” Diaz said afterwards while still in the octagon. “There was a lot of stress coming into this one especially after being off a long time.”

Diaz was competitive and arguably won the first round against the former UFC welterweight champion, but he took a lot of damage as the fight stretched on. Diaz landed plenty of jabs, but Lawler seemed to be the only fighter connecting with significant strikes.

The punishment took its toll early in the third round when Diaz dropped to the mat with a potential injury and refused to follow Lawler back up to the feet. He appeared to tap out but the referee missed it, causing some confusion until Diaz reiterated that he was done with the fight.

The fight officially goes down as a TKO (retirement) victory at 0:44 of the third round for Lawler, who notched his first win in four years. Lawler said the opportunity to fight Diaz again focused him in training camp because “he brings it every time he steps in the ring.”

The typically straight-faced Lawler couldn’t help but crack a smile in the aftermath of his win.

“That’s the (stuff) I love to do,” Lawler said.

“Diaz” chants rang out throughout the fight, and despite the awkward ending, the 38-year-old still got an ovation on his way out of the building. There were two title fights to cap off UFC’s International Fight Week festivities after Lawler’s win, but it all felt a little secondary compared with Diaz’s highly-anticipated return.

Until the third round of the featherweight championship main event between Alexander Volkanovski and Brian Ortega.

That’s when it turned from a title fight to something potentially one day bound for the UFC Hall of Fame. Ortega dropped Volkanovski with a straight counterpunch and followed him to the ground.

Once there, he locked in a guillotine and later a triangle choke that looked textbook and inevitable to end the fight.

“Those were tight,” Volkanovski said.

The Australian didn’t panic, however, and somehow worked his way out. The third round ended with him standing over Ortega, raining down punches.

Ortega could barely get to his stool and had to be cleared by doctors to fight the fourth and fifth rounds. He somehow made it to the scorecards, but the judges gave Volkanovski a unanimous-decision victory (50-45, 50-44, 49-46).

It marked his 20th straight victory, the longest current active streak in the organization.

“I thought it was done,” Ortega said. “That was what we trained for exactly for the whole camp…That little badger is strong. This guy, he’s a champ for a reason. I give him my respect. I talked (expletive) but whatever.”

The other belt on the line, the women’s featherweight strap, was also retained as Valentina Shevchenko defeated Lauren Murphy by fourth-round TKO with a flurry of strikes. It was Shevchenko’s eighth straight win as her only UFC losses remain a pair of defeats to longtime bantamweight champion Amanda Nunes.

With her division cleared out, a third fight against Nunes could be next.

“I’m ready for anything,” Shevchenko said. “I’m ready for anyone.”

In the first two fights on the main card, heavyweight Curtis Blaydes and women’s flyweight Jessica Andrade picked up victories over Jairzinho Rozenstruik and Cynthia Calvillo respectively. Blaydes won every round on every judges’ scorecard for a unanimous decision while Andrade scored a TKO win at the end of the first round.

Put it all together, and from Diaz’s short-lived thrill to the memorable perseverance of both main event fighters, UFC 266 will go down as a major success.

Read below for live coverage of the main card and full preliminary results at the bottom of the page.

Alexander Volkanovski vs. Brian Ortega

Fifth Round: Doctor checked, and ultimately cleared, Ortega again. The crowd chanted his name again and it appeared even Volkanovski was lobbying for the fight to continue (not that his preference held any influence.) The entire round stayed on the feet, right where Volkanovski needed it. Ortega did everything he could to hurt the champion, but Volkanovski was too durable and continually bounced back — including one time where he nearly tripped to the ground. Ortega teed off at the end to take the round, 10-9, but not the fight. 49-46 Volkanovski. The judges scored it 50-44, 50-45 and 49-46 for Volkanovski, who retains his featherweight title via unanimous decision over Ortega.

Fourth Round: The cageside doctor took a prolonged amount of time checking out Ortega but eventually let continue, to the raucous applause of the crowd. “Ortega” chants rang out as soon as the doctor left the cage. Volkanovski started to pick Ortega apart on the feet again, but then the latter secured another throw. The grappling went Ortega’s way, but he never cleanly sunk in a submission attempt. Volkanovski got on top and started bashing Ortega with ground-and-pound strikes. The referee nearly intervened, but Ortega survived again and got back to his feet before the bell. 10-9 Volkanovski, 40-36 overall.

Third Round: Volkanovski was landing the heavier shots, and although there were some decent exchanges, the fight was looking like his. Then, as often happens in mixed martial arts, it flipped in an instant. Ortega countered with a straight right and dropped Volkanovski. He followed him to the ground, and tried to sink in a guillotine but Volkanovski survived. Then Ortega had another shot with a triangle choke, but Volkanovski again popped out and started blasting the challenger with ground-and-pound. The bell was the only thing that saved Ortega, as he could barely get up to sit on his stool. The final 30 seconds somehow swung the round back Volkanovski’s way. 10-9 Volkanovski, 30-27 overall.

Second Round: It hasn’t been a mismatch, but the champion Volkanovski has been sharper, quicker and all-around better than the challenger Ortega. Volkanovski stalked Ortega around the octagon for much of the second round, landing just enough to stay comfortably ahead on the scorecards. Ortega countered on occasion but not enough. 10-9 Volkanovski, 20-18 overall.

First Round: The featherweight championship bout gets under way in tight, technical fashion. The two traded strikes on the feet with each landing a few over the first half of the round. Ortega’s size actually seemed to bother Volkanovski for a while, as he built an early lead. Volkanovski started to figure it out though and landed some combinations as the action progressed. He developed some swelling under his left eye from a persistent Ortega jab, but Volkanovski might have been the one who landed heavier. 10-9 Volkanovski.

Valentina Shevchenko vs. Lauren Murphy

Fourth Round: Murphy landed a punch or two early, but it just turned out to be a preamble to her near-demise. She may have gotten too comfortable and started to come forward too often because Shevchenko found an opening with about two minutes remaining. She threw a laser-quick combination and knocked down Murphy, who endured ground-and-pound for about another minute until the referee steps in. Shevchenko retains the women’s flyweight title with a fourth-round TKO victory.

Third Round: More of the same. Murphy is too slow to muster any offense, too tough and technical to get truly hurt by Shevchenko. But the champion is winning everywhere — on the feet and on the ground. 10-9 Shevchenko, 30-27 overall.

Second Round: Murphy initiated a clinch early, and somehow, that’s the best thing she’s done all fight. Shevchenko got right back to dominating after that, scoring a takedown and controlling the rest of the round. 10-9 Shevchenko, 20-18 overall.

First Round Well, Shevchenko didn’t blow her out in the first round. Murphy survived. Shevchenko surely won though. She kept at distance in the early stages, picking off Murphy with jabs and hooks. Near the end of the round, Shevchenko took down Murphy, who could never get inside. 10-9 Shevchenko.

Nick Diaz vs. Robbie Lawler

Third Round: Lawler knocked down Diaz and ordered him back up. Diaz refused to come back up and tapped out. Lawler therefore defeated Diaz via submission 44 seconds into the third round.

Second Round: Lawler came out strong for the second straight round, doing most of the scoring in the first minute. Just like the first round, however, Diaz eventually planted his feet and started pestering Lawler with his jab. They weren’t throwing haymakers but the rematch between two legends turned into a stand-up war all the same. Lawler stalked forward more often, which could be playing in judges’ minds. His shots also had more impact, but it’s hard to make up for the discrepancy in volume. Diaz must hold an edge in total strikes landed. That made the second round a tough one to score until the final 15 seconds where Lawler hit Diaz hard enough to get him retreating. 10-9 Lawler, 19-19 overall.

First Round: Diaz came up with a spinkick but Lawler easily ducked under and started throwing hands. Lawler went high-volume early, and Diaz just played defense. Diaz got some jab and body work in about two minutes into the fight, but Lawler answered with a combination or two of his own. That set up some strong exchanges with Diaz’s jab starting to bother Lawler. The quantity advantage switched several times with both fighters getting their own flurries in. Lawler might have been better at the end, but Diaz’s work in the middle of the round was too much. 10-9 Diaz.

Curtis Blaydes vs. Jairzinho Rozenstruik

Wrestling topped striking, much to the chagrin of the T-Mobile Arena crowd. Rozenstruik, as expected, had some success on the feet and even seemed to slightly wobble Blaydes in the second round but couldn’t stop enough takedowns to get a victory. Blaydes planted Rozenstruik on the mat in every round, helping lead him to a unanimous-decision victory (30-27, 30-27, 30-27) in a high-level heavyweight fight.

Jessica Andrade vs. Cynthia Calvillo

Right before the bell at the end of the first round, referee Herb Dean stepped in between Andrade and Calvillo. He had seen enough. Calvillo never went down, but Andrade was teeing off on her. The former women’s bantamweight top contender bounced back from a loss to Valentina Shevchenko in April with a TKO victory over Calvillo. The official time went down as 4:54 of the first round.

Pre-main card

For perhaps the first time in promotional history, the third fight from the top at tonight’s UFC 266 is undoubtedly the most anticipated bout.

That’s the power of Nick Diaz, who returns after a six-year layoff to take on Robbie Lawler in a five-round middleweight fight. There’s been a lot of drama for Diaz to get to this point, especially over the last several days, but it’s here now and T-Mobile Arena is packed with Diaz fans ready to explode when he walks out.

The loudest cheer of the night during the preliminaries came when the big screens in the arena showed Diaz arriving for the night.

Two title fights follow the rematch between Diaz and Lawler — they initially fought at UFC 47 in 2004 with the former prevailing via knockout — in an appropriate capper to International Fight Week.

A pair of Americans challenge international fighters for titles as Lauren Murphy and Brian Ortega take on Kyrgyzstani women’s flyweight champion Valentina Shevchenko and featherweight belt-holder Alexander Volkanovski, respectively.

A pair of other countries are represented in the first two fights of the main card, as Brazil’s Jessica Andrade takes on Cynthia Calvillo in the opener followed by Suriname’s Jairzinho Rozenstruik going up against Curtis Blaydes.

But it all leads up to Diaz and the intrigue surrounding how he will look after so much time away from the sport.

Stay tuned to lasvegassun.com for live coverage of all the main-card fights and read below for full results from the preliminary bouts.

After nearly suffering an early knockout in a bantamweight bout between contenders, Merab Dvalishvilli turned the tables on Marlon Moraes. Dvalishvilli knocked out Moraes at 4:25 of the second round.

Dan Hooker defeated Nasrat Haqparast via unanimous decision (30-27, 30-27, 30-27) in a lightweight bout. Many expected a stand-up battle, and though the two strikers did exchange for a good portion of the fight, Hooker scored a handful of takedowns to secure victory.

Chad Daukaus knocked out Shamil Abdurakhimov at 1:23 of the second round with a massive right hand. Daukaus nearly got the first-round knockout with a late knockdown but Abdurakhimov just survived the bell.

Las Vegas’ Roxanne Modafferi made it the distance, but it took quite the effort against a game Talia Santos in a women’s flyweight bout. The Brazilian prospect picked apart the long-time veteran as Santos defeated Modafferi by unanimous decision, winning every round on every judges’ scorecard.

Jalin Turner submitted Uros Medic via rear-naked choke at 4:01 of the first round in their lightweight bout. The fight didn’t last long, but it was a slugfest throughout its duration — with Turner getting the best of the majority of exchanges.

Nick Maximov defeated Cody Brundage via unanimous decision (29-28, 29-28, 29-28) in a middleweight bout. Maximov, who comes from the Diaz brothers’ stable of fighters, dominated the first two rounds but got in some late trouble.

One punch, one knockout. Matthew Semelsberger finished Martin Sano Jr. 15 seconds into their welterweight bout, connecting with a right hand and putting the Nick Diaz-trained fighter out from the start of the fight.

Jonathan Pearce defeated Omar Morales via second-round submission in a featherweight bout.

Case Keefer can be reached at 702-948-2790 or [email protected]. Follow Case on Twitter at twitter.com/casekeefer.

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