DUBAI: The final night of Fight Island 2 appropriately delivered a historic, end-of-an-era moment as Khabib Nurmagomedov called time on a faultless career after defeating Justin Gaethje in their UFC 254 Lightweight bout in Abu Dhabi.
The last of a five-event series delivered on the expectations with the popular Russian defeating his American opponent via a triangle choke at 1:34 of round 2 at Abu Dhabi’s Yas Forum. Immediately afterwards, having broken down in tears, he announced his retirement to the watching world before thanking his team and fans. He also paid tribute to his father who had passed away on July 3 due to coronavirus complications.
“Thank you for these guys, these guys with me, been with my father for more than 10 years. All my team, AKA with coach Javier, I love him so much, all my team,” he said. “Today, I want to say, this was my last fight. No way am I going to come here without my father. It was the first time, after what happened with my father, when UFC called me about Justin. I talked with my mother for three days, she didn’t want that I go fight without my father. I promised her, it’s going to be my last fight, and if I give my word, I have to follow this. It was my last fight here.”
Nurmagomedov, 32, then demanded that he be acknowledged as the No. 1 pound-for-pound fighter in the world, before name-checking all those who had helped along the way in his UFC career.
“[I’m the] UFC undisputed, undefeated lightweight champion, 13-0, 13 in UFC, 29 in all pro MMA career,” he added. “I think I deserve it. One more thing, I want to say thank you Lorenzo Fertitta, thank you Dana, Hunter, all guys. Thank you so much, and of course I don’t forget about Joe Silva who signed me here in UFC. Joe Silva, thank you. All this UFC team, everybody around the world, this whole pandemic stuff, they are doing a great show. Thank you so much Justin. Justin, 2016 I remember when I cut weight, you helped me a lot. Thank you, brother. I know you are a great man, I know how you take care of your people. I know a lot of things about you, because of your parents, because one day, it’s going to happen. You never know what is going to happen tomorrow, you never know.”
Ahead of the main event, the Australian Robert Whittaker beat Jared Cannonier of the US via unanimous decision in a Middleweight bout.
“I thought it was a very good fight,” the 30-year-old winner said. “I had a very good game plan set out, me and my team have worked diligently for that and it worked flawlessly, I thought I controlled the entire fight.”
“I thought it played out like I thought it would,” Whittaker added. “It’s a fight, we’re throwing punches, they’re going to land sometimes. He’s a tough guy, he was in it from the start to the end and it was a privilege to fight him. Honestly, it’s a blessing to be able to work in these crazy times, it’s amazing. How professional everything is, how professional the UFC have things set up, is amazing and I’m truly blessed.”
The Russian Alexander Volkov meanwhile needed two rounds to score a TKO victory over the American Walt Harris in their Heavyweight fight.
“I expected to finish him in the second round, but I was close in the first round too,” he said. “[The] fight went how I felt it would. Before this fight, they said that he is one of the best strikers in the heavyweight division, I showed that this is not true, he didn’t touch me in this fight. We’ll keep striking, working on wrestling, everything too and we’ll show everyone that I am the best in the heavyweight division.
In their Middleweight bout Phillip Hawes of the US made quick work of the Australian Jacob Malkoun, beating him in just 19 seconds of the first round.
“I’m pretty happy with it right now,” said Hawes. “It’s just a testament to hard work and God, believing in God and believing in myself and believing in my team. I’m surrounded by great guys at Sanford MMA and my boxing coach, so just a testament to those guys.
Hawes refused to get over excited and is already looking forward to his next target.
“we’ve got the bigger picture, which is to be a world champion and that’s what we’re here for,” he said. “I know since a lot of people watch my footage, they’re afraid of my right hand, I finish a lot of people with my right hand, and as soon as I saw him go backward I knew exactly what he was afraid of.
“Fight Island has been amazing, I’m so blessed to be here,” Hawes added. “Thanks for the UFC putting it on, Dana White and all those guys. God willing, they did everything they had to do and now we’re here and it’s just amazing to be here.”
The American Lauren Murphy beat Liliya Shakirova of Georgia in the women’s Flyweight bout via a second-round submission and laid the next step of career that now has a record of 14-4-0.
“I want a title shot next, I want a shot at the champion, whoever that may be,” Murphy said. “I wanted to hit her a little harder, but everybody in the UFC is good. We’re definitely going to take some things away that I can work on from this, which is perfect. I still got my first submission, which was a big goal for us, big challenge, but to do it here in Abu Dhabi, it’s just really something special, I’m very, very happy. Hopefully, everyone will stop overlooking me. Almost my whole career, I’ve been the underdog, people have looked past me, and I think that’s going to stop now. I’ve really grown into myself as an athlete, I’m a veteran in this game. I’ve seen it all, I’ve done it all and I think people are not going to look past me anymore.
“It feels great,” she added. “My confidence is probably the number one thing that I’ve improved, my striking is the second thing that I’ve improved the most. Just going through the process and staying calm has been huge. I’ve gotten a ton of help, it takes a village to make a fighter.”
In the first fight on the main card Magomed Ankalaev defeated Ion Cutelaba of Moldova via a first round knockout in their Light Heavyweight fight.
“I feel great, now I can finally sleep well,” the Russian said. “It was a six-month camp, so I did a really, really good job in the six months and today I proved it. I wanted to catch him, I wanted to finish with a counter, and I finished with a counter. I think everybody in my division was watching this fight. I’m going after the top fighters, so I hope they’re waiting for me.”
“I’d love to fight a top five fighter, but it would be interesting, and I would prefer to fight Shogun Rua or Anthony Smith, but other than that, anyone in the top five,” Ankalaev said. “I’m just happy that I can sleep well right now. I’m going to probably rest about two, three weeks and hopefully get a top five opponent.”
Just before the start of the main card, Tai Tuisava had beaten Stefan Struve via a first round TKO in their Heavyweight clash.
“It was awesome to get that feeling back,” he said. “Like I said before, it’s addictive, it’s something you can’t get anywhere else. It’s been awhile for me, so it’s good to be back, very good to be back. I felt pressure, but I trusted my team. I put in the work, I put my head down and my ass up this year, so I just credit that to my team. That was the plan, take it easy man and stop trying to get in there and get that money real quick. If I take my time, it comes, it comes. Credit to my team, big ups to my team.”
In the other Prelims, Casey Kenney beat Nathaniel Wood in their catchweight bout; in Welterweight fight Shavkat Rakhmonov overcame Alex Oliveira after 4:40 of round 1; and the Light heavyweight bout between Da-Un Jung and Sam Alvey was called a draw.
Meanwhile in the Early Prelims Miranda Maverick beat Liana Jojua in the first round of their Flyweight bout while Joe Alvarez also defeated Alexander Yakovlev in round one.