UFC 254 results, analysis: Alexander Volkov, Phil Hawes come up big on Fight Island

Alvarez starts UFC 254 with an armbar (0:46)

Joel Alvarez locks in an armbar on Alexander Yakovlev and forces him to tap in the first round. The UFC 254 main card starts at 2 p.m. ET. (0:46)

Alexander Volkov held serve as one of the top contenders in the UFC heavyweight division Saturday with an impressive performance against Walt Harris in a key UFC 254 bout on Fight Island in Abu Dhabi.

The 6-foot-7 Volkov, a kickboxer, whipped a front kick to Harris' body, which abruptly ended the bout via TKO at 1:15 of the second round. Volkov kicked Harris' midsection, underneath the ribs. Harris grabbed his solar plexus immediately and dropped to the mat. Referee Lukasz Bosacki was quick to step in and end the fight.

Volkov then called out some top names in the heavyweight division, mentioning Alistair Overeem as well as Junior dos Santos and Jairzinho Rozenstruik. Coming in, ESPN had Volkov ranked No. 8 in the world at heavyweight.

"Anybody who can take me back to the belt, run," said Volkov, who improved to 32-8, including 6-2 in the UFC.

Volkov used his size and reach to great effect beginning in the first round. Near the end of that round, Volkov landed a hard combination that rocked Harris. While Harris landed some hard shots in both rounds, Volkov was more effective. And when that front kick landed clean to Harris' body, the bout was a wrap.

"I expected to finish him in the second round, but I was close in the first round, too," Volkov said. "Before this fight, they say that he is one of the best strikers in the heavyweight division. I showed that this is not true -- he don'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."

Volkov, 31, has now won two of three following a loss to Curtis Blaydes in June. The Russia native has won eight of his past 10 fights overall.

Harris, a 37-year-old Alabama native, has dropped two straight following a four-fight unbeaten streak. He is now 13-9, including 7-7 in the UFC. -- Marc Raimondi

Watch this fight on ESPN+

Lightweight title: Khabib Nurmagomedov (29-0, 13-0 UFC) defeats Justin Gaethje (23-2, 5-3 UFC) by second-round submission

Khabib Nurmagomedov kneeled down and put his head in his hands. Tears streamed from his eyes. The burden he had been carrying for the past three months had been released. The typically stoic champion's emotions got the better of him.

Nurmagomedov, one of the best fighters in mixed martial arts history, submitted Justin Gaethje -- whom many said would be Nurmagomedov's toughest test -- via triangle choke at 1:34 of the second round Saturday in the main event of UFC 254 in Abu Dhabi. -- Raimondi

Read the entire story.

Middleweight: Robert Whittaker (23-5, 13-3 UFC) defeats Jared Cannonier (13-5, 6-5 UFC) by unanimous decision

Former UFC middleweight champion Robert Whittaker is right back at the top of the division -- and some would say, he never left.

Whittaker (22-5) defeated Jared Cannonier (13-5) via unanimous decision in the co-main event of UFC 254 on Saturday on Yas Island, Abu Dhabi. It is Whittaker's second win in three months, as he outpointed Darren Till in a close fight in July in Abu Dhabi. Whittaker is now 2-0 since losing his title to Israel Adesanya in October 2019. -- Brett Okamoto

Read the entire story.

Middleweight: Phil Hawes (9-2, 1-0 UFC) defeats Jacob Malkoun (4-1, 0-1 UFC) by first-round KO

It might be time to reboard the Hawes hype train.

In his much-anticipated UFC debut, Hawes delivered a stunning 18-second knockout -- the second-fastest finish in UFC history by a middleweight in his debut. Hawes, who fights out of Sanford MMA, staggered Malkoun with a right hand to the temple and then knocked him unconscious with a follow-up left hook.

"I've just got to take my time and wait to land, and I landed," Hawes said.

In a way, Hawes' debut was years in the making. The 31-year-old was considered one of the top prospects in MMA years ago, but he took the scenic route to the UFC. He was submitted in his fifth pro fight outside the UFC, and lost by knockout on the Dana White Contender Series in 2017. He has gone 5-0 since with five finishes.

The 185-pounder might be in line for a quick turnaround after this performance. He has already fought three times in 2020. -- Okamoto

Watch this fight on ESPN+

Women's flyweight: Lauren Murphy (14-4, 6-4 UFC) defeats Liliya Shakirova (8-2, 0-1 UFC) by second-round rear-naked choke

Murphy has been calling for a title shot. At UFC 254, she let her actions do the talking -- and made quite the statement.

Murphy finished the debuting Shakirova via submission (rear-naked choke) at 3:31 of the second round. It was the first submission victory of Murphy's career -- and she stated her desire to get that Saturday.

"I'm one of the most well-rounded fighters, not just in the division, but in the UFC," Murphy said in her postfight interview. "... I can do it all. I'm well-rounded, I'm tough, I'm mean."

Murphy, ESPN's No. 7-ranked flyweight, also made her case for a title shot afterward, saying she has only fought ranked opponents and this finish should be enough to get champion Valentina Shevchenko next.

"The next time I step in this cage, it will be to fight for the UFC belt," Murphy said. "The next time I step out of [the cage], I'll be wearing [the belt]. I promise."

Murphy dictated the pace throughout the fight, backing Shakirova to the cage and landing combinations, particularly some solid knees to the body. Shakirova could never get her wrestling going. Instead, Murphy took her down in the second round, got her back and finished with the choke.

Murphy, 37, has won four straight. The Alaska native's initial opponent was supposed to be fellow contender Cynthia Calvillo, but Calvillo tested positive for COVID-19 and was forced to withdraw. Murphy is 5-1 since moving down from bantamweight to flyweight in 2017.

Shakirova, a 29-year-old Uzbekistan native, had a three-fight winning streak snapped. -- Raimondi

Watch this fight on ESPN+

Light heavyweight: Magomed Ankalaev (15-1, 6-1 UFC) defeats Ion Cuțelaba (15-6, 4-5 UFC) by first-round KO

It took the better part of 2020, but Ankalaev will finally get to move past the Cutelaba chapter of his career.

Ankalaev delivered a highlight-reel finish as he knocked Cutelaba out cold with strikes at the 4:19 mark of the opening round. The sequence began with a beautiful counter left hand on the feet that dropped Cutelaba to his back. Ankalaev immediately swarmed with shots on the ground to seal the deal.

The 205-pound matchup had been in the works since February, when Ankalaev beat Cutelaba via TKO in the opening minute of a fight in Virginia. The result was controversial, however, in that an officiating error led to the finish. Cutelaba was playing a bit of possum in the opening minute, and the referee mistakenly intervened when he wasn't hurt.

The UFC immediately tried to book a rematch, but it fell through on three different occasions. Following this win, Ankalaev, who improved to 4-1 in the UFC, will finally move on to a different opponent. His only defeat in the Octagon came in the final second of a bout he was winning against Paul Craig in March 2018. -- Okamoto

Watch this fight on ESPN+

Heavyweight: Tai Tuivasa (11-3, 4-3 UFC) defeats Stefan Struve (33-13, 13-11 UFC) by first-round KO

With his UFC contract potentially on the line, Tuivasa saved his job in emphatic fashion.

Tuivasa dropped Struve with a flurry against the fence, and the heavyweight bout was called via KO for Tuivasa at 4:59 of the first round. Referee Jason Herzog stepped in with Struve eating shots and just covering up right before the first-round bell.

"Good to win, man," Tuivasa said. "I was trying to butter up his body along the cage. He's huge, man."

Tuivasa had some success with clinch strikes early in the first round against the 6-foot-11 Struve. As time was ticking off the clock in the first, Tuivasa got more aggressive. He got in close with Struve against the cage and let loose with a hard combination, including a right hand to the body and a right uppercut that put Struve down for good.

Tuivasa, 27, snapped a three-fight losing streak. The Australian slugger spent some time training with Daniel Cormier at American Kickboxing Academy in California earlier this year in an effort to improve his wrestling. Struve, a 32-year-old Dutchman, has lost five of his past six.

"It was awesome to get that feeling back," Tuivasa said. "Like I said before, it's addictive, it's something you can't get it 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." -- Raimondi

Watch this fight on ESPN+

Catchweight (140 pounds): Casey Kenney (16-2-1, 5-1 UFC) defeats Nathaniel Wood (17-5, 4-2 UFC) vs. by unanimous decision.


Tuivasa KOs Struve late in the first round

Tai Tuivasa unleashes a series of punches on Stefan Struve that forces the fight to be stopped late in the first round. The UFC 254 main card starts at 2 p.m. ET.

Bantamweight Kenney had himself a month on Fight Island. He recorded a unanimous-decision win over Wood on Saturday -- Kenney's second win in three weeks.

Kenney (16-2-1) edged Wood (17-5) in a back-and-forth fight via judges' scores of 30-27, 29-28 and 29-28. The fight took place at a catchweight of 140 pounds, as it was booked on short notice. Kenney also picked up a decision win over Alateng Heili on Oct. 10 in Abu Dhabi.

Both bantamweights came in with momentum, sporting a combined UFC record of 8-2. They set a furious pace from the opening round, and each landed more than 100 total strikes, according to UFC stats. Wood looked to score with leg kicks and body work, while Kenney mostly targeted the head. He found a home for the straight left, especially in the first round, and converted a key takedown in the third to secure the win.

Wood's best round came in the second. Despite what appeared to be a difficult weight cut the day before, Wood looked fresh in the second frame and made Kenney pay on multiple occasions with counterstrikes. He did look fatigued in the third, however, and surrendered the costly takedown late.

Kenney has now won three in a row and is 5-1 in the UFC overall.

"Two W's, two paychecks in a month, you can't beat that," Kenney said. "I knew it was going to be a war. I thought he would try to grapple a little bit more, and I thought I would myself, but I was having fun in there throwing down on the feet. Felt like I hit him with some big shots, I thought he was going to go away.

"I'm here to stay, I'm here to take out the best in the division and I definitely proved that in my last two fights." -- Okamoto

Watch this fight on ESPN+

Welterweight: Shavkat Rakhmonov (13-0, 1-0 UFC) defeats Alex Oliveira (22-9-1 1 NC, 17-7 1 NC) by first-round guillotine


Kenney snaps Wood's head back with punch

Casey Kenney lands a strong left hook that stuns Nathaniel Wood in the third round at UFC 254.

The UFC has a legit, new prospect in the welterweight division.

Rakhmonov finished Oliveira via submission at 4:40 of the first round. This was Rakhmonov's UFC debut against Oliveira, a grizzled veteran who has five years in the UFC fighting against tough competition.

After winning the stand-up battle early, including a nice knee to the body, Rakhmonov looked to clinch and take Oliveira down against the cage. That didn't work out too well. Oliveira, who is excellent in the clinch, turned Rakhmonov down and put him against the fence. Oliveira tried to take Rakhmonov down, but Rakhmonov snatched a tight guillotine on the way to the mat. Oliveira had to tap out.

The undefeated Rakhmonov, 26, has finished every one of his pro victories. The Uzbekistan native, who trains out of Kazakhstan, is a former M-1 welterweight champion. Oliveira, 32, had a two-fight winning streak snapped. Oliveira missed weight by two pounds (173 pounds) on Friday and forfeited 20% of his purse.

"Just like I said before the fight, if he's going to make a mistake, I'm going to capitalize on it," Rakhmonov said. "I felt the move was there, I didn't think much, I just went for it and got him. I'm very happy to get this win, everyone in Kazakhstan was watching closely, I'm proud to make them happy, I'm very emotional right now.

"I'll take a rest first, get together with my team, think about what's next. I beat a Brazilian cowboy, maybe an American cowboy is next. I'll go home, celebrate with my family, my people, share the joy with them. I proved to myself and to my country that I'm the best and deserve to be here." -- Raimondi

Watch this fight on ESPN+

Light heavyweight: Da Un Jung (13-2-1, 2-0-1 UFC) and Sam Alvey (33-14-1, 10-9-1 UFC) fight to a split-draw


Rakhmonov submits Oliveira in UFC debut

Shavkat Rakhmonov forces Alex "Cowboy" Oliveira to tap with a guillotine choke in the first round. The UFC 254 main card starts at 2 p.m. ET.

Likely down two rounds, Jung tried his best to finish Alvey in the third. He landed two hard elbows that rocked Alvey. But the stoppage never came -- Alvey survived.

The end result was a split-draw (29-28, 28-29, 28-28). Judge Ben Cartlidge gave Jung a 10-8 in the third round, leading to the draw. It was only the third draw in UFC light heavyweight history.

Jung was the aggressor throughout the fight, even though that didn't mean he was winning. Alvey is a terrific counterpuncher and he was landing hard combinations -- and really snapping Jung's head back with a right uppercut -- as Jung came forward. Alvey spent most of the fight with his back to the cage, yet he still landed the better strikes in the first and second rounds.

Looking at a potential decision loss, Jung definitely turned it on in the third and landed two hard elbows that put Alvey on rubber legs. Those were the two hardest shots of the bout for either man. In the end, though, neither one was a winner on the cards.

Jung, 26, is unbeaten in 13 straight fights, including his first three in the UFC. The South Korea native has not lost a fight in five years, to the day. Alvey, a 34-year-old California resident, snapped a four-fight losing streak but has not won in five straight fights. Alvey's last win came against Gian Villante in June 2018. -- Raimondi

Watch this fight on ESPN+

Women's flyweight: Miranda Maverick (10-2, 1-0 UFC) defeats Liana Jojua (8-4, 1-2 UFC) by first-round TKO


Alvey, Jung unleash on each other in the third

Sam Alvey lands a series of uppercuts on Da Un Jung, who responds with strong punches of his own in the third round. The UFC 254 main card starts at 2 p.m. ET.

The UFC's flyweight division appears to have some exciting new talent in 23-year-old prospect Maverick.

Maverick (8-2) looked outstanding in her promotional debut as she earned a first-round finish over Jojua. Officials stopped the 125-pound bout after the first round after inspecting a nasty cut on the bridge of Jojua's nose. The cut was caused by a standing elbow by Maverick late in the opening round. It marked the first knockout win of Maverick's career.

"I wanted to show more. That was one round out of three," Maverick said. "I'm here to be the next big thing. I'm a young person coming into this division that needs something new."

The bout was relatively competitive early on, as Maverick and Jojua exchanged strikes on the feet. Maverick's shots were clearly heavier, however, and she began to build momentum as the round played out. Maverick was actually supposed to make her UFC debut in June, but an eye injury delayed it until now. -- Okamoto

Watch this fight on ESPN+

Lightweight: Joel Álvarez (18-2, 3-1 UFC) defeats Alexander Yakovlev (24-10-1, 3-6 UFC) by first-round armbar


Maverick lands huge elbow, Jojua not happy with doctor's stoppage

Miranda Maverick busts Liana Jojua's nose open with an elbow to the face, which leads to Maverick being declared the winner by doctor's stoppage. The UFC 254 main card starts at 2 p.m. ET.

Alvarez stayed on a roll, and he did so in his world.

The 27-year-old from Spain quickly drew Yakovlev into a ground battle, then threatened with one submission before sinking in a second try, getting the tapout by armbar at 3:00 of Round 1.

For Alvarez, it was his third straight win, all by stoppage, and the 13th win in his past 14 fights. It was the 16th submission among his 18 career wins.

He opened the fight by landing two hard kicks to his opponent's leg -- one to the inside, the other to the outside -- and Yakovlev immediately went for a takedown. That put him in the full guard of Alvarez, who clamped on a guillotine choke. It looked tight, and he squeezed for a good half minute before Yakovlev freed his head.

He wasn't out of trouble. Within seconds, Alvarez had the armbar, and that was the end of the 36-year-old Russian.

Yakovlev has lost four of his past five in the UFC. This was his fifth career defeat by armbar.

"I'm a submission artist," Alvarez said. "I felt like the arm wasn't completely on his neck, so I didn't want to get tired with that submission. I just played that into grabbing the arm, getting into the triangle and going for the armbar.

"I feel very good, this is my third win in the row. I feel very good getting all of those wins, but right now I need to take some time off and take care of some injuries and we'll see what comes next. I'll be back soon, more prepared, feeling better and getting a better win next time." -- Jeff Wagenheim

Watch this fight on ESPN+