LAS VEGAS — Alexander Volkanovsky defended his featherweight title with a bloody, tearful unanimous decision over Brian Ortega, and Valentina Shevchenko defended her flyweight belt with Lauren Murphy’s fourth-round stoppage at UFC 266 on Saturday night.
Nick Diaz also lost his first mixed martial arts fight in nearly seven years, falling short of the lead after Robbie Lawler knocked him down with punches at the start of the third round at T-Mobile Arena.
Volkanowski (23-1) dominated the scorecards – 49-46, 50-45 and 50-44 – in his 20th win in a row, but the Australian still had to survive an extraordinary challenge from the relentless Ortega (15-2), Who didn’t give up, despite a bloodied face and a visibly damaged nose. Volkanovski survived a spectacular third round in which both fighters appeared to eliminate each other the moment they finished.
“I thought I was in his head, and then he came back even stronger,” Volkanowski said. “Credit to him. … It’s just preparation. I’m a normal person. Hard work has got me where I am. Everyone can do what I’ve done.”
Volkanowski largely controlled the first two rounds with his usual impressive work rate and striking, but a bloodied Ortega knocked him down dramatically with his left hand in the third round.
Ortega pounced on and nearly ended the winner with a guillotine choke, but Volkanowski wished to get out of it and came back on top – only for Ortega to escape and to trap Volkanowski in a triangle choke that the champions also had. Hardly escaped.
Ortega was allowed to continue after visiting the ringside doctor despite an apparently broken nose. In the fourth, Ortega got another takedown and nearly landed another choke, but Volkanowski gave the referee a thumbs-up before escaping and ending the round raining blow on a prone Ortega, whose face was again covered in blood. Was.
Volkanowski strengthened in the fifth round, and both fighters received several standing ovations.
“I thought he was done,” Ortega said. “I was trying to go for his head, but he’s tough as hell. I tried to finish him. I heard him gurgle, but he slipped. He’s a champion for a reason.”
Shevchenko (22-3) cemented her position as one of MMA’s most influential champions with her eighth consecutive win over the past four years, including six stoppages. The champion of Kyrgyzstan defeated Murphy (15-5) in the first three rounds with a stunning right hook and then slammed her across the cage and onto the canvas, where she ended up with punches and elbows to the ground.
Murphy, 38, has won five matches in a row since July 2018 and secured the first UFC title of his late-blooming MMA career. Yet she was little more than a tough-fought match for Shevchenko, who has lost to none in the past 11 years except two-belt champion Amanda Nunes.
The raucous Vegas crowd cheered loudest for Diaz (26-10), a wildly popular 38-year-old fighter who walked away from the game in early 2015.
In his return, Diaz traded high volume strikes for two exciting rounds with Lawler (29-15) during his return to T-Mobile Arena. But Diaz was awkwardly dislocated on his knees after Lawler caught him with a checked right hook in the third.
Diaz rolled onto his back when Lawler hit him again with the left hand, but Lawler refused to go on the field with Diaz, instead pointing to a rise. The referee then spoke to Diaz, who indicated that he may or may not go to the third round in 44 seconds.
Later, Diaz revealed that he may have hurt his knee, but made no excuse or apologized for his performance in his return.
“I’m glad that at least I put on a show,” Diaz said. “I knew I had this coming. There was a lot of tension going into it. … I have no excuse. It was a long time.”
Lawler, 39, ended his four-fight losing streak by winning a rematch of the famous 2004 meeting of these MMA pioneers at UFC 47. Diaz held off Lawler in that match for one of his most memorable wins.
Lawler appeared quicker in the rematch than Diaz, who found a striking rhythm late in the first round before finally exhausting in the second.
“It was a fun fight, and that’s the stuff I love doing,” Lawler said.
Diaz is a former Strikeforce welterweight champion and a beloved MMA iconoclast, having featured in some of the most memorable bouts of 2000 before walking away from the sport after losing to Anderson Silva in January 2015, his third straight loss.
Diaz still claims that he does not enjoy MMA competition, and has backed up his words by turning down lucrative offers from the UFC for six years. His absence only increased his popularity among fans who love his anti-incumbency attitude and tough guy image.
Lawler also has a decorated career with a seasoned run, including a stint as the UFC’s welterweight champion from 2014–16. Lawler had faded in recent years, losing five out of six matches in this rematch with Diaz.