• Khabib Nurmagomedov (c) vs. Justin Gaethje (ic)
• Robert Whittaker vs. Jared Cannonier
• Alexander Volkov vs. Walt Harris
• Jacob Malkoun vs. Phil Hawes
• Lauren Murphy vs. Liliya Shakirova
• Magomed Ankalaev vs. Ion Cuțelaba
• Stefan Struve vs. Tai Tuivasa
• Nathaniel Wood vs. Casey Kenney
• Alex Oliveira vs. Shavkat Rakhmonov
• Da Un Jung vs. Sam Alvey
• Liana Jojua vs. Miranda Maverick
• Joel Álvarez vs. Alexander Yakovlev

There were so many questions surrounding Khabib Nurmagomedov heading to Saturday’s title fight, his first with no late father, Abdulmanap. Would he be as dominant? Would he really care just as much? Would he be overly emotional? Would he win? In the end, Nurmagomedov appeared better than ever. That is not hyperbole. That is a fact.

He dominated Justin Gaethje in the get-go. He controlled the speed of the fight, took the center of the cage, and imposed his will. It looked like he had been a guy on a mission en route to submitting Gaethje at the next round. A man on a mission to win for his dad, who expired in July of a heart condition complicated by the coronavirus.

When it finished Saturday in Abu Dhabi, Khabib could not quit crying. There he was, that the best fighter on the planet, weeping uncontrollably. He’d done such a fantastic job of publicly suppressing his feelings leading up to this fight, one had to wonder if he would break in the aftermath. He did. And you can’t blame him.

Instantly, I was informed of this scene after Michael Jordan could not stop crying after winning the NBA Finals in 1996 against the Seattle SuperSonics. You recall that moment, right? Father’s Day. His first name since the murder of his dad, James. It is a moment basketball lovers won’t ever forget: watching the best player of all time cry for his father while laying on the ground, clutching a ball.MMA fans just witnessed a similar scene play out with arguably the best fighter of all time.

There’s one major difference between these two scenes, though. You see, Nurmagomedov had to answer a lot of questions regarding his father leading up to this fight. He handled those questions with grace and class. But he kept one answer to himself.

He revealed after the win to Jon Anik he promised his mother he’d retire following this fight. He promised her he wouldn’t continue without Abdulmanap by his side. He took his gloves off and put them at the center of the cageas is tradition whenever a fighter calls it a career.

Nurmagomedov’s mother isn’t as well known to the public, but Khabib is at least as close to her as he was with his father. So, truth be told, in one way, this isn’t a total shock. He spoke retiring after his 30th pro fight, which would have been his second one. Therefore, it comes one fight early. Nonetheless, it’s difficult to digest because of how dominant he’s. An athlete has not left his prime this way since Jordan did during his first retirement in’93. That is how good Khabib is correct today.

But who can blame him?

There aren’t many challenges made. Would the Georges St-Pierre battle have been entertaining? Yes. Absolutely. It would have been an amazing scene. Fascinating theater. Can a Conor McGregor rematch have been amazing? Yes. I’d love to see that, too.

But if you know anything about Khabib, it’s that he has always followed”Father’s strategy,” and the fact he feels as if he can not continue without his father by his side seems like a perfect end to a legendary career.“Father’s strategy” has become mission accomplished. Nothing left to prove.

 — Ariel Helwani

Robert Whittaker is the greatest Danger to Israel Adesanya’s Name Predominate

Nobody seems super excited to talk about an Adesanya-Whittaker rematch, and I get it. Whittaker, that won a unanimous decision over Jared Cannonier on Saturday, does not talk crap. He barely talks at all. You inquire about his next battle, and he speaks of setting his Christmas tree with his family rather.

He’s one of the most admired men in the game, in part, because he’s going to remain true to himself and not really discuss his next move.

Thus, you have that aspect of it, the fact Whittaker isn’t likely to get anyone hyped to get a rematch using his words. Then you have the simple fact this fight just happened one year before, and Adesanya won in a second-round knockout.

It is not exactly the makings for a blockbuster rematch. But at the end of the day, Whittaker has the best chance at dethroning Adesanya. He’s still world-class. He’s still elite. He’s got a high fight IQ and he’d admit that ahead of his first meetings had been feeling burned out with MMA, also it is not possible to state that had zero impact on him.

It might not be the massive headliner the sport needs right now, but it is the correct fight to make. No one has a much better chance at dethroning Adesanya at this time than Robert Whittaker.

— Brett Okamoto

Which prospect was the most striking?

Magomed Ankalaev remains just 28 years old and he seemed absolutely dominant in stopping Ion Cutelaba with strikes in Round 1 on Saturday. Both fought in February, a controversial Ankalaev TKO.

Cutelaba appealed the outcome, claiming he wasn’t really hurt, so never went and was attempting to lure Ankalaev into committing shots. The UFC reserved a rematch and this time Ankalaev left absolutely no doubt that he was the better man.

The Dagestan native appears as if he’s likely to become a force from the evolving UFC light heavyweight division, that has a new champion in Jan Blachowicz. Ankalaev has won five straight in the UFC and has completed four of these victories via TKO. This was his biggest win to date. Ankalaev certainly seems like the real deal — and almost ready to go from prospect to competition.

— Marc Raimondi

Volkov measures toward heavyweight elite

Alexander Volkov entered UFC 254 since the best fighter on the card may be not appearing in any promos. He left with a striking display and knockout which should open some eyes in the heavyweight division.

Walt Harris opened looking lean, light, and quick. Volkov stuck to striking principles to acquire the opening round, picking apart Harris with jabs and body shots that made the American unexpectedly stationary. On the 6-minute, 15-second struggle, Volkov landed all 11 body shots he tried, included the teep kick that spelled the end for Harris.

It was the second knockout stemming from the body strikes in UFC heavyweight history, the first since Alistair Overeem permanently derailed Brock Lesnar’s buzz train in UFC 141.

Celebrating his 32nd birthday at the big event, Volkov sees only one younger heavyweight ahead of him in the rankings: Curtis Blaydes. Volkov has won six fights in the UFC and was cruising toward a triumph over Derrick Lewis before enduring an 11th-hour knockout in among the losses. A rematch is as practical today as ever, as Volkov further revealed he is not done climbing the ladder.

— Phil Murphy