UFC 254 lived up to all its hype as Fight Island’s final show delivered great fights, great performances and a historic retirement.
In the main event, Khabib Nurmagomedov dominated Justin Gaethje before choking him unconscious with a triangle choke in the second round to retain his undisputed lightweight championship. Following the fight and after moving to 29-0, Khabib announced that this was his final fight after making a promise to his mother following the passing of his father in July.
It was an emotional moment as Khabib collapsed to the canvas following his win and burst into tears, letting out months of pent up frustration and anger. Justin Gaethje, now conscious, consoled the champion too in a superb moment showing the respect between the two.
So with Khabib Nurmagomedov now retired and undefeated, all eyes switch to who will take over as the king of the division.
January’s fight between Conor McGregor and Dustin Poirier now looks likely to have some sort of title implications, while Tony Ferguson, Michael Chandler and Justin Gaethje are all still in the mix. Gaethje’s defeat to Khabib means it’s unlikely he’ll be involved in the immediate title re-crowning but one win could get him right back in the race for contetion. The likelihood is that Ferguson will fight Chandler, which means Gaethje would need to fight Dan Hooker to get himself back in the race.
As for the middleweight division, Robert Whittaker showed he is still the best contender for Israel Adesanya with a comfortable win over Jared Cannonier in the co-main event.
Whittaker used his explosiveness and his excellent jab to shut down any offence from Cannonier, who attempted to prevent Whittaker’s attack by throwing hard leg kicks. The kicks weren’t enough to stop Whittaker’s movement though, and Bobby Knuckles dominated the opening two rounds before knocking him down with a huge head kick in the third round.
‘Bobby Knuckles’ survived a tense final 30 seconds where he was wobbled by one of Cannonier’s right jabs, but overall it was a convincing display to move him to 2-0 since his loss to Adesanya in 2019.
Cannonier had been promised a title fight should he win at UFC 254, but after Whittaker’s performance UFC president Dana White admitted that the prospect of an Adesanya vs Whittaker rematch was ‘very appealing’.
While Adesanya dismantled him in their first fight, winning via knockout in the second round, Whittaker looks fresher, more focused and even better since coming back from that loss. If ‘The Reaper’ is able to keep up this level of performance against Adesanya in the rematch, he will pose a huge threat to the title. If Adesanya can beat him once again, then it will almost certainly see ‘The Last Style Bender’ leapfrog him in the ranks of greatest middleweight of all time.
2021 is shaping up to be a very special year for the UFC.