Volkanovski defended his title in dominant fashion at UFC 290

UFC 290 was an exciting Pay-Per-View that saw nine of twelve fights end by finish. In the Main Event, Featherweight Champion Alexander Volkanovski defended his title for the fifth time. Volkanovski controlled the fight with his grappling, landing brutal ground and pound that forced veteran referee Herb Dean to stop the fight in round three. In the Co-Main event, newly crowned champion Alexandre Pantoja and Brandon Moreno put on a war that is being considered a “Fight of the Year” Contender. Both Pantoja and Moreno had good moments throughout this contest. Entering the fifth and final round I had the fight even at two rounds apiece.

Photo Credit: New York Times

In a middleweight title eliminator Dricus Du Plessis made a statement by knocking out former champion Robert Whittaker in the second round. Du Plessis entered the PPV as a (+275) underdog but cashed in on his opportunity and will face 185-pound Champion Israel Adesanya in his next fight.

(C) Alexander Volkanovski (26-2) Def. (IC) Yair Rodriguez (16-4)

Featherweight King Alexander Volkanovski put on an absolutely dominant performance in the UFC 290 Main event. Volkanovski followed a brilliant game plan in this fight tiring out the dangerous Rodriguez early with takedowns, then finding success on the feet in later rounds. The strength of Volkanovski was a huge factor early as he overpowered Rodriguez against the fence landing multiple takedowns in rounds one and two. Many thought that the dynamic skills of Rodriguez would possess stylistic problems for Volkanovski but that was not the case.

On the ground, Volkanovski landed damaging punches as Rodriguez had no time to implement his submission game. Rodriguez was in self-preservation mode on the ground throughout this fight and struggled to get back to his feet at times. Entering this contest Volkanovski was a significant favorite (-380) at online sportsbooks. Volkanovski has never tasted defeat at 145 pounds and put on the most impressive performance of his career on Saturday night. Rodriguez had success on the feet at times but Volkanovski’s chin and determination were too much for the talented Mexican prospect.

After getting taken down six times in the first two rounds Rodriguez got rocked with a massive right hand by Volkanovski in round three that forced him to retreat. Once Volkanovski had Rodriguez hurt against the cage he landed a barrage of knees and punches that dropped Rodriguez. Shortly after Herb Dean had seen enough calling an end to the action. Volkanovski is now back in the win column after narrowly losing to Lightweight world champion Islam Makachev in his previous fight. It looks as though Volkanovski will make the next defense of his Featherweight title against undefeated Georgian prospect Illia Topuria (14-0).

Alexandre Pantoja (26-5) Def. (C) Brandon Moreno (21-7)

Alexandre Pantoja and Brandon Moreno put on a memorable back-and-forth battle in the UFC 290 Co-Main event. Fans at the T-Mobile arena in Las Vegas, Nevada were on their feet after five rounds of hard-fought action between familiar foes. Pantoja had defeated Moreno twice before, once as an amateur and again in 2018 when both were young contenders. Moreno would go (7-1) after his last loss to Pantoja and win the Flyweight title. Pantoja suffered close decision losses to Askar Askarov and former champion Deiveson Figueiredo after defeating Moreno the second time and came into this contest as a betting underdog (+168) despite being 2-0 in his career over Moreno.

In round one Pantoja took control of the cage backing Moreno to the fence. Moreno landed multiple strikes moving backwards but Pantoja threw a left hook to right hand combination that knocked Moreno down. In round two Moreno was able to land a takedown on Pantoja and get to his back controlling him on the ground. After a few minutes on the ground, Pantoja returned to his feet as the round came to a close. Pantoja continued to pressure Moreno in round three looking to land heavy punches on the inside. In the early stages of the round Pantoja landed a takedown and threatened multiple submission attempts while in control on the ground.

Championship rounds and Aftermath

Down two rounds to one Moreno would come back with a good round four which saw him find a home for his jab and leg kicks at distance. Moreno would slightly outland Pantoja 167-161 after twenty-five minutes but Pantoja had eight minutes of control time. Round five was extremely competitive with each fighter landing 18 significant strikes before Pantoja found a late takedown. After five rounds of back-and-forth action, the judges awarded Pantoja the Split Decision victory (48-47, 48-47, 46-49). I had the fight scored for Pantoja 48-47 but this was a very entertaining and close matchup. I would not mind seeing this fight again if the UFC decides to have a rematch. Viable contenders Amir Albazi and Brandon Royval are also eager for a title shot at 125 pounds.

Dricus Du Plessis (20-2) Def. Robert Whittaker (25-7)

The featured fight of UFC 289 was a title eliminator between former Champion Robert Whittaker (25-7) and surging South African contender Dricus Du Plessis (20-2). Whittaker had not lost to anyone other than current Middleweight champion Israel Adesanya since 2014. Whittaker started off well finding a takedown early in round one but was quickly reversed by Du Plessis. Once both fighters returned to their feet there was a clear difference in power between both fighters. Every time Du Plessis landed something clean you could see Whittaker react differently than he has in past fights.

In round two Du Plessis landed a straight right hand from the southpaw stance that Whittaker did not see coming. This punch floored Whittaker who was in serious danger. Whittaker returned to his feet but Du Plessis was all over him throwing wild combinations looking to end the fight. While Whittaker retreated Du Plessis backed him up against the cage and landed three punches in succession that dropped Whittaker again. Du Plessis then pounced on Whittaker and landed a few more punches before Marc Goddard stopped the fight.

Du Plessis is still undefeated in his time inside the UFC and will now face champion Israel Adesanya in his next fight. After Bruce Buffer announced the winner both Adesanya and Du Plessis faced off in the cage. Both fighters attacked each other’s heritage coming from Africa in disparaging comments both will more than likely regret. Many fans were turned off by the trash talk that some deemed inappropriate.

UFC 290 Prelims:

On the UFC 290 prelims, former UFC Welterweight champion Robbie Lawler (30-16) ended his storied career in stunning fashion. Facing fellow veteran Niko Price (15-7), the 41-year-old Lawler turned back the clock knocking Price out in 38 seconds. Lawler looked the best he has in years and got his first knockout in round one since 2013 when he finished Josh Koscheck. This was the last fight of Lawler’s career and the UFC played a fantastic tribute video that brought the normally stoic Lawler to tears. After getting his title fight with Rory Macdonald inducted into the UFC Hall of Fame on Friday night, Lawler had himself a pretty successful weekend.

Also on the UFC 290 prelims, Jesus Aguilar (9-2) knocked out Shannon Ross (13-8) in just 17 seconds. Aguilar needed only two punches to finish his fight and is an interesting prospect to watch at 125 pounds.

The UFC will be back next weekend with a Fight Night card from the Apex featuring former UFC women’s Bantamweight Champion Holly Holm (15-6) and Mayra Bueno Silva (10-2-1).

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