With no shortage of storylines and talking points coming in, Saturday's UFC 266 card from Las Vegas somehow succeeded in supplying even more to chat about on the way out following an exciting pay-per-view event.
Featherweight champion Alexander Volkanovski outlasted a determined Brian Ortega in their thriller of a five-round main event to defend his title and Valentina Shevchenko only continued her dominance as women's flyweight champion. And then there was the return of Nick Diaz.
Let's take a closer look at the biggest takeaways coming out of T-Mobile Arena.
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1. Any and all Alexander Volkanovski slander ends right here
The diminutive 145-pound champion from Australia has been called everything from a point fighter to someone who avoids contact and relies on his technical skills instead of seeking out fights. The criticism was unwarranted to begin win, especially considering his unbeaten run through UFC that has included victories over Chad Mendes, Jose Aldo and Max Holloway (twice). But all of that talk, including the outrage that maybe Volkanovski was gifted with a decision win over Holloway in their 2020 rematch, went out the window for good in Saturday's decision win over Ortega. Volkanovski was aggressive, smart and showed equally incredible amounts of stamina and toughness in outworking Ortega on his feet for most of the fight. But it was an absolutely insane Round 3 -- which gets added to the short list of greatest rounds in UFC championship history -- where Volkanovski might have secured his legend. A battered Ortega rallied twice to secure deep choke attempts on the ground only for Volkanovski to miraculously escape both before turning the tables and nearly pounding him out. One round later, Ortega pooled nearly all of his remaining energy to get another takedown and another choke attempt only for Volkanovski to escape again and likely produce a 10-8 round in return with huge punches while standing on a downed Ortega. Overall, the champion proved he can fight just as good as he can gameplan in extending his win streak to 20 overall and 10 within the Octagon. Volkanovski is quickly becoming a historically relevant featherweight and one of the pound-for-pound best fighters in the world.
2. It's time for Valentina Shevchenko to get superfights from here on out
Let's face it: at 125 pounds, it's Shevchenko and everyone else. If her fourth-round TKO of Lauren Murphy was any indication on Saturday, that gap is only getting wider. At 33, Shevchenko made her sixth defense of the flyweight title and it wouldn't be out of the question to throw some votes her way as pound-for-pound best in the women's game, even with her holding two slim defeats against two-division champion Amanda Nunes. And speaking of Nunes, the sport's decided female G.O.A.T., Shevchenko has been dominant enough that a trilogy bout at 135 pounds between the two is simply deserved at this point. In addition, should UFC want to match the winner of the strawweight title rematch between Rose Namajunas and Weili Zhang against Shevchenko, it would be equally well received. Shevchenko said after defeating Murphy that she would fight anyone, from any division, at anytime. Unless someone like Tatiana Suarez can emerge quick from injury to make a run, the cupboard at 125 pounds is barren. Shevchenko is simply that good.
3. In hindsight, Nick Diaz-Robbie Lawler II belonged on Triller
This might sound a little harsh, especially coming from someone who praised UFC matchmakers for creating such a unique rematch that was 17 years in the making between two beloved fan favorites. But it didn't take but seconds into what turned out to be a fun opening round to realize just how washed up collectively the two fighters were in this five-round middleweight bout. Why this fight was contracted for five rounds when Diaz was making his return to the Octagon at age 38 after six years away remains unexplained. And even though the two-plus rounds were action packed as both fighters stood and traded throughout at close range, it left a shameless after taste because of how slow the punches were coming in, even from the 39-year-old Lawler in victory. The good news, I guess, is that neither seemed to be landing hard enough to actually knock the other one out. It's just that the UFC has so often prided itself on being home to the truly elite. This may have been booked for nostalgic fun only, but it stood out like a CM Punk-sized sore thumb.
4. Let's hope Nick Diaz walks away for good
Despite the sloppy way in which the fight played out, Diaz received no shortage of goodwill from adoring fans both inside the arena and online who were just happy to see him back in the cage after such a long layoff. That doesn't mean he belonged there. Diaz's fight week interviews made headlines because of how honest he was about no longer wanting to fight. He even went as far as saying both before and after the fight that he still doesn't know how this fight was actually signed (claiming "managerial tricks"). But it was when Diaz willingly took a knee and pulled guard after eating a hard punch from Lawler before deciding against continuing on in the fight as blood flowed from his nose that it was clear this should be the end. Diaz isn't just past his best days, he is past it, completely. And there is no shame in that, which is why Diaz doesn't deserve any extra criticism for having a "no mas" moment to end the fight. Making a comeback on his own terms was the feel-good part of the story. But there's nothing left to gain in continuing on.
5. Merab Dvalishvili delivered a comeback for the ages
The Georgian wrestler entered the preliminary main event looking for his seventh straight win in the sport's deepest division. Instead, he repeatedly caught clean left hooks to the chin from a savage Marlon Moraes midway through Round 1. Referee Keith Peterson would've been justified had he called a halt to the bout given how often Dvalishvili was rocked and dropped in such a short period of time. But Dvalishvili, known more for his wrestling and unmatched gas tank, refused to go away easy. In nothing short of a stunning turnaround, "The Machine" weathered the storm and managed to quickly take Moraes down before pounding him out to close the round. Moraes actually appeared to go out before the horn, but Peterson allowed him to continue. All that did was give Dvalishvili more time to devour him. A one-sided second round was next until the fight was finally stopped at 4:25 of Round 2 as Moraes fell to a third-straight loss and Dvalishvili let it be known it will take a lot to defeat him. Nostalgic fans can feel free to put Round 1 up against similar stanzas seen in Nick Diaz-Paul Daley and Andrei Arlovski-Travis Browne.