Volkanovski, Shevchenko defend at UFC 266; Lawler stops Diaz

LAS VEGAS (AP) — Alexander Volkanovski defended his featherweight title with a bloody, tumultuous unanimous decision over Brian Ortega, and Valentina Shevchenko defended her flyweight belt with a fourth-round stoppage of Lauren Murphy at UFC 266 early yesterday.

Nick Diaz also lost his first mixed martial arts fight in nearly seven years, declining to go on after Robbie Lawler knocked him down with punches early in the third round on an entertaining show at T-Mobile Arena.

Volkanovski (23-1) dominated the scorecards – 49-46, 50-45 and 50-44 – in his 20th consecutive victory, but the Australian still had to survive an extraordinary challenge from Ortega (15-2), who was relentless despite a bloodied face and a clearly damaged nose. Volkanovski survived a spectacular third round in which both fighters appeared to be moments from finishing the other.

“I thought I was in his head, and then he came back even stronger,” Volkanovski said. “Credit to him. It’s just preparation. I’m a normal human being. Hard work got me to where I am. Everyone can do what I’ve done.”

Volkanovski largely controlled the first two rounds with his usual impressive work rate and striking, but a bloodied Ortega knocked him down dramatically with a left hand in the third round.

Alexander Volkanovski kicks Brian Ortega during their featherweight title fight at UFC 266. PHOTO: AFP

Ortega pounced and nearly finished the champ with a guillotine choke, but Volkanovski willed his way out of it and got back on top – only for Ortega to escape and to trap Volkanovski in a triangle choke that the champ also barely escaped.

“It was, ‘I’m about to lose this… belt’ deep,” Volkanovski said of the guillotine. “That was as deep as it can get. I remember I was making weird noises. Just opened a little bit of space.”

Ortega was allowed to continue after a visit from the ringside doctor despite his apparently broken nose. In the fourth, Ortega got another takedown and nearly landed another choke, but Volkanovski gave a thumbs-up to the referee before escaping and finishing the round raining blows down on a prone Ortega, whose face was bloodied again.

“That absolutely was the best (featherweight) fight I’ve ever seen,” UFC President Dana White said. “I thought (Ortega’s) corner should have stopped the fight after the fourth round, and then he came out and won the fifth round. Incredible. Unbelievable.”

Both fighters received multiple standing ovations after the final bell. Ortega was taken to a hospital after the fight.

“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 gargling, but he slipped out. He’s the champ for a reason.”