Light heavyweight contender Magomed Ankalaev put behind him all doubts about his superiority over Ion Cutelaba by stopping his rival in emphatic fashion in their rematch at UFC 254 in Abu Dhabi on Saturday night.
The Dagestan native, who won their initial bout via a controversial referee stoppage, overwhelmed Cutelaba at Flash Forum, earning a knockout win in the first round. Cutelaba had been dropped already once before. Fast moving into title contention, Ankalaev extended his win streak to five.
Earlier, Shavkat Rahkmonov marked his UFC debut with victory the Kazakh defeating veteran Alex Oliveira with a stunning first-round finish.
The undefeated welterweight, the first athlete from Kazakhstan to sign with the UFC, took the win deep into the opening round with a guillotine choke to deliver on his promise. It lifted his record to 13-0 – all of those successes have come via finishes.
“Just like I said before the fight, if he’s going to make a mistake, I’m going to capitalise on it,” Rahkmonov said. “I felt the move was there, I didn’t think much, I just went for it and got him.
"I’m very happy to get this win; everyone in Kazakhstan was watching closely. I’m proud to make them happy; I’m very emotional right now.
Asked who he wants next, Rahkmonov referenced Donald “Cowboy” Cerrone, saying: “I’ll take a rest first, get together with my team, think about what’s next. I beat a Brazilian cowboy, maybe an American cowboy is next.
“I’ll go home, celebrate with my family, my people, share the joy with them. I proved to myself and to my country that I’m the best and deserve to be here.”
Elsewhere, Casey Kenney impressed the judges enough in a hugely entertaining match-up with Nathaniel Wood, triumphing by unanimous decision.
The US bantamweight, who fought earlier this month in Abu Dhabi, exchanged plenty of back-and-forth with his English opponent, eventually winning 29-28, 29-28, 30-27.
“I wanted that quick turnaround and I got everything I asked for, here we are,” Kenney said. “Two ‘W’s’, two paychecks in a month, you can’t beat that. I knew it was going to be a war.
"I thought he would try to grapple a little bit more and I thought I would myself, but I was having fun in there throwing down on the feet. Felt like I hit him with some big shots – I thought he was going to go away.
“I felt him slow down after the beginning and then I was just trying to push the pressure on him, trying to break him, but he was tough. Just like the last two opponents, those guys were tough. We’re in the business where we’re all tough, be he was extra tough.
“I’m here to stay, I’m here to take out the best in the division and I definitely proved that in my last two fights.”
UFC 254 is the fifth and final event in “Return to Fight Island”, the UFC’s second residency in the capital.
The finale is headlined by lightweight champion Khabib Nurmagomedov’s title unification bout against interim belt-holder Justin Gaethje.