UFC 290: Alexander Volkanovski stops Yair Rodriguez for featherweight title
LAS VEGAS — Alexander Volkanovski re-asserted himself as the featherweight champion with a technical knockout over Yair Rodriguez at 4:19 of the third round Saturday night in UFC 290.
Rodriguez was the interim champion after Volkanovski temporarily moved up to lightweight, but the Australian left little doubt who was the better fighter in running his record to 26-2 in what was scheduled as a five-round bout.
Former President Donald Trump, who is running for the Republican nomination in 2024, was among those in attendance. He entered the venue shortly before the main card began, walking next to UFC President Dana White and drawing roars from the T-Mobile Arena crowd. Trump shook hands with Las Vegas Raiders star defensive end Maxx Crosby, a major UFC fan who sat behind him. Jamal Murray of the NBA champion Denver Nuggets also had a floor seat.
Volkanovski, a minus-390 favorite according to FanDuel Sportsbook, took Rodriguez (16-4) to the mat near the 2-minute mark of the first round and kept him there to dictate the pace. That became a theme as the second round played out much the same way, with Volkanovski, 34, also delivering several shots to Rodriguez’s face.
Rodriguez, who is from Mexico, then took the fight to Volkanovski in the third round, preventing the ground and pound with a series of kicks to put him on the defense. But with a minute left, Volkanovski slammed Rodriguez, 30, to the mat and pounded him with rights and lefts before referee Herb Dean stepped in.
This was Volkanovski’s first fight since a loss by unanimous decision to lightweight champion lightweight Islam Makhachev on Feb. 11. That ended Volkanovski’s 22-fight winning streak, and after the brief elevation to lightweight, he dropped back down to featherweight for this fight.
Before moving up, Volkanovski had won five titles fights to make a strong argument as best featherweight of all time. He also has been in the conversation for top current pound-for-pound fighter, and Volkanovski is second in the UFC’s official rankings to Jon Jones.
The Volkanovski-Rodriguez match highlighted the International Fight Week card that included a second championship bout.
Brazil’s Alexandre Pantoja captured the flyweight belt by beating champion Brandon Moreno of Mexico, winning by split decision. Judges Derek Cleary and Junichiro Kamijo gave the Pantoja the victory at 48-47 in the five-round fight, but Ben Cartlidge saw the bout quite differently with a 49-46 score in favor of Moreno.
Pantoja (26-5) collapsed to the mat after the decision was announced. He has beaten Moreno (21-7-2) in all three meetings.
“I worked so hard,” Pantoja said. “I left everything I had.”
Moreno, a minus-196 favorite, dominated the second round, but had a hard defending Pantoja’s ground game in the other four. Even so, the battle was fairly even for the most part, and the blood on both fighters’ faces underscored how much each went after the other.
Moreno won the belt nearly a year ago and successfully defended it in January.
Robbie Lawler, who was inducted into the UFC Hall of Fame on Thursday, heads into retirement on a high note after knocking out Niko Price just 38 seconds into the first round of their welterweight bout.
Lawler, 41, ends his career with a 30-16 record and one no-contest. He teared up watching a video tribute to him following the fight, and the crowd roared chanting his first name.
“It was a hard training camp,” Lawler said. “Nothing felt good. Today was the first day I felt good.”