Sooo ... About Last Night

 Whittaker v Aliskerov
Photo by Chris Unger/Zuffa LLC via Getty Images

Last night (Sat., June 22, 2024), Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) ventured forth to Kingdom Arena in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia for UFC Saudi Arabia. The card definitely suffered a myriad of injuries and one extremely high-profile withdrawal from Khamzat Chimaev, but fortunately, it remained in better form than the average “Fight Night” affair. In the main event, Robert Whittaker continued his march towards another title shot by squaring off with rising Dagestani talent Ikram Aliskerov. The co-main was just as interesting, as knockout artists and top-ranked Heavyweights Alexander Volkov and Sergei Pavlovich set aside their friendship to trade punches.

Let’s take a look back over at UFC Saudi Arabia’s best performances and techniques:

 Whittaker v AliskerovPhoto by Chris Unger/Zuffa LLC via Getty Images

Bobby Knuckles Wins Big

Robert Whittaker needed to make a statement.

Consider that mission accomplished, as “The Reaper” destroyed Middleweight’s hottest up-and-comer in about half-a-round. Aliskerov barely landed a strike before a massive Whittaker overhand crashed into his chin and sent him stumbling. The Aussie followed up in style, crushing his opponent with a brutal uppercut then forcing the ref’s hand with a few follow-up shots on the floor.

Whittaker’s first knockout win since 2017 came at the perfect time. It’s direct evidence that he’s still at the top of his game, still a threat to the champion. Dricus Du Plessis and Israel Adesanya will throw down in Perth later this year, but Whittaker is more deserving than Sean Strickland for the next shot in my eyes.

If Strickland disagrees, maybe the two should duke it out?

 Pavlovich v VolkovPhoto by Chris Unger/Zuffa LLC via Getty Images

Friends No More

The lead up to Volkov vs. Pavlovich was kind of a bummer. The two were/are former training partners who didn’t want to fight each other, but contracts ended up being signed. Then, “Drago” talked a lot about how Pavlovich beat him up in training all the time, which is an odd way to market a fight ...

Or brilliant gamesmanship?

Whatever the case, “Drago” put on a career-best performance last night. Against a Top Five opponent and fearsome puncher, Volkov controlled range really well. All night long, he was sticking Pavlovich with hard punches down the middle. The commentary crew and Pavlovich’s corner alike were asking for more volume from the former title challenger, but that’s a lot easier said than done when walking into punishing connections.

Aside from the straight shots, Volkov did really great work as a Southpaw. He spent long portions of the fight playing the left kick and left straight off one another, ripping at Pavlovich’s inner thigh and liver alongside the damage to his nose and eye.

All in all, it was very solid work from “Drago,” who should once again be considered a factor in the Heavyweight title mix.

 Walker v OezdemirPhoto by Jeff Bottari/Zuffa LLC via Getty Images

No Time For Walker’s Antics

Volkan Oezdemir fought Johnny Walker perfectly. He didn’t give him any respect on the feet, pressuring patiently from the first bell and firing in combination. Walker couldn’t keep Oezdemir off him with his kicks, and before long, his back started to touch the fence.

That’s a bad sign. “No Time” floored Walker once with a left hook, twice with a right uppercut, then sealed the deal with a positively nasty ground strike that sent Walker into a deep, deep sleep. It was a picture-perfect performance from Oezdemir, who is now back on the fringe of the 205-pound title mix.

 Fakhretdinov v DalbyPhoto by Chris Unger/Zuffa LLC via Getty Images

An Undercard Gem

Rinat Fakhretdinov vs. Nicholas Dalby was exactly the back-and-forth scrap that most expected.

Dalby actually started the fight well, denying takedowns and letting his punches fly from the first bell. Just as he seemed to be building momentum, however, Fakhretdinov floored him with a right hand. The Russian wrestler swarmed with more big punches and takedowns, finishing the round with a heavy jump knee connection.

The second and third continued to grow into a war of attrition. Dalby was constantly active with short strikes, but he spent a lot of time controlled on the fence or on the floor. It was all up in the air in the closing seconds, which saw both men standing their ground and swinging for the fences.

Ultimately, Fakhretdinov picked up the split-decision win and extended his unbeaten streak to 22.

 Naimov v LimaPhoto by Chris Unger/Zuffa LLC via Getty Images

Additional Thoughts

  • Shara Magomedov defeats Antonio Trocoli via third-round knockout (Highlights): This was ... not a very good fight. Magomedov was the far faster man and far superior kicker, so he circled the cage and kicked at his opponent for most of the fight. Trocoli, a short-notice replacement, looked tired early and didn’t do much aside from push for clinch takedowns. The most interesting moment of the fight was probably the illegal fence grab! Otherwise, Magomedov dominated as was widely expected, though he does earn some bonus points for forcing the finish on his wildly tired foe in the third.
  • Felipe Lima defeats Muhammad Naimov via third-round rear naked choke (Highlights): Talk about a way to make a debut! Lima accepted the fight up a weight class and on short-notice, but “Jungle Boy” still came out firing. He took the first round on the strength of his crisp kickboxing combinations, but Naimov fought back well in the second to even the cards as Lima began to slow a bit. It all came down to the third, and Lima’s corner rose to the occasion with a rousing speech that really motivated their athlete. Lima surged forward once more, and he turned a sudden takedown into a rear naked choke victory just about a minute into the third. The 26 year old talent is definitely one to watch, as he showed off a well-rounded game in less-than-ideal circumstances.

For complete UFC Saudi Arabia results, coverage, and highlights, click HERE.