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Canelo Álvarez Knocks Out Caleb Plant; Usman and Namajunas Keep Belts at U.F.C. 268


ImageCanelo Álvarez after his 11th-round victory over Caleb Plant.
Credit…David Becker/Getty Images

Minutes before Anthony Dirrell landed the most stunning blow of the night, a cartoonish looping uppercut into Marcos Hernandez’s chin, the Showtime telecast interviewed Mike Tyson about Sául Álvarez and the mind-set of a champion. No matter what was happening during the undercard bouts, everybody’s attention was on Álvarez.

Watching a rare night with big fights in both boxing and the U.F.C. — one event on the television and the other on an iPad — it was striking how visible the stereotypes of the two sports were.

While the boxing undercard was surprisingly entertaining, it was quite clear from the outset that the organizers had sunk all their money into Álvarez and Caleb Plant. The pay-per-view purchase either was or was not worth $79.99 on the anticipation of that fight alone. The card was a maddeningly slow buildup to something incredible, much like the often yearslong waits for promoters to make fights that fans care about.

Credit…Corey Sipkin/Associated Press

U.F.C. 268, in contrast, was highlighted by depth. When Justin Gaethje and Michael Chandler were trading bomb after absolute bomb in the first fight of the main card, it was easy to forget that there were four more fights to come. It made for an incredible fight — and a bit of a disappointment, as there was no way Kamaru Usman versus Colby Covington, or Rose Namajunas versus Zhang Weili, could compare.

Gaethje and Chandler, both coming off losses, might have preferred an easier fight or two to build back up to challenging for the lightweight division, but in the U.F.C., fighters don’t have that option. That’s good for Gaethje, but only because he won. Now Chandler will have a hard time getting close to a title fight.

Spending a big sports night at a bar switching your gaze between three televisions, or watching NFL Red Zone, is a great, if frenzied, way to be a sports fan. It doesn’t quite work for fighting sports, however, where a bout can go from boring to bananas in the blink of an eye, a blink you might miss while watching the wrong television, or iPad.

It also costs way, way too much. But every once in awhile, it can be pretty fun.

Emmanuel Morgan

U.F.C. 268

Credit…Corey Sipkin/Associated Press

Kamaru Usman defended his welterweight championship, defeating his rival Colby Covington by unanimous decision.

Usman dropped Covington twice in the second round, nearly finishing him. But Covington recovered and was competitive for the rest of the fight, keeping a high pace, pinning Usman to the fence and also landing solid punches and a head kick. One could argue that it could have been a split decision. Still, Usman connected on his attacks, too, and defended takedowns effectively. He performed at a high enough level to prevent the judges from taking away his belt.

In the end, the two rivals shook hands, a gesture that some would have not predicted after a year of trash talk and insults. Usman has now defended his title five times and is marching closer to potentially usurping Georges St-Pierre as the greatest welterweight of all time. He said earlier this week that he would like to face Saúl Álvarez in a crossover boxing match.

Oskar Garcia

More love for Canelo from Dana White: “I bet $100,000 on him to win by knockout.” Says that’s why he was watching the fight at ringside during the Namajunas-Zhang title bout.

Oskar Garcia

U.F.C.’s president, Dana White, stomps out the idea of an Usman-Álvarez crossover with a pretty darn funny line: “I watched the Canelo fight tonight. He don’t want to fight Canelo.”

Morgan Campbell

Álvarez-Plant

Credit…Steve Marcus/Associated Press

LAS VEGAS — In the moments after Saúl Álvarez’s 11th-round knockout win over Caleb Plant, the sellout crowd at the MGM Grand Garden Arena rejoiced. The vast majority of the 16,586 spectators supported Álvarez, now the undisputed boxing world champion at 168 pounds.

Officials and supporters of each fighter climbed into the ring, and one person in Álvarez’s corner waved a Mexican flag. Álvarez grew up in Guadalajara, and has said he wants to retire as the greatest Mexican fighter in history.

And amid the crowd and the celebration, the two fighters, who had engaged in an ugly shoving match at a September news conference, embraced and traded conciliatory words. Plant, according to Álvarez, said he could have continued fighting, and apologized for the vulgarity that triggered the September brawl. Álvarez said he accepted the apology, and praised Plant as a great fighter.

We only have Álvarez’s account because Plant, who suffered his first loss as a professional, left the ring before speaking with reporters, and went to a hospital for a precautionary examination.

Like most fighters who have faced Álvarez recently, Plant, now 21-1, fought hard, then bent until he broke. The victory was Álvarez’s third straight by knockout or retirement, and the 39th stoppage win of his career.

More importantly, Álvarez, who entered the bout with the World Boxing Association, World Boxing Council and World Boxing Organization titles, picked up the International Boxing Federation belt to become the division’s undisputed champion. While boxing fans often lament that a proliferation of sanctioning bodies makes it tough to determine who exactly is the champion in a given division, Álvarez ended the debate at 168 pounds.

“To become the first Mexican unified champion means a lot to me,” said Álvarez, who is now 57-1-2. “That makes me happy. It motivates me.”

An undisputed champion is a rare distinction in modern boxing. The sport has 17 weight classes, but only two fighters with belts from all four major sanctioning bodies. There’s Josh Taylor, the super-lightweight champion from Scotland. And now, after the 11-round boxing lesson he dealt to Plant, there’s Álvarez.

Credit…Caroline Brehman/EPA, via Shutterstock

Plant, 29, from Ashland City, Tenn., won the I.B.F. belt in January 2019, with an upset victory over a Venezuelan, José Uzcátegui. From there, he reeled off three more wins, using a stiff jab, combination punching and a tight defense. He had seen other fighters try — and fail — to neutralize Álvarez with a long reach and stiff jab. Callum Smith tried that strategy last December. Álvarez pounded him with body shots en route to a lopsided unanimous decision win.

Plant, however, promised a different skill set and different outcome.

“Smith is not the boxer that I am. He don’t have the skills that I have,” Plant said in an interview in October. “That’s what those guys did, but those guys aren’t me.”

But soon after the opening bell, the fight fell into a familiar pattern.

Plant circled and retreated and used his jab to keep Álvarez at a distance. Álvarez stalked Plant, deflecting as many jabs as he could, developing a sense of Plant’s timing and looking to win by attrition. Álvarez is less a slow starter than a patient one, happy to land heavy blows that will drain opponents later.

In Round 4, he landed a left hand to Plant’s forehead that sent sweat flying. Four rounds later, a looping right hand went over the top of Plant’s defense. In the 10th, Plant fought more aggressively but absorbed harder punches than he landed.

Another left hook to the head started the sequence that dropped Plant. The knockdown was the first of his career. Another salvo from Álvarez put Plant down face first, prompting referee Russell Mora to stop the fight.

“He’s a great fighter,” Álvarez said. “We don’t have to take any credit from him.”

According to CompuBox, Álvarez landed 117 of 361 punches, but only 15 jabs. The rest of his connections were power punches — left hooks, right hands and uppercuts. Of the 101 punches Plant landed, 59 were jabs.

One of those shots landed hard enough to make a mark on Álvarez’s right cheek. But none of Plant’s punches could stop Álvarez from taking the I.B.F. title, and becoming a rare undisputed champion.

Oskar Garcia

Covington just passed by the media tables, looked at the reporters and shouted, “What all you nerds gonna say now?” Then Usman passed and held out his right fist, with a large entourage following him out.

Kevin Draper

Kamaru Usman wins by unanimous decision, 48-47, 48-47, 49-46. After almost getting knocked out in the second round, Covington fought back to make it close, but not close enough.

Oskar Garcia

As soon as that 49-46 card was announced, it was clear it was a wrap for Usman. No way a judge could have scored it that way for Covington.

Emmanuel Morgan

Round 5: Covington kept a high pace again, even with an eye-poke that paused the fight (how ironic). At the end of the round, the two rivals showed some sportsmanship and shook hands. It’s up to the judges now.

Kevin Draper

In the early rounds there were a couple of profane chants from the crowd directed at Covington, but in the late rounds Madison Square Garden has been chanting his name. It mirrors his improving performance in this fight.

Kevin Draper

At the end of Round 3, Usman and Covington smiled and jabbered at each other. At the end of Round 4 they stuck out their tongues at each other. A lot of post-round exchanges between the two of them.

Emmanuel Morgan

Round 4: Covington probably won that round, though it’s close. He had Usman flailing, pushed an aggressive pace and landed some good shots toward the end.

Emmanuel Morgan

Round 3: Covington showed his cardio and conditioning by recovering from the earlier round’s knockdowns. He finished the third with a takedown and pinned Usman near the fence. His face is cut, though.

Kevin Draper

One of Covington’s corner men dumped an entire bottle of water on his head to clean the blood as the cutman worked furiously on his face.

Oskar Garcia

And Usman looked pretty much indifferent about whether the fight continued or not. He looks relaxed for a guy who has another professional fighter trying to beat him up.

Emmanuel Morgan

Round 2: Usman dropped Covington twice with punches and would have finished him had the round not ended. Covington walked back to his corner looking dizzy and dazed.

Credit…Ed Mulholland/USA Today Sports, via Reuters
Kevin Draper

It looks like Colby Covington suffered two cuts in the first round, one under his right eye and another on his forehead.

Emmanuel Morgan

Round 1: A feel out round for both Covington and Usman. Covington threw some hard punches that did not connect — definitely tried to get a knockout early.

Kevin Draper

We’re not done yet! Usman vs. Covington should be a good fight, especially because the fighters seem to genuinely dislike each other in a way that goes beyond most fake beefs between fighters.

Oskar Garcia

And interestingly, both fighters are getting a mixed ovation from the crowd. Someone had a Trump banner earlier, and it’s hard to believe that politics are absent from some of these sentiments they’re expressing.

Emmanuel Morgan

U.F.C. 268

Credit…Corey Sipkin/Associated Press

Rose Namajunas defended her strawweight championship against Zhang Weili via split decision in a competitive fight, a rematch of their last fight that ended in a knockout.

Namajunas ended the last round on top after securing a clean takedown, which could have been the difference. Both women showed their moments — Namajunas was the more effective striker while Zhang grappled and landed takedowns throughout. Namajunas did control the octagon and set the pace better while landing counterpunches.

The crowd leaned heavily toward Namajunas, an American, and booed Zhang, of China. Almost everyone seemed engaged, except the U.F.C. president, Dana White, who was spotted cageside watching Saúl Álvarez’s boxing match on a laptop.

Emmanuel Morgan

Round 5: It’s anyone’s guess.

Oskar Garcia

Namajunas picks up the decision and it’s quite understandable — that’s no knock to Zhang, who fought very, very well. There were some close rounds but Namajunas was too good a counterpuncher and dictated the fight more often.

Kevin Draper

Even U.F.C. president Dana White, octagon-side in New York for Namajunas-Weili, was watching Canelo Álvarez knock out Caleb Plant.

Kevin Draper

In Ernest Hemingway’s “The Sun Also Rises,” a character says he went bankrupt “gradually, then suddenly.” That is also how Caleb Plant lost this fight.

Emmanuel Morgan

Round 4: Namajunas defended a rear naked choke well and ended the round on top. Zhang may need to get a finish to conclusively win this fight. Otherwise, the judges may lean toward keeping Namajunas as the champ since it’s so close.

Morgan Campbell

Round 11: A left hook and a pair of rights send Plant to the canvas. He rises, clears his head … and Álvarez pounces. A series of heavy blows sends Plant down face-first. Fight over. Álvarez promised a knockout, and he delivered.

Credit…Steve Marcus/Associated Press
Morgan Campbell

Round 10: Álvarez still stalking and hammering Plant, who has finally figured out he won’t win this fight moving and jabbing. The upshot? Some entertaining midring exchanges. Álvarez is still winning. Big.

Kevin Draper

Showtime’s unofficial scorer has the fight 88-83 Canelo, with Canelo having won the last six rounds. That seems about right.

Morgan Campbell

Round 9: Plant lands a right hand and a combination late, and raises his arms at the bell. For him tonight, winning part of a round counts as a win. Heavier blows are still coming from Álvarez.

Credit…Al Bello/Getty Images
Emmanuel Morgan

Round 3: Interested to see how the judges view this. Namajunas is controlling the octagon better, landing clean strikes and countering, but Zhang took her down toward the end of the round and did some decent ground-and-pound work.

Kevin Draper

Plant isn’t winning this fight, but he is at least more competitive than Canelo’s last couple of opponents.

Morgan Campbell

Round 8: Plant landed a left hook to the body — his best punch of the fight. He won that moment, and Álvarez won the rest of the round. He landed right hands over the top and left hooks to the forehead, and Plant has few answers.

Kevin Draper

Canelo looks like a big jungle cat, warily but confidently stalking his prey.

Emmanuel Morgan

Round 2: Both women got takedowns, and Namajunas wobbled Zhang with some good strikes. It’s competitive, but Namajunas probably won that round.

Credit…Corey Sipkin/Associated Press
Morgan Campbell

Round 7: Here’s Plant’s other problem: He tends to fade late in fights, and we’re in the second half of a fight he’s losing. He needs a momentum-changer. Badly.

Credit…Al Bello/Getty Images
Morgan Campbell

Round 6: Plant tried the Mayweather shell and shoulder roll. Álvarez has seen that before, from the master. He posts Plant with his left hand and lands the right. Lands a left hook, too. This is turning into a boxing lesson.

Credit…Caroline Brehman/EPA, via Shutterstock
Emmanuel Morgan

Round 1: Pretty competitive to start things out between Rose Namajunas and Zhang Weili. Namajunas was more aggressive and also showed solid striking. Zhang did secure a takedown, though.

Kevin Draper

This is it. This is what we wanted. Álvarez and Plant have entered the sixth round as Namajunas and Weili have begun their fight. Try not to get whiplash watching both.

Morgan Campbell

Round 5: Álvarez landed a low blow, and several legal ones. Plant is likely falling behind on the scorecards, and he needs to land something heavy to get Álvarez’s respect and attention.

Morgan Campbell

Round 4: Plant’s plan: outbox Álvarez the way Floyd Mayweather did in 2013. Plant’s problem: He’s not Mayweather, and Álvarez has improved since then. A big left hook from Álvarez sent sweat flying from Plant’s head. Álvarez is slowly taking over.

Credit…Al Bello/Getty Images
Emmanuel Morgan

The fact that Namajunas entered the octagon with gospel music before attempting to knock someone else unconscious or inflict enough pain to cause her to tap out is hilarious.

Kevin Draper

First big reaction from the crowd of the fight, as Canelo pins Plant on the ropes and lands a few punches.

Morgan Campbell

Round 3: They’re fighting at Álvarez’s rhythm now, which is bad news for Plant. When Plant circles, Álvarez cuts him off. He needs room, and Álvarez is shrinking the ring.

Credit…Steve Marcus/Associated Press
Morgan Campbell

Round 2: Plant still circling. Álvarez still stalking. They traded left hooks. Álvarez wins those exchanges. A left to the body and right to the head might have won this round for Álvarez.

Emmanuel Morgan

U.F.C. 268

Credit…Christian Petersen/Getty Images

Amid all the trash talk and the anticipated matchup between Kamaru Usman and Colby Covington, another fighter could have made a case to be in the cage tonight: Leon Edwards.

Edwards and Usman first fought in 2015, and Usman won by decision. Edwards has not lost since, winning nine fights and participating in one fight that ended in a no contest. His most recent fight was a unique five-round, nontitle bout against fan-favorite Nate Diaz in June, which he won convincingly.

Two of Usman’s five title defenses have been rematches against former foes, including tonight against Covington, whom he beat via technical knockout last year. He also beat Jorge Masvidal via decision and knockout. Some have said that Edwards, who fights Masvidal in December, is viewed as the most deserving of the next title shot instead of constantly cycling through the same opponents.

Usman has said if he beats Covington, he wants to fight Saúl Álvarez in a crossover boxing match. The U.F.C. will likely do a trilogy fight with Covington if Usman loses tonight.

When asked earlier this week, Usman said Edwards does not intrigue him and cited the result of their earlier fight. But if Edwards defeats Masvidal, it will be hard for both the U.F.C. and Usman to again deny Edwards a chance at the belt.

Morgan Campbell

Round 1: Stark size difference between the two. Plant is taller and broader-shouldered. Álvarez is smaller, but spent the first round stalking while Plant tried to establish his jab.

Emmanuel Morgan

U.F.C. 268

Credit…Mike Stobe/Getty Images

It was hard to follow up the explosiveness of the Gaethje-Chandler showdown, but contenders in two divisions kept the octagon busy in preparation for the co-main and main events.

Shane Burgos won via unanimous decision in a featherweight, beating Billy Quarantillo. The first round was relatively competitive, but Burgos found a groove and landed cleaner, more precise attacks in the later period, exerting visible damage on Quarantillo.

Marlon Vera defeated Frankie Edgar in the third round of a bantamweight bout, thrusting his leg with a front kick to Edgar’s jaw that knocked him out. Vera was the more dominant fighter throughout, landing clean shots, being more aggressive and controlling the octagon. Edgar is a fan favorite, and that base was quite loud. Edgar, 40, first fought in the U.F.C. in 2007. It’s the third time he’s been finished in his last four fights.

Emmanuel Morgan

Credit…Jasen Vinlove/USA Today Sports, via Reuters

Kamaru Usman started his media tour this week with a clear plan: set the stage for a potential crossover megafight with Saúl Álvarez.

Usman, the U.F.C. welterweight champion, sold his pitch in multiple interviews with different news outlets, claiming that a clash between the pound-for-pound best fighters in mixed martial arts and boxing would fuel fan desires to see the greatest competitions regardless of the discipline.

Simply put, the event would be a waste of time. While Usman has embarked on a successful run as a U.F.C. champion and could eventually usurp Georges St-Pierre as the greatest welterweight in the promotion’s history, he lacks the mainstream stardom needed to compel the audience needed to justify the time and energy that would be needed to orchestrate the fight.

Usman is an effective striker in mixed martial arts, but he would struggle in a pure boxing match. Just ask Conor McGregor, who boxed Floyd Mayweather under similar circumstances and failed miserably. His wallet succeeded, of course, as the fighter took home at least $30 million. But McGregor’s brash approach and marketability allowed for that enormous sum. Usman would not earn nearly as much.

McGregor’s U.F.C. career rapidly deteriorated after that Mayweather bout, and he has won just one fight since. Jake Paul has successfully blurred the lines of combat sports, but his choice of relatively safe opponents — a retired basketball player and two mixed martial arts fighters past their primes — and a devoted fan base has allowed it to happen.

Usman choosing to fight one of the best boxers of all time is not an apples-to-apples prospect. He is better suited continuing to to defend his title in the U.F.C., rather than venturing into a spectacle that on its face looks appealing, but most likely would not reap many rewards.

Morgan Campbell

Álvarez-Plant Undercard

Credit…Steve Marcus/Associated Press

It’s tough to tell which Anthony Dirrell feat was more impressive.

Four rounds into his co-main event bout against Marcos Hernandez, Dirrell, a former super middleweight world champion, landed a bolo punch uppercut to Hernandez’s jaw. Dirrell, a 37-year-old from Flint, Mich., windmilled his right arm like a softball pitcher, and the impact of the punch snapped Hernandez’s head back before sending him to the canvas.

Seconds after the referee waved the fight off, Dirrell celebrated with a midring backflip.

And stuck the landing.

Dirrell, who dressed in Michigan State Spartan green and white, improved his record to 34-2-2. Earlier this week, he said he hoped to face the winner of the main event in his next fight.

Morgan Campbell

Álvarez-Plant

Credit…Patrick T. Fallon/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

Caleb Plant is forthright about his tough upbringing. He, his sister and his father, Richie, lived in a mobile home in tiny Ashland City, Tenn. Plant has told reporters that the trailer grew frigid every winter and unbearably hot every summer, but also says the experience has made him nearly bulletproof as a boxer.

“You can’t break a poor boy’s chin,” Plant has said repeatedly in the run-up to his bout against Álvarez.

For his part, Álvarez is familiar with Plant’s mantra, and, in an October interview, dismissed it with a smirk and a wave of his hand.

“He talks about where he’s from and what he’s been through so people feel sorry for him,” said Álvarez, who grew up in Guadalajara, Mexico. “But we all come from the same side. I was poor, too, but I don’t talk about it so people will feel sorry for me.”

Emmanuel Morgan

U.F.C. 268

Credit…Gilles Sabrié for The New York Times

Whether the crowd at Madison Square Garden boos Zhang Weili or greets her warmly, she says she will be ready.

Zhang became the first Chinese champion in U.F.C. history and is adored in her home country. But that was not the reception she got in the United States at U.F.C. 261 in April, when she fought Rose Namajunas, an American. In the lead-up to the fight, Namajunas compared it to a battle between democracy and Communism.

The audience in Jacksonville, Fla., which was the first full-capacity crowd for the U.F.C. since the start of the coronavirus pandemic, booed her. She later said the jeering drained her focus and contributed to the result — a first-round knockout.

Zhang soon began training with Henry Cejudo, an Olympic wrestler and a former two-division U.F.C. champion. One of the elements in her training regimen was preparing with simulated crowd noise to get accustomed to a hostile reception.

“Every region has its distinct culture,” Zhang told ESPN through an interpreter. “I respect that. I wasn’t on my ‘A’ game during the last fight. I wasn’t focused enough. This time, I know I have no control of the audience. The only control I have is on myself. That’s it.”

Morgan Campbell

Álvarez-Plant Undercard

Credit…Steve Marcus/Associated Press

The featherweights Rey Vargas and Leonardo Baez paced around the ring during prefight introductions decked out in identical Mexican flag serapes. For social media-savvy fight fans, the scene brought to mind the Spiderman-pointing-at-Spiderman meme.

But if you couldn’t distinguish the fighters through dress, you could tell them apart by pedigree. Baez, from Mexicali, Mexico, entered at 21-4 and had never fought for a world title. Vargas had won all 34 of his pro fights and was a world champion at 122 pounds before moving up to featherweight.

From there, the gap in class became clear. Baez, diligent but limited, tried to force the fight at close range. Vargas, a loose-limbed combination puncher, landed sharp shots from a distance, peppering Baez with long right hands to the body and head.

Baez raised his hands and played to the crowd after the final bell, but the judges scored it 99-91, 100-90 and 100-90 for Vargas.

The judges had it right.

Emmanuel Morgan

U.F.C. 268

Credit…Corey Sipkin/Associated Press

The tangible excitement before, during and after the fight lived up to the product inside the cage. Justin Gaethje defeated Michael Chandler via unanimous decision in a lightweight bout to start the main card of U.F.C. 268, essentially earning a title shot for his next fight.

Gaethje will most likely clash with the winner of next month’s fight between the champion Charles Oliveira and the No. 1 contender Dustin Poirier.

Gaethje sent Chandler to the ground in the second round with a punch to the face, and his aggression in that round could have been the deciding factor in a fast-paced, exciting bout. In the third round, Gaethje wobbled Chandler with a right hand, but he still marched forward like a zombie with blood around his nose, eyes and mouth.

The two men showed sportsmanship in what was predicted to be a fight defined by high tempo and similar styles. Chandler also nearly finished Gaethje in the first round near the fence, but Gaethje recovered from those attacks. Afterward, as Gaethje and Chandler exited the cage, Chandler looked into the crowd and shouted, “Are you not entertained?”

Everyone who watched that fight surely was.

Kevin Draper

Álvarez-Plant

Credit…Al Bello/Getty Images

Here’s are the full results from the Álvarez-Plant card:

Main Card (9 p.m. E.T.)

Canelo Álvarez defeats Caleb Plant via T.K.O. in the 11th round

Anthony Dirrell defeats Marcos Hernandez via T.K.O. in the fourth round.

Rey Vargas defeats Leonardo Baez via unanimous decision (10 rounds).

Elvis Rodriguez defeats Juan Pablo Romero via K.O. in the fifth round.

Prelims

Joselito Velazquez defeats Gilberto Mendoza via unanimous decision (eight rounds).

Fernando Diaz defeats Jan Salvatierra via K.O. in the fifth round.

Jose Meza defeats Jose Gomez via unanimous decision (eight rounds).

Rances Barthelemy defeats Gustavo David Vittori via T.K.O. in the second round.

Morgan Campbell

Credit…David Becker/Getty Images

The super lightweights Elvis Rodriguez and Juan Pablo Romero fought at close range, each man confident his tools could do the job. Rodriguez, a southpaw from the Dominican Republic who now lives in Los Angeles, had faster hands. Romero, a 31-year-old from Villa Del Carbon, Mexico, threw heavier punches.

Speed won out.

In Round 4, a four-punch combination from Rodriguez dropped Romero, who entered Saturday undefeated. Near the end of the following round, Rodriguez cracked Romero with an overhand left to the face. Romero landed on his backside and managed to get to a knee, but couldn’t stand before the referee counted him out.

Rodriguez, who improved his record to 12-1-1, had described this bout as a “new beginning.” Until this spring, he had been a fast-rising prospect in the Top Rank promotional stable. But in May, he suffered his first pro loss, and Top Rank dropped him from its roster. The following month, he signed with Premier Boxing Champions, and Saturday he scored an emphatic win.

Emmanuel Morgan

U.F.C. 268

Credit…John Raoux/Associated Press

This is essentially an audition for the next opponent for the U.FC.’s lightweight championship. With the 155-pound champion Charles Oliveira scheduled to fight Dustin Poirier in December, the winner of that fight will either face Michael Chandler or Justin Gaethje.

Chandler first fought in the U.F.C. in 2020 after a successful run in Bellator M.M.A., considered the second-largest mixed martial arts promotion behind the U.F.C. He won his first fight but lost to Oliveira in the second round via technical knockout in a contest to fill the vacant lightweight title after the dominant champion Khabib Nurmagomedov retired.

Before facing Nurmagomedov in October 2020, Gaethje had a four-fight win streak and won the interim lightweight title.

Both Gaethje and Chandler feature a similar style as capable wrestlers and explosive strikers. This fight starts off the main card, so grab your beer and wings early and don’t blink. This likely won’t last long.





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