Nick Diaz vs. Robbie Lawler II was worth the wait.
After 17 years, Lawler scored retribution for a knockout loss in both fighters’ youth with a third-round TKO victory over Diaz on Saturday during UFC 266 from T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas.
“I’ve always had respect for Diaz,” Lawler said in the octagon after their scheduled five-round middleweight bout. “He brings it every freaking time.”
Now in their late 30s and years removed from their championship days — Lawler previously reigned over the UFC welterweight division and Diaz was the longtime Strikeforce champ at 170 pounds — the two men set a torrid pace to start the fight. Diaz took a few minutes to settle into his typical high-volume boxing attack, while Lawler pressed forward throwing plenty of power punches in return.
Noticeably slower than his last outing in 2015, Diaz still managed to keep the fight close before Lawler began to build steam in the latter half of the second round. That momentum carried over into the third, as Lawler knocked down Diaz to his knee with a short right.
Lawler beckoned him to stand and, as he walked away, a lucid Diaz briefly clutched his knee and could not get back to his feet, forcing the referee to waive it off 44 seconds into the third frame.
Immediately after, Lawler walked back over to a downed Diaz to offer respect for the man who sent him face-planting into the canvas when they were in their early 20s.
Flyweight champion Valentina Shevchenko picked up a predictably lopsided victory over Lauren Murphy, the latest unsuccessful challenger to the crown, by securing a fourth-round TKO in the evening’s co-main event.
“I’m ready for anyone, no matter [what] weight class,” Shevchenko said in the octagon following the win. “No matter anything. I’m here. I’m the champion.”
Shevchenko (22-3, 15 finishes) was in control virtually from bell to bell, starting with a particularly dominant first frame and building her lead on the scorecards from there as the fight marched toward the championship rounds.
Murphy (15-5, nine finishes) offered no answers for the dominant kickboxing of the champ and could offer little resistance when taken down and grappled. A slip at the start of the fourth round by the champ that briefly convinced some in attendance that Murphy had stumbled her was perhaps the only time she appeared to have Shevchenko in any trouble.
A few minutes later, it was the champ who had Murphy in actual trouble with a furious flurry of punches following a right hook. After the challenger briefly weathered the storm from her back, a barrage of elbows from Shevchenko forced the referee to halt the assault at 4 minutes into the round.
The win gives Shevchenko her sixth consecutive title defense in less than three years since winning the vacant title with a win over former strawweight champion Joanna Jedrzejczyk in December 2018.
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