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Saturday night fights: Anthony Joshua’s heavyweight title bout, UFC 266 take center stage

It was a busy Saturday in the fight game, with a major heavyweight boxing match on the schedule, followed by a big-time night of MMA action.

First up was Anthony Joshua, who had three heavyweight championship belts on the line in his bout with a smaller Oleksandr Usyk. And it was not a good night for the now former champ, as Joshua went down on points, losing on all three judges’ cards – 117-112, 116-112 and 115-113 – in front of his home crowd in London.

Later Saturday, UFC 266 took the spotlight in Las Vegas with three marquee matchups dominating the card.

The best knockout of the night? That came courtesy of Matt Semelsberger on the undercard. He needed only 15 seconds to take down his foe.

Later, the big names came out.

First, Nick Diaz returned to the octagon to take on old rival Robbie Lawler.

Then Valentina Shevchenko put her flyweight belt on the line against Lauren Murphy, and Alexander Volkanovski and Brian Ortega put on a furious bout for the men’s featherweight title.

Here’s how the action went on Saturday, along with some reactions to the results.

Alexander Volkanovski (23-1, 10-0 in UFC) def. Brian Ortega (15-2, 7-2 in UFC) by decision

These two fighters had expressed what appeared to be a genuine dislike for each other in the leadup to their match. In the second round, Volkanovski unleashed that dislike with a fiery combination.

The pair didn’t even seem interested in taking a break between the second and third rounds.

In the third round, it looked like Ortega was going to pull off a stunner. Yet Volkanovski somehow escaped the choke.

And as if that wasn’t enough, he escaped again a short time later.

After surviving those close calls in the third round, the champ asserted himself in the fourth.

In the end, the champ retained his belt, though you have to wonder if UFC won’t want to pit these two against each other again in a rematch.

Valentina Shevchenko (21-4, 10-2 in UFC) def. Lauren Murphy (15-4, 7-4 in UFC) by TKO

Shevchenko dominated this one early, dishing out a series of big punches that caused swelling beneath Murphy’s eye.

Shevchenko kept up the pressure throughout, really taking control with a barrage in the fourth round. Murphy showed toughness, but was simply no match.

Ultimately, Shevchenko earned a sixth title defense.

Robbie Lawler (29-15, 14-9 in UFC) def. Nick Diaz (26-10, 7-7 in UFC) by third-round TKO

This was a match for older fans, a bout between aging fighters known for putting on ferocious bouts in the past. They first met 17 years ago, with Diaz earning a knockout.

But these were not the same fighters. Diaz, 38, had not fought since 2015, and Lawler, 39, hadn’t fought in more than a year, losing his previous four appearances.

They did put on a show, however, pushing an aggressive pace.

Lawler began to take control as the bout wore on.

But in the end, Diaz was no match for Lawler, who won by TKO at 33 seconds of the third round. The fight was stopped after Lawler dropped a right hand onto Diaz’s nose and dropped him to the mat.

“That’s what I expected,” Lawler said afterward. “I expected him to push the pace and try to break me. And I didn’t let him.”

After the bout, there was plenty of respect between these two old gladiators.

Oleksandr Usyk (19-0, 13 KOs) def. Anthony Joshua (24-2, 22 KOs) by unanimous decision

Usyk is now a two-weight world champ after his victory over Joshua for the WBA, IBF and WBO world heavyweight titles on Saturday.

The Ukrainian was sharper than the bigger Brit, even in front of the London crowd. He hurt Joshua in the third and seventh rounds and nearly forced a stoppage in the 12th.

According to CompuBox, Joshua threw more punches but landed far fewer of them (19% to 28%) and Usky also landed 44% of his power punches.

Joshua had hoped to set up a bout with English rival Tyson Fury for all four heavyweight titles next year. Now, he’ll more likely be asking Usyk for a rematch.

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