Holloway’s last-second KO of Gaethje likely will be lasting memory of UFC 300

Holloway’s last-second KO of Gaethje likely will be lasting memory of UFC 300
Holloway’s last-second KO of Gaethje likely will be lasting memory of UFC 300

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Jeddah - Yasmine El Tohamy - LAS VEGAS: Alex Pereira left no doubt he was the true light heavyweight champion in the main event, knocking out Jamahal Hill 3:14 of the first round Saturday night.

But the lasting image of UFC 300, one that likely will resonate for years to come, was Max Holloway’s last-second knockout of Justin Gaethje for the ceremonial BMF title belt.

Holloway-Gaethje was arguably the most anticipated fight on the loaded card, and it not only lived up to expectations, but surpassed them before a sellout crowd of 20,067 that roared over the final seconds and its stunning conclusion.

“That fight sucked the life out of everybody tonight,” UFC President Dana White said. “People ask me what I do. I sell holy (stuff) moments. That was the ultimate holy (stuff) moment. Let’s just talk about his fight for the rest of the press conference.”

The UFC — which had its third-highest gate at $16.5 million — awarded Holloway a $600,000 bonus for his performance.

Even though Holloway (26-7) was well on his way to a victory by decision — two judges had him ahead 39-37 — the former featherweight champion could have run out the clock.

He instead pointed to the floor in the final seconds and then traded blows with Gaethje (25-5). It was a tremendous combination of punches from both fighters before the one that sent the now ex-BMF champ to the mat with just one second remaining in the five-round fight.

“This is the moment,” Holloway said about going for the KO. “This is what the BMF is known for. If that’s not a BMF moment, I don’t know what is. If Justin was up, he would’ve given me those 10 seconds.”

“That’s why Max Holloway is beloved,” White said. “He’s got the fight won and in there with one of the most dangerous fighters in the business. That’s like movie (stuff). It’s the fight of the year. If something beats that as fight of the year, holy (stuff).”

Holloway, who also used a spinning kick at the end of the first round to bloody Gaethje’s nose, was in control throughout most of the fight.

“I think it broke his nose. ... Any less of a man couldn’t do what Justin Gaethje does,” Holloway said.

In the evening’s final fight, Pereira dropped Hill to the canvas with a straight left hand and then pounded him. Referee Herb Dean stepped in to stop the fight, giving the Brazilian the victory.

Pereira, 36, was a minus-132 favorite, according to FanDuel Sportsbook.

“I see myself as the champion. I didn’t want to let the belt go to my head,” Pereira said through an interpreter. “I had to step in and win the championship.”

Hill, 32, was the previous title holder, but a torn Achilles tendon forced him to vacate the championship last July. That put the belt in Pereira’s hands, eventually setting up this matchup and his fourth pay-per-view event in 16 months.

As would be expected from a milestone card number, this was a strong lineup that included 12 current or former champions, and 11 who have headlined UFC pay-per-view events.

Zhang Weili (25-3) retained her women’s strawweight championship in the co-main event, beating No. 1 challenger Yan Xiaonan (18-4) by unanimous decision. Each judge scored the fight 49-45.

Zhang nearly choked out Yan to end the first round. Yan, however, found a way to take the fight the five-round distance.

“She bounced back very quickly,” Zhang said through an interpreter.

No. 4 lightweight challenger Arman Tsarukyan (22-3) won by split decision over top-ranked challenger and former champion Charles Oliveira (34-10). Each scorecard was 29-28, two in favor of Tsarukyan.

“I thought all (the) judges were going to give me the decision,” Tsarukyan said.

Three-time NCAA wrestling champion Bo Nickal (6-0) led off the five-fight main card by submitting Cody Brundage (10-6) by rear-naked choke hold at 3:38 of the second round.

“I’m a little bit embarrassed with that performance because I expected to go in there and completely dominate,” Nickal said.

One of the more notable matchups on the undercard was between two-time US Olympic judo gold medalist Kayla Harrison and International Boxing Hall of Fame inductee Holly Holm.

Harrison (17-1), who made her UFC debut, dominated Holm (15-7). She won the bantamweight bout by submission with a rear-naked choke at 1:47 of the second round.

Retired champion Amanda Nunes posted a video of herself on social media listening to Harrison in the cage and wondering why she didn’t mention her by name.

“I didn’t call Amanda’s name because Amanda’s not the UFC champion,” Harrison said. “I thought she was happily retired. I would love to win the UFC title, and if Amanda wants to come back, I would welcome her with open arms.”

White said he hopes to see Nunes return.

“I think she retired too soon,” White said.

Also on the undercard, second-ranked challenger Jiri Prochazka (30-4) put himself on track to reclaim the light heavyweight championship with a technical knockout at 3:17 of the second round of fifth-ranked Aleksandar Rakic (14-4). Prochazka lost his belt to Pereira in November on a second-round TKO.

“Whoever will win tonight in the main event, I want to take (him on),” Prochazka said.

CONOR MCGREGOR IS BACK

White said Conor McGregor will fight in UFC 303 against Michael Chandler on June 29 in Las Vegas. Also, Islam Makhachev will fight Dustin Poirier at UFC 302 on June 1 in Newark, New Jersey.

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