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One belt retained, another changes hands at UFC 290

Alexander Volkanovski has still never lost at 145 pounds.

After a brief move up to lightweight to challenge for the belt in February, Volkanovski returned to featherweight and defended his belt with a third-round knockout of Yair Rodriguez in the main event of UFC 290 at T-Mobile Arena on Saturday night.

Volkanovski controlled the match on the mat for the first two rounds and then ended the bout by dumping Rodriguez against the cage and prompting the referee to step in with a flurry of punches on the ground at 4:19 of the third round.

“I’m the champ,” he said of his mindset going into the fight. “I’m the king of this division. Nobody was ever stopping me.

“I’m coming for all these records. The sky’s the limit.”

In the co-main event, Alexandre Pantoja continued to be the puzzle Brandon Moreno can’t solve as he took the flyweight title with a split-decision victory in a wild back-and-forth affair.

Pantoja beat Moreno on “The Ultimate Fighter” in 2016 and then won the rematch on an official UFC card in 2018, but Moreno used the loss as a springboard to a title run while Pantoja lost two of his next five fights.

Their paths finally crossed again Saturday night with Pantoja earning the favor of the judges after spending much of the fifth round draped on Moreno’s back. It was a just decision, but that didn’t matter much to a very pro-Moreno crowd, many of whom booed the verdict.

“Hey guys, if you know my story, you’re gonna love me,” the new champion said. “I’m working so hard for that. Gabriela, my wife, my kid, I’m working so hard for that. You don’t get mad at me, do you?

“The last two years, I worked so hard. I brought my family to the U.S. … I left everything I have. My mom took care of me and my two brothers alone, you know.”

There was much more of a positive reception for Robbie Lawler, whose farewell bout stole the show.

Two nights after one of his legendary bouts was enshrined in the fight wing of the UFC Hall of Fame, Lawler went out in style with a 38-second knockout of welterweight Niko Price.

Lawler paused longer outside the cage to take in the adulation of the crowd during his entrance than it took him to finish the fight.

“It was nice to end it like this,” he said after landing a series of big punches to end the festivities early. “The fans have been great.”

Bo Nickal, an undefeated three-time national champion wrestler who is one of the most-hyped prospects to enter the UFC in years, needed that same amount of time to knock out Val Woodburn.

The rising middleweight did all the damage with his hands, showing his development as a striker. All five of his pro wins have come in the first round, with just one lasting longer than 62 seconds.

Also on the card, middleweight Dricus du Plessis knocked out former middleweight champion Robert Whittaker in the second round for his eighth straight win.

The victory sets up a title bout against champion Israel Adesanya, with whom du Plessis already has a history of animosity.

Adesanya entered the cage during the post-fight interview with du Plessis, and the rhetoric got nasty very quickly.

Dan Hooker rallied after a rough start to earn a split-decision victory over Jalin Turner in a 158-pound catchweight bout.

On the preliminary card, du Plessis’ teammate Cameron Saaiman scored a knockout of bantamweight Terrence Mitchell, and Denise Gomes pulled an upset with a 20-second knockout of Yazmin Jauregui in women’s strawweight competition.

Flyweight Jesus Santos Aguilar needed just 17 seconds to knock out Shannon Ross, and light heavyweight Alonzo Menifield submitted Jimmy Crute in the second round in a rematch of a February bout that ended in a draw when Menifield was deducted a point for a fence grab in the final round.

Tatsuro Taira and Esteban Ribovics each took unanimous-decision victories.

Contact Adam Hill at ahill@reviewjournal.com. Follow @AdamHillLVRJ on Twitter.

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