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UFC 276 recap: Israel Adesanya, Alexander Volkanovski defend belts by decision

Pay-per-view event took place at T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas.
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Israel Adesanya extended his undefeated streak in the middleweight division.

And Alexander Volkanovski left no doubt.

That was the story of UFC 276, where the co-main event delivered two exciting fights – though the contrast was stark.

In the main event, Adesanya (23-1 MMA, 12-1 UFC) defeated Jared Cannonier by unanimous decision. Ever the showman, Adesanya entered the octagon to the theme music of The Undertaker, even wearing his signature hat and holding the urn – which contained Cannonier's name on it. Unsurprisingly, Cannonier Jared Cannonier (15-6 MMA, 8-6 UFC) proved to be a tough opponent, but he could not generate enough offense to put Adesanya in any kind of real danger.

Adesanya now continues his reign as middleweight champion. The only time he was defeated in the octagon was when then light heavyweight champ Jan Blachowicz used his size to pin him down on the mat. Adesanya has a different type of challenge up next in former kickboxing rival Alex Pereira, and another new challenge now also presents itself for Alexander Volkanovski.

Volkanovski dominated all five rounds against Max Holloway in his unanimous decision. After two close fights against one another, Volkanovski (25-1 MMA, 12-0 UFC) removed all doubt that he is better. Holloway (23-7 MMA, 19-7 UFC) could not keep up with Volkanovski's speed or power, and his face – and spirit – were battered by the end of this bout. Volkanovski now pursues the lightweight title, seeking to become UFC's next double champ.

Pereira delivered the biggest statement of his career at 276, knocking out Sean Strickland only 156 seconds into their fight. Strickland (25-4 MMA, 12-4 UFC) entered having won six in a row and had finally put himself in title contention, but he decided to stand with Pereira (6-1 MMA, 3-0 UFC), who connected with a devastating left hook that all but ended this bout. Pereira followed that up with a right hand, yet the damage was done.

Only three fights into his UFC career, Pereira is primed for a title shot. The middleweight division is full of contenders either coming off a loss or already defeated by Adesanya. But Pereira has two victories against Adesanya, both from their time in kickboxing, and the two are now destined to meet in the octagon.

Earlier on the card, Bryan Barberena picked up the most significant victory of his career, defeating Robbie Lawler by TKO. This fight was full of action, turning in Barberena's favor early in the second round after he landed a step-in elbow. A former welterweight champion, the 40-year-old Lawler (29-16 MMA, 14-10 UFC) has now dropped four of his past five, but it still stands as a big win for Barberena (18-8 MMA, 9-6 UFC).

Even the prelims were exciting. This was a night where Jim Miller defeated Donald "Cowboy" Cerrone by submission, picking up victory no. 24 – the most in UFC history. Miller (35-16 MMA, 24-15 UFC) applied the guillotine choke in the second round for the win, giving Cerrone (36-16 MMA, 23-13 UFC) his sixth loss over his past seven fights. That was immediately followed by Cerrone leaving his cowboy hat and gloves in the cage, and announcing his retirement. Another moment of excitement occurred in the last fight of the prelims, when Jalin Turner destroyed Brad Riddell in a mere 45 seconds. Turner (13-5 MMA, 6-2 UFC) should put himself in the lightweight top 15 after beating No. 14 Riddell (10-3 MMA, 4-2 UFC), who he finished with a guillotine choke after drilling him with a strike to the skull in the opening moments of the fight.

The most disappointing moment of 276 took place in the opening bout when Sean O'Malley and Pedro Munhoz ended in a no-contest. Following an accidental eye poke from O'Malley (15-1 MMA, 7-1 UFC), Munhoz was unable to continue. This appeared to be the long-awaited moment for O'Malley to break into the top-10 of the bantamweight division by beating ninth-ranked Munhoz (19-7 MMA, 9-7 UFC), yet that wait will continue.

Two of the best of all-time retained their titles at 276, and one of the greats left his cowboy hat and gloves in the cage. As Cerrone steps away from the octagon, Adesanya and Volkanovski are both entering a rarely attained, new level of excellence.

This story first published at SI.com/MMA.