Ilia Topuria, Tai Tuivasa made most of UFC 264 limelight

Credit: USA today

Most of the attention coming out of the blockbuster UFC 264 event is understandably focused on the injury sustained by Conor McGregor (22-6), which ended his main event trilogy bout with Dustin Poirier (28-6) prematurely. But on such a big card, several other fighters took full advantage of their opportunities.

Ilia Topuria stamps his status as top prospect at featherweight

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Jul 10, 2021; Las Vegas, Nevada, USA; Ilia Topuria lands a hit against Ryan Hall during UFC 264 at T-Mobile Arena. Mandatory Credit: Gary A. Vasquez-USA TODAY Sports

On the preliminary portion of the card, undefeated prospect Ilia Topuria (11-0) kept his ‘0′ intact with a flawless first-round technical knockout performance over dangerous jiu-jitsu wizard Ryan Hall (8-2).

The Spanish-Georgian patiently bided his time until the moment he decided to strike, avoiding the awkward and unorthodox Hall’s frequent attempts to roll into a leg entanglement or otherwise goad Topuria into a grappling exchange.

Despite the repeated efforts of Hall, whose style had seen him amass an undefeated record inside the Octagon, Topuria was wise to keep his distance and was content to land just a punch or two before resetting.

Ultimately, however, Topuria seized on one of Hall’s falls, lunging into him on the ground and landing a series of brutal fight-ending, ground-and-pound strikes that rendered Hall unconscious in the first round.

Prior to the bout, Topuria predicted a first-round finish.

“I like Ryan, that’s why I am not gonna take much time from him, and I will knock him out in the first round,” Topuria vowed on Twitter on Friday.

With the unbeaten prospect following through on his promise on the highly-watched televised preliminary portion of the card, it was likely the coming-out party for a budding star at 145 pounds.

Sean O’Malley and Kris Moutinho take part in one-sided but memorable battle

In the main card opener, emerging star Sean O’Malley (14-1) and UFC newcomer Kris Moutinho (9-5) put on an absolute show.

Fan-favorite O’Malley racked up the numbers in a statistically eye-popping performance, teeing off on Moutinho from bell to bell en route to a third-round TKO as referee Herb Dean waved the fight off while the pair continued to strike on the feet.

It was a classic “Suga” showing, as the rangy bantamweight prospect peppered Moutinho with crisp strikes from the outside while countering his forward pressure moving backward.

Despite the fights one-sided nature, Moutinho impressed in his Octagon debut. Taking the fight on just a week’s notice after original O’Malley opponent Louis Smolka (17-7) withdrew due to a staph infection,. Moutinho endeared himself to fans with his refusal to take a backward step and an absolute vibranium tough chin.

The New England fight scene staple constantly pressured O’Malley, taking the top prospect’s best shots and continued to stay in his face. Though he was dropped twice in the opening round, Moutinho performed better than many- including oddsmakers, who pegged him as a +600 underdog–may have expected.

“Kris is a tough mother**ker,” O’Malley told UFC commentator Joe Rogan post-fight. “He took this fight on eleven days’ notice when a lot of people in the UFC wouldn’t even take it.”

The two rightfully earned “Fight of the Night” honors for their efforts.

Tai Tuivasa’s momentum building with third straight win at UFC 264

Another fighter who seized the monumental opportunity at UFC 264 was Australian brawler Tai Tuivasa (13-3).

The 28-year-old heavyweight notched a highlight-reel knockout over former Pro Bowl NFL player Greg Hardy (7-4, 1 NC), needing just a minute and seven seconds to dispatch of the controversial prospect.

Tuivasa was rocked early by the heavy-handed Hardy, but when Hardy looked to swarm Tuivasa, “Bam Bam” countered and caught the ex-NFLer with a thunderous counter hook. The referee jumped in to end the fight early in the first round, but Tuivasa’s star-making performance was just getting started.

Climbing atop the Octagon fencing, Tuivasa performed his signature “shoey,” and drank a beer out of a fan’s shoe. The Las Vegas crowd roared, and Tuivasa continued to take “shoeys” from rabid fans along his walk out of the cage and into the locker room.

“He wanted to bang with me. I’m not the right guy to bang with,” Tuivasa warned Rogan immediately after the bout. “Pick another bloke.”

Tuivasa called for an opponent in the top 15 next.

–Field Level Media

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