4 takeaways from UFC 254
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Khabib Nurmagomedov retained the lightweight title via a second-round submission of Justin Gaethje during the UFC 254 main event Saturday in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates.

After the victory, the undefeated Nurmagomedov announced his retirement from mixed martial arts.

Here are four takeaways from the event.

Khabib two steps ahead of his opposition

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Nurmagomedov went largely unchallenged in his MMA career. However, a big narrative ahead of UFC 254 was the belief that if anyone could test - and maybe even beat - the undefeated champion, it might've been Gaethje, who destroyed Tony Ferguson earlier in 2020 to win the interim title.

That proved to be completely untrue.

Nurmagomedov wrecked Gaethje, and it wasn't close. He came out firing on all cylinders in the first round and avoided Gaethje's biggest shots. It took little effort for Nurmagomedov to get Gaethje to the mat in the second round and sink in the fight-ending triangle choke.

Gaethje was the guy with the wrestling background, the pressure, and the power that could supposedly cause Nurmagomedov some problems - or at least make the fight competitive.

Instead, Gaethje was nothing more than Nurmagomedov's 29th victim.

We knew Nurmagomedov was a special talent before Saturday's victory - that much was obvious. But Nurmagomedov's easy disposing of Gaethje made the Arizona-born fighter look no better or more prepared than the 28 fighters before him and solidified just how skilled the Russian titleholder is.

Nurmagomedov worked to perfect one area of his MMA game as his career progressed, and it led him to greatness. He was eventually so good on the ground no one could stop him. Nurmagomedov became the UFC lightweight champion and one of the best to ever do it: He never lost a fight, only gave away two rounds, and never even got rocked or bloodied.

I am confident in saying we will never see another fighter like "The Eagle" again.

Whittaker still one of the best

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After Robert Whittaker beat rising contender Darren Till in July, I wasn't sure if he was the same guy who held the middleweight title from 2017-19.

Whittaker took a lot of damage in his title loss against Israel Adesanya and in a rematch with Yoel Romero, and I thought that might've affected him. He defeated Till fair and square, but Whittaker didn't quite look like the destroyer who ran through the middleweight division en route to a title shot a few years ago.

However, after Whittaker largely shut down the surging Jared Cannonier - who was all but guaranteed to face off against Adesanya for the 185-pound title with a victory - make no mistake about it: "The Reaper" is still one of the best.

The Australian's precision against Cannonier was remarkable, and he ultimately proved he was the better fighter throughout the 15-minute affair. Whittaker rocked and nearly finished "The Killa Gorilla" early in the third round in what was surely the biggest moment of the fight. Whittaker even had to survive a late scare when Cannonier stunned him in the waning seconds.

In a middleweight division without a clear-cut No. 1 contender, Whittaker has made quite the argument for deserving a rematch with the current king.

Hawes' perfect UFC debut

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A middleweight prospect shined in his long-awaited Octagon debut.

Phil Hawes, a two-time Dana White's Contender Series alum, destroyed Jacob Malkoun via 18-second TKO.

This fight couldn't have gone much better for Hawes, who's had high expectations since starting his MMA career in 2014 and has been known to fall short under the bright lights.

Hawes competed on the 23rd season of "The Ultimate Fighter" in 2016 and lost his first bout on the show. He then went 1-1 in WSOF before brutally losing to Julian Marquez on the Contender Series in 2017.

Jon Jones' former training partner turned his career around with a win in Bellator and then a pair of victories in Brave CF. The progress earned "Megatron" another shot on the Contender Series this past summer, where he scored a knockout victory and a UFC contract.

Hawes got a big spot on the UFC 254 main card - which will likely do significant numbers since Nurmagomedov is one of the biggest stars in the sport - and made the most of the opportunity.

While his performance isn't even close to the biggest storyline coming out of the event, it's a debut that certainly won't be forgotten - and one that could help skyrocket Hawes up the middleweight ladder.

Ankalaev settles unfinished business

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Magomed Ankalaev and Ion Cutelaba's first meeting had fans wanting to see more, but Ankalaev left no doubt in the rematch.

This fight was one of the most anticipated on the card since their first encounter in February ended controversially. Ankalaev won via 38-second TKO, but Cutelaba - who was seemingly unhurt when the referee called the contest off - immediately protested the stoppage.

The rematch had been scheduled three times - with two of the three cancellations resulting from Cutelaba's positive COVID-19 test - before finally landing in the opening slot on Saturday's pay-per-view, only adding to the anticipation.

Ankalaev finished Cutelaba with vicious strikes in the first round of the contest and proved he's indeed the better fighter. Now, the 28-year-old can finally put this chapter behind him and continue his journey up the light heavyweight ladder.

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4 takeaways from UFC 254
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