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Imavov tops Cannonier in controversial 4th-round TKO

Jeff Bottari / UFC / Getty

Nassourdine Imavov scored the biggest win of his UFC career against Jared Cannonier on Saturday night, though a questionable referee stoppage will likely overshadow what could've been a breakthrough moment for the Frenchman.

Imavov defeated Cannonier, the No. 4-ranked middleweight and a former title challenger, via TKO at the 1:34 mark of the fourth round in the UFC Louisville main event at the KFC Yum! Center.

Just over a minute into the round, Imavov hurt Cannonier with a right hook and then backed him up with another right hand. Imavov landed a few shots in the center of the Octagon, and then one or two more against the fence as referee Jason Herzog stepped in and waved off the fight. However, Cannonier remained on his feet, didn't appear overly dazed at the time of the stoppage, and immediately protested.

Cannonier was winning 29-28 on two judges' scorecards heading into the fourth round, while the third judge had Imavov up 29-28. The stoppage sent social media into an uproar:

Imavov defended Herzog's call to stop the fight but said he was prepared to keep fighting.

"I was ready to continue the fight if the fight was willing to continue," Imavov said through an interpreter. "The referee, that's his job, that's what he does on a daily basis. So I think he did the right decision. But I was ready to keep going if that was the decision."

The fight was very competitive up until the finish. Cannonier got off to a fast start in Round 1, landing solid punches. Imavov rallied in the second before the two middleweight contenders went back and forth on the feet in a narrow Round 3.

After the victory, Imavov called out former middleweight champion Sean Strickland for a rematch at UFC Paris on Sept. 28. Strickland beat Imavov by unanimous decision in a short-notice light heavyweight bout in early 2023.

"My goal is to get the belt - for me, for my family, for everyone around me," Imavov said. "Sean Strickland, if you want to do it, come to Paris, and we're going to fight together."

Imavov is now riding a three-fight unbeaten streak. The 28-year-old has won consecutive main events this year after defeating Roman Dolidze by majority decision in February to move up to No. 7 in the 185-pound division.

Cannonier returned for the first time since a lopsided win over Marvin Vettori in a UFC Fight Night main event in June 2023. "The Killa Gorilla" pulled out of a fight last December after tearing his MCL in training. Cannonier, 40, had won two in a row heading into Saturday's bout, including a split decision over Strickland in December 2022.

This was Cannonier's first stoppage loss since 2018 and first ever at middleweight.

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