The main UFC tournament in December was literally overflowing with iconic fights with the participation of star athletes, including both Russians and representatives of the post-Soviet space. However, in the run-up to it, their number has somewhat decreased. But if Giga Chikadze himself was injured and could not fight with Josh Emmett, then Muslim Salikhov became a victim of circumstances. Three days before the show, Randy Brown was forced to withdraw due to an unnamed illness, and during such a period it was impossible to find a new opponent for the King of Kung Fu.

As a result, Russia was formally represented only by Tagir Ulanbekov, who was going to extend his successful streak in a duel with Cody Darden. But we should not forget about Shamil Gaziyev, a native of Dagestan, who now defends the colors of Bahrain. He had recently made it to the championship through Dana White's Contender Series, and in Las Vegas he was going to win the 12th victory of his career. This could be prevented by the strong Slovak Martin Buday, who had previously lost only one of his 14 fights. It happened back in 2017.

But from the very first seconds it became clear that it would be extremely difficult for Buday to leave one in the "defeat" column. Gaziev simply beat him, leaving him no chance, and already in the first round twice gave the referee a reason to intervene. In the middle of the segment, a deep cut formed on the Slovak's left eyebrow, forcing referee Mark Smith to temporarily interrupt the duel and ask a doctor to examine the Slovak. And in the end, Shamil almost finished the confrontation in the referee's position, bringing down a flurry of blows on the opponent's head.

As a result, Budai still endured until the break, but after it he could not impose competition on Gaziyev. He did not loosen his grip, continued to score his opponent at the net and still forced the referee to stop the fight at 56 seconds of the second round. After such an impressive debut, there is no doubt that in the near future Shamil will face much more serious tests.

As well as Ulanbekov, who made a serious bid to return to the top 10 of the flyweight division. Yes, technically he spent more time beating Darden, but his performance was no less impressive. Already in the first minute, he sent the American to the canvas with a counter right hand and almost fixed the guillotine. And having missed several lightning-fast attacks in the middle of the segment, he did not lose heart and took the ending. In the last seconds, he crept behind his vis-à-vis and almost closed the lock around his neck, but he defended himself.

The beginning of the second period made it clear that Darden looked preferable in the standing position due to fast hands. Ulanbekov understood this and made the absolutely right decision – not to try to exchange with him, but to drag him into the referee's position. And although the fans reacted to this with a roar, Tagir was not embarrassed. It took him time and a few attempts, but 35 seconds before the bell the choke from behind was executed perfectly. The American had to knock.

Also, domestic fans were attracted by the fight with the participation of Shavkat Rakhmonov, who became famous in M-1 Global. There he became a champion and got the opportunity to try his hand at the UFC as part of a program of cooperation between the leagues. But it was preceded by several more bright fights. In one of them, Cody Garbrandt "knocked out" Brian Kelleher and showed that it was too early to write him off, and in the second, the same Emmett scored a jaw-dropping knockout. And to do this, he needed only two accurate hits. With the right overhand, he demolished Bryce Mitchell and forced the audience to witness a horrific scene. He convulsed for a few seconds before recovering. However, he did not come out to the announcement of the triumphant.

In turn, for the first time since May 2021, Tony Ferguson played all three rounds in the octagon, although it was not easy for him. Already in the first one, the once lightweight star survived a real massacre in the cage, but miraculously escaped and did not allow the promising Paddy Pimblett to gain the upper hand by knockout. However, later he was unable to put up a decent resistance to the Englishman, who was noticeably tired by the final segment. He won his fifth fight in a row and is now tied with Benoit Saint-Denis for second place in the division for the longest successful streak, behind only Islam Makhachev (12). For the 39-year-old American, this defeat was the seventh in a row.

Once a contender for the UFC title, Rakhmonov was also defeated. At one time, Stephen Thompson was part of the welterweight elite and twice fought with Tyron Woodley for the trophy, but did not succeed, after which he gradually slipped to the level of the middle peasant. Nevertheless, he remained one of the most skillful drummers and posed a colossal danger to his opponents.

Surely, many expected Rakhmonov and Thompson to fight hard in the octagon, but the Kazakh acted wisely and did not take risks. For a round and a half, he "dried" the 40-year-old American in the clinch, after which he moved him to the ground and "strangled", taking advantage of the gaps of his vis-à-vis in the fight. And he made it clear that he was a huge danger not only in the standing position, but also in the referee's position.

After that, it was the turn of two title fights, in the first of which the trophy in the flyweight category was at stake. In July, Alexander Pantozha dealt with Brandon Moreno with great difficulty and became the champion, and the first defense was in a duel with Brandon Royval. In 2021, he already defeated the American, and it took him less than seven minutes to do so. In the second stint, he caught him on a rear choke.

This time, however, he could not deal with the American so easily. The athletes "went the whole distance", and in terms of the number of significant blows, Pantozha was completely inferior to Royval – 95:111. But eight takedowns and almost 16 minutes in control allowed him not only to gain the upper hand, but to do it more than confidently. As soon as Brandon began to surpass him in the standing position, Alexander immediately put him on the canvas, where he completely dominated. As a result, all three judges sided with the Brazilian, and only one of them did not give him all five rounds – 50:45 (twice), 49:46. Apparently, he was impressed by the aggressiveness of the American at the beginning of the fifth period.

In the fight, Colby Covington also had to look for his chances, because he was clearly incapable of competing in striking skills with Leon Edwards. However, the challenger himself did not think so and in the first two rounds he made only one takedown attempt, and even then it was unsuccessful. And very quickly he found himself in the role of catching up. In the standing position, the champion was a little, but better, regularly catching the opponent on counterattacks.

It wasn't until the third five minutes that Covington finally threw himself at Edwards' feet and still managed to knock him to the floor. However, not only did he fail to gain a foothold there, but in a few seconds he found himself on the ground. And although he quickly returned to an upright position, he could hardly be satisfied with it. After all, nothing worked out in the exchanges.

Surely, many expected that in the remaining rounds, Covington would use his inexhaustible "cardio", rush forward and demonstrate his strengths, including colossal pressure and fantastic fighting. But that never happened. Only in the final round, he still managed to perform a second takedown and even spend three minutes on top, but thereby only soaked the score. Edwards confidently prevailed by decision of the judges and made a second successful defense of the belt.