There are plenty of ways to win a fight.
Fans at home — and, of course, none in attendance — saw just one manner to begin Saturday’s UFC Fight Night as three straight bouts ended with knockouts less than a minute into their opening rounds at the promotion’s APEX facility in Las Vegas.
Merab Dvalishvili showed everybody something different and, while maybe not quite as spectacular, equally impressive in its own way to close the prelims.
The New Hyde Park resident and Georgian emigrant taught a clinic in how to simultaneously utilize wrestling and striking in mixed martial arts, using one element of his game to create openings for the other in a frantic unanimous decision victory over Gustavo Lopez (30-26, 30-26, 30-25).
“I was ready for everything. I knew he had knockout power,” Dvalishvili said. “I was expecting a good fight. I tried to stay smart, not rush and make no mistakes. One punch can change everything. I stayed smart. I tried to control the fight and win dominantly.”
Dvalishvili (11-4) further established himself as one of the best takedown artists in the promotion, securing 13 over three rounds and bringing his UFC total to 52 in just six fights. The next closest bantamweights on the UFC all-time takedown list are Urijah Faber and Ricky Simon, both of whom have just half of Dvalishvili’s count at 26 each.
The fight went smoothly for Dvalishvili, but the build-up to it did not. He was added to the card with just a week’s notice against veteran Ray Borg, only for Borg to drop out of the event on Thursday because of a family emergency. Lopez was able to step in, but not without a contract dispute involving his former promotion Combate Americas threatened the bout.
“In my life, everything changes, I never know what will happen, but I’m ready for war,” Dvalishvili said. “Unfortunately, Ray Borg pulled out. God bless him and his family. I got a new opponent on short notice. I didn’t care who it was. I’m here to fight because I love fighting.”
Once they finally got to the cage, Dvalishvili had the advantage everywhere the fight went, out striking the UFC newcomer 100-61 over three rounds. The Long Island resident had an even bigger margin in significant strikes, landing 70 heavy shots to just 18. Lopez (11-5) never bothered to try a takedown, while Dvalishvili landed 72 percent of his attempts.
Opening the bout, Lopez smiled as he tried to take control of the cage with the pair trading leg kicks, but it wasn’t long before Dvalishvili looked to bring the fight down, taking the fight to the cage and scrambling with Lopez before breaking off. Soon enough, Dvalishvili started to grapple again, getting Lopez’s back before a slam to take top control. Dvalishvili landed a few punches from the top, allowing Lopez to use the space to get back to his feet, but it didn’t last and Dvalishvili finished the round in control on the ground, landing even more strikes.
Early in the second round, Dvalishvili successfully used the threat of takedowns to set up strikes, only to carry the momentum of his biggest punch into a heavy takedown. Continuing to land punches on the ground for a good portion of the round, Dvalishvili sought a submission. Eventually, he took side control and sunk in a neck crank, screaming as he twisted the head of Lopez, but he couldn’t finish the fight. Dvalishvili proceeded to land a series of takedowns, pushing the pace with strikes in a frantic final stretch in the second.
After taking his time early in the round, Dvalishvili again used a heavy overhand punch to open a takedown, continuing to bring the fight down any time Lopez briefly escaped. Lopez looked for some last-ditch submissions, but it just allowed Dvalishvili to maintain control. After Dvalishvili’s 13th takedown of the night, the bout ended with him standing over Lopez, asserting himself with a series of kicks before the final horn.