One of the most highly-anticipated all-Russian MMA contests of recent years did not disappoint as Vladimir Mineev and Magomed Ismailov collided in an all-action bout which was ended by a barrage of blows from Mineev.
Meeting in a rematch almost three year to the day since they fought to a draw in Moscow, Mineev and Ismailov this time shared the cage for a middleweight title fight at AMC Fight Nights 105 in Krasnaya Polyana, just outside Sochi.
Among those in attendance in an expectant crowd was UFC icon Khabib Nurmagomedov, who was seen throwing his support behind 35-year-old veteran Ismailov.
The simmering build-up to the bout can be traced all the way back to December of last year, when Mineev and Ismailov came to blows inside the cage at a Fight Nights Global event in Moscow despite not being among the combatants on the card.
Those scenes sparked a wild mass brawl, but fast forward 10 months and the pair’s differences would finally be settled with the gloves on.
Ismailov dominated the early stages of the bout, dishing out significant damage to his opponent from top position as the two spent much of the opening round on the ground.
Both traded heavy shots on the feet at the start of the second round before Ismailov secured another takedown and went to work, but also getting caught with some elbows from defending champion Mineev as the Ekaterinburg fighter battled to stay in the contest.
The two spent the end of the second stanza traded punches and kicks on the feet, although Mineev then attempted a submission of his own.
Into round three and it was Mineev looking the worse for wear with heavy bruising to his face, although the fight soon flipped on its head.
Catching Ismailov with a damaging right-kick to the body at the start of the round, Mineev continued to enjoy more and more success as the fight stayed on the feet and Ismailov faded visibly.
A takedown attempt from Ismailov then backfired as Mineev secured top position, landing hammer fists on his rival, who eventually scrambled clear.
Mineev then shrugged off a takedown from Ismailov, forcing him against the cage and setting himself for a brutal denouement.
Владимир Минеев нокаутировал Магомеда Исмаилова в третьем раунде на турнире AMC в Сочи. pic.twitter.com/2517kYUm4m— AB (@SergyGus) October 16, 2021
The end came with a barrage of elbows, punches and knees to the body from Mineev as Ismailov slumped forward and then fell onto the canvas, curling up and offering nothing in reply as Mineev hammered away his head.
The fight was waved off with 20 seconds to go of the third round as Ismailov lay exhausted and Mineev rose to his feet in celebration.
The Russian media hailed the fight as living up to the hype, with headlines labeling it “absolutely crazy” and gushing that “you couldn’t think of a better spectacle.”
“I express my deep gratitude to Maga, we made this show together...,” said kickboxing specialist Mineev afterwards as he improved to 16 wins from 18 professional contests.
“I would like to apologize to his family: Ismailov's relatives are in the hall today, and it’s even somewhat awkward that it all turned out that way. And you know, I would love to repeat it!”
Ismailov was graceful to an extent, asserting that he respected Mineev as a fighter.
"I was well prepared, but Mineev showed himself well,” said Ismailov, who suffered just the second defeat of his 21-fight career, and a first loss since 2014.
“I don’t respect him as a person, but a very cool athlete, a bomb... I don’t know how to lose: if I play on a computer console, I break the joystick.
“But it is what it is. Today the Bald Predator leaves for the locker room as a loser, but that doesn't mean I won't feel like a winner.”
Later, Ismailov and his team attempted to explain the defeat by pointing to breathing difficulties and an apparent problem with his blood pressure.
“I passed out from lack of oxygen, from the fact that I couldn’t swallow deeply,” Ismailov said on Instagram.
“This doesn't usually happen to me. I get tired, but I can continue to work and move forward. But this time I couldn't. I just couldn't breathe for some reason.
“Although I can't say that I had some super difficulties in [the fight].”
The Moscow-based star he was ‘not finished’ despite the painful defeat, saying he would comment later regarding the possibility of a trilogy with Mineev.
Meanwhile, Ismailov’s team also pointed at the reasons behind his loss.
“His blood pressure dropped extremely low. There was even a fear for life. We will find out why this happened,” one source told TASS.
Among those supporting Ismailov was former UFC lightweight king Khabib, who was seen getting animated in the crowd as the action unfolded in front of him.
"Khabib like a coach again... His emotions when he suggests to Magomed Ismailov," wrote Russia MMA journalist Igor Lazorin, sharing the footage.
Khabib is preparing for another big night in Russian MMA when his Eagle FC promotion puts on a widely awaited bout between former Bellator champion Alexander Shlemenko and Artur Guseinov in Sochi on Sunday.