The pair had already gone face to face on two separate occasions, with Cutelaba getting in the face of the ice-cool Ankalaev during the weigh-in faceoffs, then walking straight at the Russian during the fighter announcements inside the octagon.
It set the stage for what could, and perhaps should, have been an explosive contest between the pair. But the premature intervention by referee Kevin McDonald meant the action was over almost before it had begun.
The pair traded big shots immediately, but Cutelaba appeared to be wobbled by an Ankalaev head kick. And as the Russian moved in, looking to land follow-up punches, Cutelaba’s head seemed to roll around as if he was badly rocked.
Ref McDonald watched the Moldovan closely, then stepped in to stop the matchup after just 38 seconds of the opening round.
One fan replied to the UFC’s tweet of the finish, labeling it, “The worst stoppage I’ve ever seen.”
Other fans tweeted to suggest the Moldovan was employing the Muhammad Ali-inspired “rope-a-dope” technique, where you pretend to be hurt to encourage your opponent to open up.
“He was literally faking to land a big punch. Please never let that ref step in another arena,” said one, while another added, “I think he was baiting the opponent and ended up baiting the referee…lol.”
Cutelaba was livid, and certainly appeared to be absolutely fine as he remonstrated with the official and let it be known that he was good to continue. But by that point it was too late, and Ankalaev was awarded the knockout win for the 13th victory of his MMA career.
UFC heavyweight contender Francis Ngannou tweeted, saying, “The referee called this one wrong! #ThisIsSucks” while women’s strawweight contender Tatiana Suarez asked, “What the heck did I just watch?”
Ankalaev was unapologetic for his victory, saying, “It’s not my job. I know I hurt him,” before stating if the UFC booked a rematch, “I’m ready any time.”