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In what could be the final fight of combat sports legend Henry Cejudo's career, there was a star-making performance from the biggest threat to the UFC bantamweight championship that stole the headlines. 

Merab Dvalishvili (17-4) put forth the signature performance of his seven-year run in the Octagon on Saturday behind a relentless motor that pushed him past Cejudo via unanimous decision at UFC 298 in Anaheim, California. Dvalishvili took home identical judges' scores of 29-28 to officially become the No. 1 contender in the sport's deepest division.

The native of the country Georgia will fight the winner of the UFC 299 main event on March 9 in Miami when bantamweight champion Sean O'Malley faces Marlon Vera in a rematch.

"I am so proud. I was working so hard, all my life. I don't get nothing easy, I always work for it," Dvalishvili said. "Three rounds is nothing for me, I want a five-round fight. Where is champion? Bring him in here right now! Everybody wants me to face the champion!"

Dvalishvili, 33, wasn't just dominant, he was incredibly entertaining.

After Cejudo briefly wobbled him with a left hook to win a competitive opening round, Dvalishvili dominated the second frame on the ground. He closed Round 2 with a deep guillotine choke while having a full conversation with Meta CEO and MMA fanatic Mark Zuckerberg, who was seated in the front row. 

"He was giving some tips and everything was beautiful!" Dvalishvili said, of Zuckerberg. "I was smiling!"

In Round 3, Dvalishvili's boxing and frantic pace kept Cejudo constantly a step behind. Cejudo, 37, was still plenty game despite the former two-division champion's left wrist having blown up due to swelling, but Dvalishvili delivered an exclamation point late by picking Cejudo up and running him across the cage before dropping him in front of an animated Zuckerberg.

"I'm ready, I'm ready for 10-round fight," Dvalishvili said. "I have been following Sean O'Malley since 2018, I have been calling for him. My only goal is for a title right now."

Cejudo, who snapped a three-year retirement last June when he lost to then-champion Aljamain Sterling via split-decision, said throughout fight week that he would retire if he lost. The 2008 Olympic gold medalist was not interviewed inside the cage after the defeat and didn't appear to lay down his gloves, signifying retirement.

The win was the 10th consecutive for Dvalishvili since he lost his first two UFC fights beginning in 2017. Dvalishvili also passed Clay Guida for the third-most takedowns landed in UFC history with 79.  

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