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One of the wildest weeks in UFC history ended with a sight that wasn’t shocking: Khabib Nurmagomedov capturing the UFC lightweight championship with a unanimous-decision win over Al Iaquinta in the main event of UFC 223 on Saturday night at Barclays Center in Brooklyn, New York.
It didn’t take long for Nurmagomedov to start imposing his will. Less than a minute into the fight, The Eagle grabbed a single leg that resulted in a takedown, and Nurmagomedov simply took over for the rest of the round.
The best Iaquinta could do was scramble to his feet against the cage where he was smothered and taken down again. The UFC passed along some of the grappling action:
UFC Canada @UFC_CA
Khabib takes Al down early but Iaquinta scrambles back up! #UFC223 https://t.co/NjFAXBjVms
It was rinse and repeat in the second round for Nurmagomedov. After failing to hit the first takedown attempt, he still took down Iaquinta within the first minute of the frame. This time, Iaquinta had less defense to offer, and Nurmagomedov moved with a little more urgency. After flattening out his back, he went to work with vicious ground-and-pound but couldn’t find the finish.
Luke Thomas of MMA Fighting noted the creativity and resourcefulness of his wrestling ability:
Luke Thomas @lthomasnews
He has so many tricks. You post on way, he trips the other. Switch up on him? He changes direction on the takedown while finding the alternate post leg.
The UFC showcased Nurmagomedov’s ground-and-pound:
Khabib flattens out Iaquinta and starts landing hard shots, but @AlIaquinta gets out of it and survives the round! #UFC223 https://t.co/RdADBUetuN
The third round played out differently as Nurmagomedov didn’t look for the takedown and opted to strike with Iaquinta. Although Nurmagomedov won the round, it allowed Ragin’ Al to land some strikes and helped explain why Conor McGregor is an interesting opponent for the Russian:
Iain Kidd @iainkidd
Iaquinta showing why a lot of people think Conor is the guy to beat Khabib at 155, with or without a Dolly. Khabib is a destroyer on the ground, but his striking defence has holes, and Iaquinta is doing a good job of exploiting those while on the feet. #UFC223
Iaquinta was able to keep the fight standing in the fourth and fifth round until he was taken down with two minutes to go in the final round, exhausted. In true Rocky fashion he wasn’t able to win, but he was able to survive all five rounds against the new undefeated champion.
After the bout, Nurmagomedov called out Georges St-Pierre:
Shaheen Al-Shatti @shaunalshatti
Nurmagomedov: “Now I want to fight with Georges St-Pierre in New York. Madison Square Garden.” #UFC223
The road to get here was an interesting one for the Dagestani grappler.
For the fourth time, the UFC was forced to scrap a bout between Nurmagomedov and Tony Ferguson. The now-former interim lightweight titleholder was forced off the card with a knee injury.
The news that came just six days before the bout led to featherweight champion Max Holloway stepping up to fill in for El Cucuy. That fell through when he was deemed medically unfit to compete.
The dark cloud hanging over the entire weekend was Conor McGregor, though. The Notorious’ feud with the new lightweight champion came to a boil when he attacked a bus with several fighters on the card, resulting in the loss of three fights.
For his actions McGregor has been charged with misdemeanor counts of assault, attempted assault, menacing and reckless endangerment and one count of felony criminal mischief, per Jennifer Bain and Lia Eustachewich of the New York Post.
However wrong the Irish superstar’s actions, it certainly sets the stage for a bitter rivalry that would certainly do huge numbers.
Nurmagomedov isn’t shying away from that fact.
“To be honest, I don’t want him to go to jail,” Nurmagomedov said, per Ariel Helwani of MMA Fighting. “We have to fight. If we have to fight, let’s fight. Send me location. Please, we have to fix this. Me and you. One-on-one. You want 10-on-10? OK.”
For now, this is the coronation of a fighter who has shown championship quality for some time. Nurmagomedov is now 26-0, but injuries have been a consistent issue. He fought just one time in 2017, twice in 2016 and missed all of 2015.
Hopefully the champion will now be able to stay healthy as big-money fights against Ferguson and McGregor appear to be on the horizon.