The big drama show hit it’s crescendo in primetime Saturday evening with Khabib Nurmagomedov being crowned the new UFC lightweight champion in a hard-fought win over late stand-in Raging Al Iaquinta.
The vacant belt was on the line after Dana White had prized it away from former champion Conor McGregor, who had not defended the silverware since winning some time ago.
The Eagle put on a strong performance in outpointing the gutsy Iaquinta, who having but only a week to prepare for this headline event, did fans proud by lasting the full 25-minutes in the Octagon.
With the odds for an early finish hugely stacked in Khabib’s favour, the Russian was expected to make a statement with a quick finish. Instead, he worked smart inside the ring and took every round to once again demonstrate he has can go the distance when required.
It wasn’t for want of trying though, Khabib rushed his opponent with takedown attempts, which Iaquinta offered little resistance to in the opening round. Taking additional punishment up through submission and ground and pound tactics, the American challenger emerged bloody but mobile.
As the fight advance, Iaquinta grew wise to further takedowns and forced Khabib to switch up tactics; rounds 4 and 5 were dominated by stand-up manoeuvres by both fighters.
By the end of the bell after 25 minutes the swollen and battered face of Iaquinta was sure enough evidence of the impact Khabib’s short jabs and wrestling. The outcome was a forgone conclusion.
In what was a unique week of absolute mayhem in which more spanners were thrown in the works than Dana White and his UFC matchmakers knew what to do with, it was a relief to see the main event end on a high.
When asked about his next challenge by Joe Rogan in the post-fight interview, Khabib responded by calling out Georges St-Pierre for a catch-weight fight.
If it were not for the antics of Conor McGregor gatecrashing Khabib’s team bus last week, the two athletes may have finalised their own superfight at 155 lbs.
Logic suggest that neither McGregor, who is awaiting a legal hearing, and St Pierre, who is out through injury, will be stepping up to face the Eagle anytime soon.
So what’s next for Khabib?
Tony Ferguson vs. Khabib Nurmagomedov 6.0 could still be on the horizon. Failing that, Brian Ortega who was watching the fight at ringside, is a more than worthy opponent for Dana White to consider calling up. Max Holloway is expected to return to his natural weight of 145 lbs for a top-10 defence.