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UFC 223: Khabib Nurmagomedov scores unanimous decision over Al Iaquinta to capture lightweight title

Khabib Nurmagomedov, top, took control early and controlled the action from start to finish to stop Al Iaquinta in the main event at UFC 223 at Brooklyn’s Barclays Center on Saturday night. (Ed Mulholland/Getty Images)

Khabib Nurmagomedov made thorough but not short work of extremely late replacement and Long Island realtor Al Iaquinta in the main event of UFC 223, sweeping the judges’ scorecards in a five-round fight. The win pushed Nurmagomedov to an unheard-of 26-0 in the deepest, most difficult division in MMA.

Despite that, we know little more about the undefeated native of Dagestan than we did before the fight. He now holds the UFC lightweight title, but he won it against someone with all of a day to prepare for him. How would he have dealt with the venomous grappling and unorthodox striking of Tony Ferguson, or the silky-smooth combination punching and rugged takedown defense of Max Holloway, who pulled out on Friday after a failed short-notice weight cut? Would Conor McGregor’s lightning-fast left hand have ended Nurmagomedov’s night and his undefeated run?

All we can do now is speculate, at least until the UFC manages to put on an event that’s less snakebitten than UFC 223 proved to be. It turned into a fine night of fights: The featherweight war between Kyle Bochniak and top prospect Zabit Magomedsharipov was a wild scrap, and the strawweight title fight that pitted Joanna Jedrzejczyk and Rose Namajunas against each other for the second time is one of the better five-round affairs in the promotion’s history.

Still, we’re left to wonder what might have been had Ferguson not tripped on a cable at a media event and blown out his knee, or if Holloway had started his weight cut a few pounds lower, or if Conor McGregor hadn’t attacked a bus and caused enough damage to remove three fights from the card. It’s unfortunate but somehow typical of the odd course of Nurmagomedov’s career that McGregor’s antics overshadowed an event where he fought and the Irishman didn’t.

Perhaps someday they’ll meet in the Octagon. We can be sure they’ll have plenty to say to each other, but I’m not holding my breath. At this point, we can only hope that someone worthy of Nurmagomedov’s obvious talent and tender ministrations makes it all the way to the cage.

One day after Conor McGregor threw UFC 223 into chaos, the headliner couldn’t make weight

Lightweight title: Khabib Nurmagomedov (25-0-0) vs. Al Iaquinta (13-3-1)

Round 1: Khabib is a little more laid back than usual to start, not looking to pressure, and Iaquinta is stalking him early. First blood to Iaquinta with a couple of good shots. Khabib’s first real takedown attempt, a single-leg, drops Iaquinta to the mat. This could be over quick. Iaquinta gives up his back and Khabib grabs it, but Iaquinta manages to escape. He’s trying to stuff yet another takedown with his back to the fence, and down he goes again. Khabib steps over into a quarter-mount and Iaquinta stands back up, but he’s eating uppercuts against the fence. Khabib is in control here. This will go on until Khabib decides it stops. These uppercuts are just brutal, and all the while, Iaquinta is being forced to carry all of Khabib’s weight. Iaquinta stands up briefly, and down he goes again. Khabib is postured up and landing vicious ground strikes. The moment they lock up, Iaquinta has absolutely nothing to offer: When he stands up, it’s only a matter of time before he goes down. 10-9, maybe a 10-8, to Nurmagomedov.

Round 2: There weren’t any positives to take from that first round for Iaquinta, and he starts the second pressuring and looking to land punches. A clean right hand touches Khabib’s chin, but he responds with pressure and and combinations of his own. His first takedown attempt fails, but the second one, a big trip, slams Iaquinta to the mat. I’ve never seen anybody who ragdolls opponents with the kind of ease Nurmagomedov does; even from positions that aren’t rock-solid, guys just go down. Khabib is taking his time here on the mat, landing some short shots and letting Iaquinta burn energy as he tries to get back to his feet against the fence. A momentary mistake gives Iaquinta’s back to Khabib, and he’s trying to lock in the rear-naked choke. Now Khabib’s in mount, raining down punches, and now he’s back on the back and has Iaquinta flattened out. This is a terrible spot and Iaquinta is in huge trouble. The choke isn’t going to come in this round but Nurmagomedov lands a couple of big shots to close things out. 10-8 Khabib and 20-17 overall.

Round 3: Khabib is hanging back again, not what we’re used to seeing from him, and Iaquinta is tentatively throwing a shot or two at a time. Even off his back foot, Nurmagomedov is controlling things with a sharp jab. This looks like a sparring session where Khabib is putting in some light work on the feet. More jabs from Nurmagomedov, then a hard left hook-straight right land on Iaquinta’s chin. A half-hearted low single doesn’t go anywhere for Nurmagomedov, and Iaquinta lands a nice shot, then a counter right hand lands for Iaquinta. Iaquinta is getting into a little rhythm here, but Nurmagomedov is controlling it with his jab and doesn’t seem to be in any real danger. To his credit, Nurmagomedov isn’t forcing things here. He’ll shoot the takedown when he feels good and ready and not a moment before. A counter right to a low kick lands for Iaquinta, who’s talking to Nurmagomedov now. Nurmagomedov is talking back and pops a couple more jabs. He’s snapping Iaquinta’s head back and has his nose busted and bloody. 10-9 Nurmagomedov in a round contested entirely on the feet and 30-26 Nurmagomedov overall.

Round 4: Iaquinta comes out looking to pressure, working a long jab to the body. Khabib shoots a takedown but didn’t land it, and immediately lands a front kick and uppercut to Iaquinta’s chin. Iaquinta is gaining some confidence here, but he’s still getting eaten up on the feet by Khabib: If he doesn’t land something big, the jab of Nurmagomedov is going to continue to control things. Another low single from Nurmagomedov fails to get Iaquinta to the ground, and he follows it with a hook-cross combination that lands clean. Khabib is on his bike like a boxer here, sticking the jab in Iaquinta’s face with the skill of a seasoned striker. Iaquinta is game, of course, but he’s getting beaten up badly even in the absence of takedowns from the undefeated Khabib. 10-9 Khabib and 40-35 in his favor overall.

Round 5: Iaquinta limp-legs his way out of a single-leg takedown from Khabib to start the round, who’s finally looking like he wants to get after it. An uppercut-left hook lands for Iaquinta, then a jab, then another left. He’s putting in some good work to start things out. He’s countering nicely whenever Khabib throws. I wonder if Khabib is injured — the lack of takedown attempts is totally out of character. As if to answer my question, he backs Iaquinta to the fence and tries one, but he can’t finish. Khabib is pouring on the strikes now, though, lacing Iaquinta with combinations and a flying knee. Finally, the takedown comes, and Khabib is locked onto Iaquinta’s back. He’s pressing Iaquinta into the fence and landing uppercuts whenever he can. Nurmagomedov’s control is outstanding. He’s perched on Iaquinta’s back blasting him with shots. 10-9 Nurmagomedov and 50-44 to the native of Dagestan.

Khabib Nurmagomedov defeats Al Iaquinta by unanimous decision (50-44, 50-43 x2)

The Upshot: It’s hard to say how much we can take from that fight. Khabib didn’t press the takedown in the middle rounds, instead choosing to work his jab and combination punching on the feet, but would he have made the same choice if faced with Max Holloway, Conor McGregor, or Tony Ferguson? Could he have gotten away with that? That’s the question we hope to have answered next time. As with seemingly all of Nurmagomedov’s fights, there are still things we have yet to find out. Iaquinta can hold his head high and hopefully holds a much fatter wallet after fighting hard for all five rounds, and this does nothing but raise his stock moving forward. This wasn’t a bad way to spend 25 minutes, and that’s about all we can say.

Conor McGregor released on $50,000 bail following arrest after rampage at UFC event

Rose Namajunas vs. Joanna Jedrzejczyk

Round 1: Jedrzejczyk and Namajunas trade jabs and bounce in and out, trying to find the distance. There’s a subtle pressure to Jedrzejczyk this time, though, which probably suits her better. Namajunas is throwing less than Jedrzejczyk, but she’s faster and she’s picking the distance. Namajunas is also playing with rhythm — her jab is coming both faster and slower, and her power shots are lightning-fast; everything Jedrzejczyk throws is full speed. Jedrzejczyk’s head is right on the center line as she throws, which is leaving her open to counters when Namajunas fires back, which she’s doing regularly. Finally Jedrzejczyk lands a counter of her own, a sharp right hand, but as in the first fight she’s struggling to find the range. A big right hand lands for Namajunas, and Jedrzejczyk’s face is starting to wear some damage. Namajunas’s footwork and movement are extraordinary: Even at close range, she’s taking tiny steps and sliding out of the way of Jedrzejczyk’s counters in the pocket. They’re exchanging to close the round and Namajunas gets the better of it, as she has for most of the frame. 10-9 Namajunas.

Round 2: Namajunas stings Jedrzejczyk with a sharp combination, then a jab, as Jedrzejczyk hits air on her attempts to counter. She’s just flummoxed by the distance and footwork, as she was in their first fight. This strategy of trying to bang it out isn’t working: Namajunas is faster and sharper in the exchanges. Either Jedrzejczyk needs to pile up damage to the legs and body with kicks or she needs to get into the clinch. Low kicks are starting to land for Jedrzejczyk, but a three-piece combination returns for Namajunas a moment later. They clinch for the first time and Jedrzejczyk lands two sharp knees to the body. Jedrzejczyk eats a poke to the eye on the way out of the clinch but the referee doesn’t stop it. Another hard left hook lands in an exchange for Namajunas. It’s there every time she throws in close quarters. A hard 1-2 lands for Jedrzejczyk, and if she can drag this out, her chances improve. They clinch again and Jedrzejczyk lands knees to the body. This is a big tactical mistake from Namajunas – she can get worn down and beaten up in close quarters. Still, 10-9 Namajunas again, but tighter this time. 20-18 Namajunas overall.

Round 3: Namajunas lands a nice right hand in the opening exchange of the round, but Jedrzejczyk looks more comfortable with the range and the speed: She seems less surprised when Namajunas throws or lands and has her eyes open when Namajunas’s shots land, which is helping JJ take them better than in the first fight. Naamajunas seems less sure of herself, and the confidence is rising for Jedrzejczyk – a head kick from the former champion is only partially blocked. This is a really elite striking matchup playing out here. More and more low kicks are landing for Jedrzejczyk. A counter left hook lands clean for Jedrzejczyk, the first good one of the fight for her, and she follows up in another exchange. The momentum is shifting noticeably. 10-9 Jedrzejczyk and 29-28 Namajunas overall.

Round 4: Namajunas counters the first inside low kick from Jedrzejczyk, but eats a couple of punches in the following exchange. Jedrzejczyk has the timing and distance down and isn’t flinching when Namajunas throws the way she was in the first fight and earlier in this rematch. As the fight goes on, Jedrzejczyk’s experience is starting to tell: She’s picking and choosing her combinations to play off responses she’s seen before from Namajunas. Thug Rose is still throwing back, though, and stings Jedrzejczyk with a combination. At her best, Jedrzejczyk isn’t untouchable, but she’s a snowball rolling downhill who sees what works and builds on it. We’re watching that dynamic play out here with low kicks, counter left hands, and sheer volume. For every shot Namajunas throws, Jedrzejczyk is throwing two or three. When Namajunas doesn’t counter the way she did early in the fight, the momentum builds for Jedrzejczyk, and the former champion can feel that happen. Namajunas feels it shifting, too, and sits down on a couple of hard jab-cross combinations. Jedrzejczyk shrugs them off with a smile but eats a couple more. Jedrzejczyk is actually countering with low kicks now, and that’s working beautifully. 10-9 Jedrzejczyk and we have a tied fight at 38-38.

Round 5: Slow start here until Namajunas gets after Jedrzejczyk and lands a series of sharp two-punch combinations. When she attacks, she’s winning; when she sits back at range, it gives Jedrzejczyk time and space to pick her apart with those kicks. This is getting wild. Every time Namajunas attacks, Jedrzejczyk throws back, and Namajunas is getting the better of the exchanges. Jedrzejczyk’s face is all busted up now. Namajunas’s ability to move is badly compromised, and she’s responding by simply banging it out. To her credit, that’s a sharp adjustment: Namajunas is better in the pocket. She’s eating shots, but if she can keep the pace and not get hurt, it could work. Now the momentum is shifting back again toward Jedrzejczyk. The former champ is picking it up here, throwing more volume. They’re both willing and able to exchange. Jedrzejczyk needs to make something happen here with 30 seconds to go. Takedown for Namajunas and she rides it out against the fence. Wild round in an even wilder fight. 10-9 Namajunas in the fifth and I have it 48-47 to her overall, but this was exceptionally tight throughout.

Rose Namajunas defeats Joanna Jedrzejczyk by unanimous decision (49-46 x3)

The Upshot: What a fight. There’s little doubt that Namajunas and Jedrzejczyk are the two best strawweights on the planet, and Namajunas is stylistic kryptonite for Jedrzejczyk: Her ability to hang out at the end of Jedrzejczyk’s reach and counter in the pocket has proven extremely difficult for Jedrzejczyk to deal with. We don’t need a third fight to prove it. For Namajunas, it’s time for her to start working her way through the bevy of excellent contenders this division has to offer, starting with the aggressive, tank-like Jessica Andrade. For Jedrzejczyk, a move up to 125 pounds wouldn’t be amiss: She’s fought there before and has a history with likely future champion Valentina Shevchenko.

Renato Moicano vs. Calvin Kattar

Round 1: The two fighters, both of them tall featherweights, are gauging the distance early with jabs and low kicks. Neither is looking to pressure or stick and move. A couple of hard low kicks land for Moicano; they’re some of his best weapons, so look for him to land them early and often. A hard right hand lands for Kattar and it momentarily stuns Moicano, who fires back but hits air. Kattar is pressuring now and looking to get after Moicano. A punch-punch-kick to the body combination lands for Moicano, who’s very much in this. Moicano’s length is giving Kattar problems in a very tactical matchup, which is forcing Kattar to pressure a bit more than he’d like to. Another couple of hard low kicks land for Moicano, and they appear to be bothering Kattar. He’s really struggling to close the distance, and Moicano’s sense of distance and awareness of the fence is making it hard for Kattar to get close enough to land anything meaningful. 10-9 to Moicano.

Round 2: Kattar looks to counter a Moicano jab with a right hand and whiffs badly. He looks frustrated, and Moicano counters again with a big combination, then again with a backstepping right hand. He’s a slick counterpuncher and has great timing. The Brazilian is really chewing up Kattar’s legs, and Kattar is going to need to make something happen or he’ll get outpointed and beaten up. Moicano is going on the attack a bit more here in the second frame, following a punch with a kick to the legs or body. Moicano’s footwork is making it impossible for Kattar to get more than a shot or two off at a time: He simply won’t stand in front of Kattar for longer than a couple of seconds before pivoting out and getting back to open space. This is really, really slick stuff from the Brazilian. Kattar is limping badly on his left leg now after yet another salvo of kicks. 10-9 to Moicano again, wider this time, and 20-18 to the Brazilian overall.

Round 3: Kattar needs to change things up or this is effectively over. To his credit, he tries, coming out hot, but Moicano stings him with another counter right. The gameness of Kattar isn’t in question, but Moicano is just chewing him up. Kattar doesn’t have the consistent power to change things with a single shot, and especially not with his left leg badly damaged. The Brazilian is putting on a master class in setting the range with his jab and kicks, then sliding out or countering as Kattar tries to step in. Moicano pops Kattar with a right and goes on the attack. He might be able to finish Kattar if he really pours it on here, and he’s giving it a shot with a series of forward-moving combinations. “You can’t eat leg kicks,” says commentator Jon Anik. “They don’t taste good.” He’s correct here, and they’re really the story of this fight: Without the explosiveness to move forward and cover the distance, Kattar is stuck at range, where he’s getting cut to pieces by Moicano’s combinations and then blasted with counters as he slowly attacks. 10-9 Moicano in the third and a clean 30-27 to the Brazilian overall.

Renato Moicano defeats Calvin Kattar by unanimous decision (29-28 and 30-27 x2)

The Upshot: That was a gorgeous performance from Moicano, whose only loss in the UFC came in a fight he was winning against top contender Brian Ortega. The Brazilian is a legitimate talent who’s still making big improvements from fight to fight, and he can expect to get a top-10 opponent next time out. Zabit Magomedsharipov would be a nice option. As for Kattar, we might have seen his ceiling here. He’s technically skilled and gifted, but he has habits and tendencies at this point in his career that he might not be able to shake. Moicano was able to exploit those holes, and others have now seen them.

Zabit Magomedsharipov vs. Kyle Bochniak

Round 1: Bochniak comes out looking to pressure, not stick and move as I had figured he would, but it doesn’t seem to faze Magomedsharipov. Zabit’s movement and footwork are crisp and tight; he’s cutting sharp angles with a minimum of effort and cracks the attacking Bochniak with a slick counter left hook. Zabit appears to be perfectly comfortable fighting off his back foot. Bochniak lands a nice forward-moving combination, though, and he’s having some success. If he can keep this up, Bochniak will take damage but might get the better of things. Magomedsharipov is perfectly calm and tries to walk Bochniak into a spinning kick. You can see Magomedsharipov reading and trying different options in response to the pressure. As Bochniak attacks, the taller fighter steps in to meet him, clinches, and lands a knee. The jab and a barrage of kicks are coming constantly from Magomedsharipov now. Razor-thin round, but 10-9 to Zabit for the cleaner, harder shots.

Round 2: Bochniak is pressuring again to start things off. He’s game as heck here. He overshoots, though, and Zabit grabs a clinch, spins to his back, and tries to slam him to the mat. Bochniak eventually goes down, and now Zabit is on top landing shots. Bochniak manages to scramble back to his feet and he’s back to pressuring. He has Magomedsharipov thinking here, but will it be enough? Bochniak eats a sequence of hard kicks to the legs and body. A slick trip from Magomedsharipov puts Bochniak back down on the mat after a series of competitive exchanges on the feet. Bochniak tries for a couple of submissions and uses the threat to get back to standing. Magomedsharipov might be slowing a bit here, he seems to be tiring, but he still has real snap on his shots. The pressure is relentless, but another 10-9 to Magomedsharipov and 20-18 to the Dagestan native overall.

Round 3: Bochniak’s face is a mess, but it’s not stopping him. He comes out firing again and creates an exchange in which both fighters land. Magomedsharipov lands a spinning kick right to the chin as Bochniak comes in and it somehow doesn’t stagger Bochniak. His chin is incredible. Magomedsharipov tries for another takedown and he’s controlling Bochniak against the fence. His patience is exceptional, and when Bochniak makes a mistake, Magomedsharipov takes him down. Zabit lands a couple of short shots but can’t hold him down, and Bochniak works for a takedown of his own against the fence. Zabit is slowing down noticeably — understandably, because the pace has been insane — and Bochniak is slinging punches in the pocket. He’s flurrying on Zabit, landing hard shots. They’re swinging wild shots to the bell and Zabit gets the best of the last exchange. Insane fight. Incredible ending. 10-9 to Magomedsharipov and 30-27 overall to the native of Dagestan in a fantastic fight.

Zabit Magomedsharipov defeats Kyle Bochniak by unanimous decision (29-28, 30-27 x2)

The Upshot: Bochniak gave Magomedsharipov absolutely everything he had and fought to a perfect game plan, taking away the taller fighter’s space with pressure and combinations, and it still wasn’t enough. We wondered before how deep Zabit’s bag of tricks goes. Now we know. Despite looking like a guy who runs a hardcore Dungeons and Dragons game at a liberal arts college, Magomedsharipov is a rare breed of prospect, a blend of mental toughness, athleticism, and technical skill. There’s no reason to wait around: Give him someone in the top 10 and let him show that he belongs at the top

Joe Lauzon vs. Chris Gruetzemacher

Round 1: The two fighters come out throwing, with Lauzon getting the better of the early exchanges. Lauzon looks sharper than he did in his last outing, both leading and countering, and Gruetzemacher seems a bit confused. A big elbow lands for Lauzon. A shot takedown from Lauzon ends with Lauzon on his back, looking to sweep Gruetzemacher, but Gruetzemacher punishes Lauzon with ground strikes from the top. Lauzon tries for a heel hook and doesn’t get it, and they’re back to their feet. The range is really shockingly close here — the two fighters are firing shots off in the pocket and in the clinch, trading elbows and power shots. With 1:30 left in the round, Lauzon looks to be slowing down. Gruetzemacher has landed shot after shot to Lauzon’s body, both knees and punches, and that’s probably a big part of it. It’ll pay off later, too. Close, but probably 10-9 Gruetzemacher for the late volume.

Round 2: Lauzon comes out aggressive again, landing a couple shots and eating a couple of more. A takedown attempt goes nowhere for Lauzon, and Gruetzemacher is punishing him with elbows and knees to the body in the clinch. This is a dirty, nasty inside fight, and it suits Gruetzemacher’s style and gas tank. This is getting ugly. Gruetzemacher is pouring it on and Lauzon has nothing left. Elbow after elbow and knee after knee are landing for Gruetzemacher. Lauzon is fighting back now, tossing back power punches, but it doesn’t faze Gruetzemacher. The younger fighter is really leaning on Lauzon in the clinch, making him carry his weight, and working the body with anything and everything. Gruetzemacher’s doing an especially good job of driving the crown of his head into Lauzon’s and then pulling back with an uppercut. The pace is just too much for Lauzon, whose face is a mask of blood and swelling. Lauzon’s corner should probably stop this fight, and luckily, they do so. 10-8 Gruetzemacher and 20-17 overall.

Chris Gruetzemacher defeats Joe Lauzon by TKO (corner stoppage) at 5:00 of Round 2.

The Upshot: This has to be the end for Lauzon. He’s now lost three in a row and five of his last seven, the last two by stoppage, and has nothing left to prove in this sport. Gruetzemacher looked great and seems to have found his wheelhouse as an in-your-face pressure fighter, blasting away in the pocket and the clinch with a great combination of raw aggression and technical refinement. He’s an action fighter to watch in the middle ranges of the stacked lightweight division.

Preliminary Card Recap:

The preliminary portion of the card, all of which was televised on Fox Sports 1, was hit hard by McGregor’s shenanigans. A flyweight bout featuring former title challenger Ray Borg and Brandon Moreno was canceled altogether. The strong matchup between Zabit Magomedsharipov and Kyle Bochniak moved to the main card, as did action fighter extraordinaire Joe Lauzon.

What was left behind on the preliminary card was mostly uneventful. Devin Clark wrestled and clinched his way to a decision over Mike Rodriguez, while Ashlee Evans-Smith won an active striking bout over Bec Rawlings without leaving many highlights in her wake. The headliner, a strawweight meeting between Felice Herrig and Karolina Kowalkiewicz, was a fun, quick-paced, back-and-forth scrap of a fight that saw Kowalkiewicz emerge victorious. The high point was undoubtedly Olivier Aubin-Mercier shredding lightweight veteran Evan Dunham’s midsection with a salvo of knees, finishing the fight in less than a minute. Aubin-Mercier has been a prospect to watch for years, and this is undoubtedly his breakthrough performance.

Stay tuned for the main card, beginning at 10 ET with a 155-pound fight featuring Joe Lauzon and Chris Gruetzemacher.

Preliminary Card Results:

  • Karolina Kowalkiewicz defeats Felice Herrig by split decision (29-28, 28-29, 29-28)
  • Olivier Aubin-Mercier defeats Evan Dunham by TKO (knees to the body) at 0:53 of Round 1
  • Ashlee Evans-Smith defeats Bec Rawlings by unanimous decision (30-27 x3)
  • Devin Clark defeats Mike Rodriguez by unanimous decision (29-28, 30-27 x2)

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