When it was confirmed by the Ultimate Fighting Championship that Khabib Nurmagomedov would return to the Octagon against Edson Barboza, fans waited with baited breath. They hoped “The Eagle” could manage to make it to fight night after a number of his scheduled bouts -- most notably those against Tony Ferguson -- fizzled because of various injuries. Nurmagomedov alleviated their fears in the UFC 219 co-main event on Saturday in Las Vegas, and it was a sight to see.
The fight between the two top-shelf lightweights played out over three rounds, as Nurmagomedov gave the Brazilian no space with which to employ his excellent muay Thai skills. It was in danger of being stopped on a number of occasions, as the Dagestani grappler landed takedowns in all three rounds and put a hellacious beating on Barboza until their 15 minutes had expired.
Afterward, the scorecards told the story of one of the most one-sided beatdowns in UFC history: 30-25, 30-25 and 30-24. Nurmagomedov was then bombarded with post-fight questions regarding Ferguson, now in possession of the interim lightweight title, and reigning UFC lightweight champion Conor McGregor. However, he seemed more interested in discussing his 25-0 record. As Nurmagomedov exited the stage, he did so as the clear-cut No. 1 contender in a division that has grown crowded at the top.
Another One Bites the Dust
Cristiane Justino-Holly Holm had become an afterthought once it was reported that negotiations for the fight had hit a dead end, and it appeared as though “Cyborg” would not defend her UFC women’s featherweight championship in 2017. The UFC seemed to have difficulty reaching an agreement with one of its newest champions, and hype surrounding the proposed matchup faded. However, when it was announced as the main event for UFC 219, interest was instantly rekindled.
The battle for the featherweight title played out over five rounds in a clash between two of the most talented strikers in women’s MMA. “Cyborg” picked apart Holm with powerful, pinpoint counter boxing. Midway through the second round, the Brazilian landed a right hook that started to build swelling around Holm’s left eye; it affected her vision the rest of the way. As the fight wore on, it became more and more evident that “Cyborg” was the superior fighter. Holm was unable to adapt to the flow and suffered her third career loss.
After her latest win, Justino looked toward the future and called for a bout against Invicta Fighting Championships titleholder Megan Anderson at UFC 221 on Feb. 10 in Perth, Australia. Anderson, who sports an 8-2 record, has finished her last four opponents but has yet to debut in the UFC.
Dan Hooker and Marc Diakiese squared off in a featured lightweight bout at UFC 219. Hooker dominated much of the action, utilizing a superior grappling game and a wide variety of strikes whenever the fight played out on the feet. In the third round, Hooker snatched a guillotine while both fighters were standing, jumped to guard and forced a tapout from Diakiese. It was Hooker’s second straight finish and brought him to 5-3 in the UFC ... Carla Esparza and Cynthia Calvillo stepped into the Octagon against each other in a battle between two top 10 strawweights. The closely contest bout went the distance, as both fighters enjoyed success at different points in the fight with their striking and grappling. Calvillo did her best work in the opening round, where she landed and early takedown and worked from top position for the majority of the round. Over the final two frames, Esparza turned the tide with her counterstriking and accurate boxing, which ultimately led to her taking home a unanimous decision ... Carlos Condit returned to the Octagon for the first time more than a year and did so on the heels of back-to-back losses to Robbie Lawler and Demian Maia. His clash with Neil Magny opened the pay-per-view and went the full three rounds. Magny mixed his striking and grappling beautifully, using takedowns to score points and frustrate Condit when he was in range. The unanimous decision allowed Magny to rebound from his September defeat to Rafael dos Anjos.