Mixed Martial Arts often has many twists and turns leading up to fight night. UFC 223 on Saturday in Brooklyn, New York, was no exception, and as Khabib Nurmagomedov entered the Octagon for the first title bout of his Ultimate Fighting Championship career, he did so versus an opponent no one saw coming. Following the withdrawal of an injured Tony Ferguson, replacement fights with Max Holloway, Anthony Pettis and Paul Felder all fell through. That left Al Iaquinta as the last man standing.
In a main event-saving feat, Nurmagomedov-Iaquinta was born. The bout played out over five hard-fought rounds, during which Iaquinta showed his heart and toughness and Nurmagomedov showed his quality. Nurmagomedov dominated from bell to bell, seamlessly transitioning from grappling to striking. He mauled Iaquinta with a suffocating top game on the ground and bloodied him with a crisp, measured jab on the feet.
Nurmagomedov, 26-0, was awarded a lopsided decision and exited the Octagon as the undisputed UFC lightweight champion. Afterward, he called out Georges St. Pierre for a superfight while also setting his sights on deposed former titleholder Conor McGregor, who has some legal troubles to sort out after his Barclays Center charter bus rampage landed him in handcuffs.
A Flower Blooms
Rose Namajunas stepped into the Octagon in the co-headliner looking to answer questions stemming from her first-round TKO of former UFC women’s strawweight champion Joanna Jedrzejczyk in November. Following a tumultuous fight week that almost sent Namajunas over the edge, she delivered a performance that helped validate her first win over Jedrzejczyk and perhaps usher in her own era of dominance at 115 pounds. Namajunas stood toe to toe with Jedrzejczyk over five rounds and outpointed the Polish striking specialist to a unanimous decision in her first title defense.
The fight played out almost entirely on the feet, where Namajunas seemed slightly quicker to the punch than her challenger. She landed crisp, hard punches, caused noticeable damage to Jedrzejczyk’s face and seemingly rocked her on more than one occasion. Namajunas’ defense was a sight to behold. She looked comfortable utilizing a high, hands-up guard, as she shuffled in and out and frustrated Jedrzejczyk, forcing her to overcommit and make mistakes.
A sense a relief seemed to flood Namajunas’ face when the decision was read. She cemented her place as champion and can now look ahead to the next chapter in her fighting career. Several challenges await, including a possible showdown with Jessica Andrade or a rematch with Karolina Kowalkiewicz.
Separating from the Pack
Renato Carneiro outfought Calvin Kattar over three fast-paced rounds and earned a unanimous decision, bouncing back from a 2017 defeat to Brian Ortega. The fight was contested on the feet, with “Moicano” utilizing a game plan that was heavy on leg kicks. By the middle of the second round, Kattar’s leg was swollen down to his knee and his movement was compromised. It made him an easy target for Carneiro, who improved to 12-1-1.
Meanwhile, Zabit Magomedsharipov and Kyle Bochniak brought the crowd to its feet with a wildly entertaining scrap at 145 pounds. Bochniak marched forward for three full rounds, never relenting in his search for Magomedsharipov’s chin. However, the fast-rising featherweight contender was quicker on the draw than Bochniak and showed more diversity in his attack, resulting in a unanimous decision. While Bochniak dropped to 2-2 inside the Octagon, his performance seems certain to earn him another invite.
Finally, Chris Gruetzemacher took out Joe Lauzon with a methodical standup attack, prompting a corner stoppage in between the second and third rounds. Lauzon came out in vintage form, but his counterpart managed to weather the storm and waited for fatigue to set in. From there, it was all Gruetzemacher. He walked down Lauzon and delivered damaging punches and elbows, leaving “The Ultimate Fighter 5” semifinalist battered and bloodied. According to FightMetric figures, Gruetzemacher landed 135 strikes, 128 of them significant, across 10 minutes and did so at a 67-percent clip.