Khabib Nurmagomedov may have the 155lb title wrapped firmly around his waist, but the shadow of the champ who never lost the belt has been looming large in recent times.
UFC 223 will perhaps always be remembered for the unprecedentedly crazy week that preceded it but when all was said and done on the night itself, the lightweight division crowned a new king.
It was not without its fair share of controversy, however.
Al Iaquinta was far down the pecking order when the UFC were looking to replace Tony Ferguson after his unfortunate injury during fight-week but when both Max Holloway and Anthony Pettis were unable to compete for varying circumstances, he was the one who stepped up to the plate.
Khabib Nurmagomedov may have won his belt by mauling a fighter who resides outside of the weight-class’ top-10, but he now is the undisputed champion at 155lbs and love it or hate it, there’s not much that can be done to change that.
And while it was a thoroughly dominant performance from the champ, many had pointed to his rather elementary-looking striking once again as a potential Achilles’ heel. With the former-champ Conor McGregor now stripped, the notion of the Russian facing an accurate power-puncher like Conor has led some to believe that he is the perfect stylistic matchup for his newly-crowned successor.
McGregor’s striking coach Owen Roddy certainly echoed this sentiment during a recent interview.
Speaking on the BBC MMA Show Coach Roddy had this to say on his fighter’s chances against Khabib down the line:
“There’s been a lot of talk about this Khabib fight and it seems to be brewing towards this one. Khabib is doing very well fighting-wise I see holes in his game but he’s building a big ruckus. He’s calling [Conor] now, and people are getting behind him and it’s starting to build to that tipping point. I’m sure we’ll see that fight.
“At the end of the day, Khabib hasn’t finished many fights lately. Now he always says he does that on purpose, but I don’t think so. If you’re going to go in and finish somebody, you go in and finish somebody. He says, ‘I like punish people for five rounds’, I always say, ‘If you’re going to give Conor McGregor five attempts to land a shot on you.’
“So even if he went in and didn’t land the first round, or the second, or the third, or the fourth, he still has five attempts to land one shot. I’ve seen Conor McGregor go in and land within the first thirty seconds of the first round.”
It may not happen any time soon, but things are definitely looking up as we await what could well be the most anticipated title fight in UFC history.
Cillian Cunningham, Pundit Arena