Top lightweight contender Khabib Nurmagomedov returned from a near 14-month layoff in Las Vegas on Saturday night, and reminded everybody of what a uniquely terrifying force he is by thoroughly dominating Edson Barboza over three rounds at UFC 219.
Though he fought bravely and never stopped trying to turn the tide, Barboza looked physically and psychologically broken at the end of the brutal first round.
Nurmagomedov came out very aggressively, stifling Barboza with constant pressure. Barboza was able to land some of his vaunted kicks, especially to the legs of the Russian, but he struggled desperately to maintain a comfortable distance. Nurmagomedov, who cut off the ring effectively and showed an improved jab, was eventually able to trip Barboza to the mat, and there things got very ugly.
As he pummeled Barboza with a sickening, steady parade of vicious and varied strikes, the UFC commentary team of Jon Anik, Joe Rogan and Dominick Cruz touted Nurmagomedov’s peerless ground and pound. Elbows, uppercuts from strange angles, hammer-fists, Nurmagomedov just battered a helpless Barboza, all the while maintaining a scary level of control over his normally dynamic foe. One could almost see the will, as well as the energy, being drained from Barboza’s body.
— Chamatkar Sandhu (@SandhuMMA) December 31, 2017
At the end of the stanza, Khabib marched back to his corner. Barboza got to his knees, but stayed there for several seconds, already looking like a defeated man.
There was more of the same for the bloodied Barboza in the second, at the end of which he wobbled back to his stool and Rogan suggested that the Brazilian’s corner should consider pulling him out.
— Callum Craig (@Callum_Craig13) December 31, 2017
The third was perhaps not quite so grim for Barboza, but he couldn’t conjure much success of his own. He did, however, empty his entire bag of tricks in an effort to find a KO. He even unleashed several of the spin kicks that made him famous despite his obvious fatigue. With around two minutes remaining in the round though, he was once again dragged to the floor and bludgeoned against the fence. He managed to return to his feet in the dying seconds and just missed Nurmagomedv’s button with a knee, but he couldn’t produce the miracle-level drama required of him at that point.
All three judges rightly scored the bout very wide for Nurmagomedov – 30-25, 30-25 and 30-24.
Post-fight, Nurmagomedov was asked about the two men who hold gold in the lightweight division, champion Conor McGregor and interim titlist Tony Ferguson.
“25-0. Without injury, I can fight with anybody. Now, if UFC gives me one hour rest, I can fight one more time with Conor or Tony,” Nurmagomedov said. “No problem.”
“I don’t think about these two bullshit guys, I think about only me. Next fight, if UFC tell me, ‘Hey, what do you want?’ I’m going to say Tony Ferguson, because he is [on a ten-fight win-streak] in lightweight. I am [on a 25-fight win-streak], I am undefeated all my career. Tony Ferguson, but about Conor I don’t think, because he has a lot of money now. He has to spend this money. After, when money is finished, I think he’s going to come back.”
McGregor’s coach John Kavanagh stayed up into the wee hours to catch the card and he was impressed by Nurmagomedov, as well as by the heart of Barboza.
Well I got one right ? huge kudos to Barboza never quitting but congrats to Khabib on solid win. Relentless. https://t.co/tA0MYkbIGT
— Coach Kavanagh (@John_Kavanagh) December 31, 2017
With the lightweight division in such a chaotic state, it’s difficult to map out what might happen at 155lbs in the coming months, but Nurmagomedov has certainly done enough to earn himself a shot at UFC gold at this point.