THE controversy and change-filled “UFC 223” successfully took place yesterday at the Barclays Center in New York with Russian Khabib “The Eagle” Nurmagomedov and American “Thug” Rose Namajunas emerging victorious.
Despite seeing his opponent change twice last-minute, Mr. Nurmagomedov stayed focus and stuck to his guns, but not after having made to work than expected by “Raging” Al Iaquinta of the United States, to win by unanimous decision, 50-43, 50-43 and 50-43, and seize the Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) lightweight belt.
The Russian got off to a strong start, anchored on takedowns and ground and pound, looking to finish his opponent early.
But Mr. Iaquinta would find his footing as the fight progressed, hurting Mr. Nurmagomedov with punches to the face and body shots.
Mr. Nurmagomedov tried to go for the finish in the final round, taking down Mr. Iaquinta and throwing some pounding anew but the American was not to give in and held on to survive albeit not winding up with the win.
“I don’t know what to say. Credit to my team for without them I would not be here. It’s the best team ever,” said Mr. Nurmagomedov, who expressed his desire to fight legend Georges-St. Pierre next.
The new UFC lightweight champion has stretched his winning streak to 26 wins and no losses while Mr. Iaquinta slid to 13-4-1.
Mr. Nurmagomedov was originally set to face interim UFC lightweight champion Tony “El Cucuy” Ferguson, who had to pull out at the last minute because of a knee injury.
Featherweight champion Max “Blessed” Holloway stepped in but he, too, eventually was scrapped as he was ruled medically unfit to fight before Mr. Iaquinta was chosen as the final opponent.
Erstwhile reigning lightweight champ Conor “The Notorious” McGregor also created controversy in the lead-up to UFC 223, leading a violent attack on some of the fighters in the event that resulted to some being injured and unable to go. He has since been charged, along with others, over the incident.
Meanwhile, in the co-main event, Ms. Namajunas proved her victory over former champ Joanna Jedrzejczyk previously was no fluke, making it 2-of-2 over the latter with an impressive unanimous decision victory, 49-46, 49-46 and 49-46.
Showing much patience and confidence, defending champion Namajunas technically and methodically tore down Ms. Jedrzejczyk with solid punches and combinations that had the face of the Pole badly messed up.
Ms. Jedrzejczyk had her moments especially in the third round as she hurt Ms. Namajunas with a series of leg kicks.
But the champion was not to be denied as she complemented her strong start with an impressive finish, leaving hardly any doubt how deserving she was of the win.
“I’m sorry I wasn’t as technical this time, but it was still good, I pulled through,” humbly said Ms. Namajunas.
“She was right that weight cut kind of did mess her up the first time. But I’m just better, man. I feel like I could’ve been lighter on my feet this time, but I’ve got Pat Barry (her coach), the best low-kicker in the game, kicking me all the time,” she added.
With the win, Ms. Namajunas improved to 8-3 and has won three straight while Ms. Jedrzejczyk dropped to 14-2 and her second consecutive loss.
In other fights at UFC 222, featherweight Renato Mocaino downed Calvin Kattar by unanimous decision (29-28, 30-27 and 30-27), featherweight Zabit Magomedsharipov beat Kyle Bochniak by unanimous decision (29-28, 30-27 and 30-27), and Chris Gruetzemacher defeated Joe Lauzon by second-round technical knockout (corner stoppage).
Next for the UFC is ”UFC on Fox 29” in Glendale, Arizona, on April 15 (Manila time) that will feature the lightweight battle between Dustin Poirier and Justin Gaethje as well as clash between welterweights Carlos Condit and Alex Oliveira.
In the Philippines, Cignal TV, the country’s foremost direct-to-home (DTH) company, is the home of the UFC after the two groups agreed to an extensive deal that will see the UFC beamed on various platforms. — Michael Angelo S. Murillo