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Keys to Victory! Who will win Khabib Nurmagomedov vs. Al Iaquinta UFC 223 main event fight tonight

UFC 205: Nurmagomedov v Johnson Photo by Michael Reaves/Getty Images

The action returns to the Octagon later this evening (Sat., April 7, 2018) at UFC 223 live on pay-per-view (PPV) from inside Barclays Center in Brooklyn, New York, as undefeated lightweight powerhouse Khabib Nurmagomedov meets Al Iaquinta in the main event for the undisputed 155-pound title.

Iaquinta, who was originally slated to fight Paul Felder, stepped up to take the fight against “Eagle” after multiple opponents fell through.

With this insane opportunity at hand, “Ragin’ Al” will try to shock the mixed martial arts (MMA) world and become the first ever to defeat Nurmagomedov inside of the cage. It’s going to take his absolute best effort, and maybe even a little luck from the same MMA gods who destroyed this past week, but the fight business counts no man out.

In order to determine the best course of action for Iaquinta, as well as Nurmagomedov as he tries to solidify his UFC lightweight title bid, we take a closer look at what both men need to do in order to leave Brooklyn victorious.

Khabib Nurmagomedov

1. Pace and punish...

Even though Iaquinta was scheduled to compete this weekend at UFC 223, he was planning on fighting Felder in a three-round main card affair. So while the New York native is in the best possible shape for what he was expecting to accomplish this weekend in Brooklyn, he isn’t necessarily prepared to go five hard rounds with a world-class pressure cooker like Nurmagomedov.

In order to reap the benefits of his fine-tuned, five-round engine, “The Eagle” will have to pace his output from the opening bell. Nurmagomedov should be able to grab a hold of “Ragin’ Al” almost any time he desires, but keeping his cards close to his chest and allowing Iaquinta to exhaust a little more energy along the way could help the Russian’s overall efforts.

Look for Nurmagomedov to take his time inside, make the intelligent moves, lean on Iaquinta, sap his energy, and look for a finish in the later rounds. Of course, Khabib should be able to score a ton of punishing shots along the way, especially if he can close the distance on the feet early.

2. Low entries...

While Nurmagomedov may seem like a perfect fighter, evident by his 25-0 professional record, he has shown a susceptibility to getting hit when moving in on the feet. Whether he’s ducking inside to limit an opponent’s range or shooting in for a takedown, Nurmagomedov has been hit flush when his entries weren’t perfect.

An easy fix for this would be for Nurmagomedov to attack inside at a lower level. Iaquinta has tremendous power in his hands, so forcing him to punch downward or to shorten his punches inside will bode well for Khabib and his ability to avoid serious damage. Iaquinta isn’t the type of fighter who throws a ton of knees, especially when being cautious not to be taken down by a guy as dominant as Nurmagomedov, so “The Eagle” should feel confident changing levels early, shooting low, and giving Iaquinta limited room to counter.

Al Iaquinta

1. Stay out of the phone booth...

It doesn’t really matter who the opponent is, Nurmagomedov is going to get the best of any lightweight in the world should the fight take place in close quarters. The undefeated contender isn’t going to score points inside with crisp uppercuts or crippling body shots, but he will snap an opponent to the canvas from the clinch, move into position, and take their soul.

Iaquinta wants no part of this version of “The Eagle.” Instead, the New York native is hoping to control the action by keeping his distance on the feet, using his footwork and head movement, leaning on counter power shots, and readying himself for multiple takedown defenses.

If Iaquinta is unable to maintain his distance and ends up chest-to-chest with Nurmagomedov, it could be all over before it even starts.

2. Fight for the finish...

While Iaquinta has never really shown the inability to remain effective late into a fight, he has never competed outside of a third round in his entire career. That doesn’t really bode well for the New York native considering Nurmagomedov can seemingly go for days.

Since Iaquinta was already scheduled for three rounds, and the fact that the likelihood of him winning a decision against Khabib is slim to none, “Ragin’ Al” should look for the finish as quickly as possible. He’s fast enough, powerful enough, and confident enough to throw out a fight-ending punch or two, so why wait until l his gas tank is near empty in the fourth or fifth frame?

He shouldn’t, and most likely won’t. Because no matter how good Iaquinta has been over the past few years — a span that has seen him win his last five bouts — the only way he’s going to defeat Nurmagomedov in Brooklyn is to take his head clean off.

Prediction: Nurmagomedov via third-round TKO

MMAmania.com will deliver LIVE round-by-round, blow-by-blow coverage of the entire UFC 223 fight card, starting with the FOX Sports 1 “Prelims” at 8 p.m. ET before the PPV main card start time at 10 p.m. ET.