Khabib Nurmagomedov became UFC lightweight champion last Saturday night (April 7, 2018) by toying with Al Iaquinta — a late replacement for the weight-challenged Max Holloway — in the UFC 223 pay-per-view (PPV) main event inside Barclays Center in Brooklyn, New York.
Unfortunately, he did it without beating interim titleholder Tony Ferguson, or former division kingpin Conor McGregor, who was stripped in the wake of The Dagestani’s 26th straight win. We can’t blame Nurmagomedov, since “El Cucuy” blew out his knee and “Notorious” took a two-year vacation, but it hardly warrants anything beyond a golf clap.
I’m not salty, just ... unsatisfied.
Mostly because we haven’t really solved anything in terms of the lightweight hierarchy and won’t for several months. Nurmagomedov will not compete during Ramadan or Eid al-Adha, which pretty much wipes out May and June, and the returning “Eagle” would need a full fight camp before his first title defense.
We’re looking at late summer or early fall.
That’s where it gets interesting. Ferguson will need several months to recover from his shredded LCL while McGregor isn’t due back until September. That’s assuming the bus-breaking Irishman doesn’t do jail time for last Thursday’s media day massacre, which could bench him for even longer.
We won't find out until McGregor’s hearing on June 14 (details).
To make matters worse, promotion president Dana White may not even book another Nurmagomedov-Ferguson match up, since it was previously inked four times and all four times it fell apart due to injuries and weight-cutting mishaps.
Following his UFC 223 win, “The Eagle” called for a Georges St-Pierre showdown at the next UFC event inside Madison Square Garden, expected in November, but that’s not the sort of match up that does anything for “Rush,” especially when you compare it to St-Pierre vs. McGregor, which could return gangbusters at the PPV box office.
We also have former champion Eddie Alvarez, ranked No. 3 at 155 pounds, somewhere in the mix, along with the winner of this main event. But then what the heck do we do with Ferguson’s interim title? Now I understand why boxing has five different championships in every weight class.
I’m not sure how well “Khabib Time” will play out with stateside audiences, and even though he cruised to a decision on the UFC 223 scorecards, Nurmagomedov’s mediocre performance against the No. 11 Iaquinta is not going to make combat sports fans forget about the striking prowess of Ferguson or McGregor.
The way I see it, the only way to escape the Irishman’s shadow is to defeat him inside the cage, or put together a run so impressive that the mixed martial arts (MMA) community can focus on nothing else.
Nurmagomedov has done neither, so by Monday morning, we’ll be back to our “Notorious” headlines (like this one).
For complete UFC 223: “Khabib vs. Iaquinta” results, including play-by-play updates, click here.