Khabib Nurmagomedov can get back on bus with UFC belt
Khabib Nurmagomedov sat on the bus that Conor McGregor attacked Thursday and said he pleaded to be let off, to no avail.
By showing off some of the skills he wanted to pound McGregor with, Nurmagomedov on Saturday night became the new owner of the UFC lightweight belt that McGregor was officially stripped of for not fighting in the mixed martial arts promotion since November 2016.
Judges rewarded the unbeaten Russian with a unanimous-decision victory over replacement fighter Al Iaquinta of New York by scores of 50-44, 50-43, 50-43 at UFC 223 in Brooklyn’s Barclays Center.
“You want to fight bus? This is crazy. I want to fight this guy [for] real,” said Nurmagomedov (26-0).
After dominating Iaquinta (13-4-2) by scoring takedowns that set up extended punishment in the first round, Nurmagomedov sought to show off the boxing skills he’s worked on so diligently at his training camp in San Jose.
He exposed himself to some blows from Iaquinta by doing so, but the new champion also peppered Iaquinta with hard jabs that bloodied his nose and mouth.
Iaquinta was summoned to the title fight on one day’s notice after featherweight champion Max Holloway fell ill in his weight cut. Holloway was replacing interim champion Tony Ferguson, who tore a knee ligament late last month.
Nurmagomedov said the shuffling of opponents “doesn’t matter if you’re ready.” He said he’d be willing to fight former two-division champion Georges St-Pierre in New York in November, but also mentioned McGregor and Ferguson as possible next opponents.
“Give me 30 minutes, a little water and I can fight anybody — Tony, Conor, doesn’t matter,” Nurmagomedov said.
In the co-main event, Rose Namajunas retained her women’s strawweight belt against the champion she dethroned in November, Joanna Jedrzejczyk.
After knocking out Jedrzejczyk in the first round in the first meeting, Namajunas (8-3) was in for a stiffer test in Saturday’s bout and emerged with a unanimous decision by three scores of 49-46.
Namajunas had to endure some hard kicks to her left leg and it was purple above the knee because of Jedrzejczyk’s damage.
She won because she was faster with her hands, especially in the early rounds. Namajunas found openings that drew blood from the right side of the former champ’s face in the second round, and Jedrzejczyk’s face steadily swelled from the power blows and combinations.
Namajunas said the rematch was too technical for her liking, but there was pride in achieving victory in a bout that was fought nearly entirely while standing against the more experienced former champion.
“I pulled through,” Namajunas said.
Jedrzejczyk (14-2) felt she did enough to win, mounting the top of the octagon while draped in the flag of her native Poland and crying.
But then the scores were read, and Namajunas basked in the proof that her first victory was no fluke.
“She said the weight cut messed her up [in the first fight], but I’m just better, man,” Namajunas said.
The card was diminished by the loss of several fighters, including two, lightweight Michael Chiesa and flyweight Ray Borg, because of injuries from McGregor’s frenzied attack at the Barclays Center loading dock.
McGregor, in court Friday before bailing out for $50,000, faces two felony charges and 10 misdemeanors after prosecutors went beyond the original counts the New York Police Department listed when first arresting the UFC star a day earlier. The felonies carry a maximum seven years in prison, and the misdemeanors carry a maximum one-year sentence for each.
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