NEW YORK – Khabib Nurmagomedov got off the bus and ended his long ride toward a championship in decisive fashion.
Nurmagomedov battered and bloodied Al Iaquinta and won the UFC 155-pound championship by unanimous decision in the main event of UFC 223 on Saturday night.
Nurmagomedov improved to 26-0 (10-0 in UFC) and in a path to the lightweight championship much more laborious than his time in the ring at Barclays Center. He won 50-43 on two scorecards and 50-44 on the third.
Nurmagomedov had four fights against Tony Ferguson fall through – the latest because of a freak knee injury led to featherweight champ Max Holloway getting the call on six days’ notice to move up in weight. Holloway was ruled medically unfit to compete on Friday, which forced UFC to bump Iaquinta from an undercard bout to the main event.
Nurmagomedov, a Russian, won the belt that had been stripped this week from Conor McGregor because the tempestuous Irishman – who ignited a loading dock melee that puts his career in doubt – had not fought for UFC in 17 months.
Nurmagomedov was on the bus and said he had to be restrained by security to keep from fighting McGregor in the underbelly of the arena.
“Where’s Conor? You want to fight this bus?” Nurmagomedov said.
Nothing stopped him against Iaquinta.
The 29-year-old Nurmagomedov wrestled a bear as a child. He had no trouble busting open a clearly overmatched Iaquinta and used takedowns in the first, second and fifth rounds that led to repeated blows to the back of the head that cleared the way to his first UFC title.
Nurmagomedov was the clear fan favorite – fans dotted the arena wearing papakhas, a hat that that looks like a powdered wig native to his homeland in Dagestan – and chanted “Khabib! Khabib! Khabib!”
Nurmagomedov had a papakha on his head and called out Georges St-Pierre for a fight later this year at Madison Square Garden.
He was ready make it a fight night doubleheader.
“Give me 30 minutes rest, little drink of water,” Nurmagomedov said. “Give me 30 minutes and I can fight with anybody. Tony, Conor it doesn’t matter.”
Rose Namajunas made it 2 for 2 against Joanna Jedrzejczyk and defended her 115-pound championship with a unanimous decision victory in the co-main event of the card.
Namajunas (9-3) defeated Jedrzejczyk in the first round of their first match in November to win the strawweight championship. The 25-year-old Namajunas had to go the five-round distance at Barclays Center to win 49-46 on all three scorecards.
Namajunas also was a passenger on the bus attacked by McGregor. The melee – which sent McGregor to court and scrapped three fights on the card – shook up Namajunas.
Jedrzejczyk (14-2) and Namajunas appeared deadlocked through four rounds. Namajunas’ lead left leg absorbed so many punishing kicks it turned bright red, but she bloodied Jedrzejczyk with a series of stiff shots to the face. Jedrzejczyk’s right eye was about swollen shut in the fifth but she still landed some jabs that kept her hope alive of regaining her championship.
Namajunas took down Jedrzejczyk with 30 seconds left and the crowd roared in the waning moments of a sensational championship fight UFC needed following one the rockiest weeks in the company’s 25-year-history.
Jedrzejczyk threw her arm around Namajunas for a hug at the end of the bout.
Billed as “Thug,” Namajunas was soundly booed as the challenger in the first fight at Madison Square Garden. But she left to cheers and a champion and was clearly the people’s choice as she walked to the octagon five months later in Brooklyn. She shared a long embrace and a kiss with fiancee and training partner, Pat Barry.
Then she went to work.
Namajunas controlled the first two rounds, tagging Jedrzejczyk in each one with hard rights. Jedrzejczyk smiled after she socked in the mouth and scraped and sliced Namajunas’ leg with such ferocity that it looked like the champ ran through a thorny poison ivy patch.
Namajunas, who preaches the power of positivity over trash talking, proved her first win was no fluke.
“I’m just better, man,” she said.
UFC got the main events it needed after the entire card was thrown into disarray the past week.
McGregor and his hotheaded posse were banned in Brooklyn and – as UFC would hope – presumably not lurking in the bowls of Barclays Center looking for a brawl.
After one of the UFC’s most chaotic weeks – with McGregor led from a police station in handcuffs and charged with throwing a hand cart at a bus – the promotion got down Saturday night to what it does best: Put on a show.
A crumbled card, perhaps.
But a card nonetheless, with chairs and guard rails firmly planted on the floor.
McGregor’s boorish behavior got him tossed in jail and facing felony charges in a New York courtroom.
McGregor’s agent, Audie Attar, wrote on Twitter that the former two-division champ “looks forward to getting back to fighting as soon as possible.”
McGregor was arraigned Friday on charges of felony criminal mischief charges and misdemeanor assault, menacing and reckless endangerment charges. He was released on $50,000 bond.
UFC has not disciplined McGregor though everyone involved in instigating the press conference day fight on Thursday was not allowed at the arena.
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