NEW YORK — Al Iaquinta could have used the dolly that Conor McGregor tossed at a bus the other day to defeat Khabib Nurmagomedov in their hastily put together bout for the UFC lightweight championship.
Nurmagomedov did what he was overwhelmingly favored to do and captured the title with a wide unanimous decision victory in the main event of UFC 223 before a sellout crowd on Saturday at the Barclays Center. Judges scored it 50-43 twice and 50-44 for the Russian. Yahoo Sports had it 50-44 for Nurmagomedov.
Despite the wide loss, it was a clear moral victory for Iaquinta, who had trained for a three-round non-title bout against Paul Felder and didn’t find out he was going to be facing the division’s best grappler until early afternoon on Friday.
It was the expected end to a crazy week that saw McGregor, the sport’s marquee fighter, arrested, multiple changes in the main event and several other fights falling off the card because of McGregor’s idiotic rampage on Thursday.
But if Nurmagomedov was bothered, he hardly showed it. He went out and did his thing, mauling Iaquinta to win the lightweight championship that was stripped from McGregor because of inactivity.
And when it was over, he showed he’s not fishing for the small fries.
“Give me Georges St-Pierre at Madison Square Garden,” he said in the cage after the fight.
He was in such command that even when the fight went for long stretches standing, he was in control. He used a hard jab to bloody Iaquinta’s nose and control the fight.
He did his usual trash-talking during the fight, and didn’t let up when it was over.
“Give me 30 minutes and I’ll come back with anybody,” he said “Tony [Ferguson], Conor, it doesn’t matter.”
He wasn’t going to be fighting McGregor, because there were signs all over the Barclays Center reminding workers that McGregor and several of his friends were not welcome inside the arena.
Ferguson was supposed to have been fighting Nurmagomedov, but he injured his knee when he tripped over a television cable while on the Fox set and was pulled from the bout due to a torn LCL on Sunday.
Nurmagomedov handled the changes with no issues, raising his record to 26-0 in a sport in which virtually everyone loses. Nurmagomedov, though, hasn’t done so yet and isn’t showing any signs of it.