LAS VEGAS – Edson Barboza is one of the most dynamic strikers in the UFC, but he was taken apart and beaten to a pulp Saturday by new father Khabib Nurmagomedov in the co-main event of UFC 219 at T-Mobile Arena.
Nurmagomedov is a nightmare matchup for anyone at 155 pounds, including champion Conor McGregor and interim champion Tony Ferguson.
The Dagestani grappling superstar won by scores of 30-25 twice and 30-24, and delivered a frightening beating to the tough Barboza.
His son was born in Russia on Friday, and Nurmagomedov celebrated by delivering an unbelievable performance that sets up a fight against one of the big two in the division.
Nurmagomedov improved to 25-0 and lived up to coach Javier Mendez’s pre-fight boasts that he is already the best lightweight in the world.
McGregor and Ferguson are elite as well and likely a level above Barboza, who absorbed a thrashing while trying as hard as he could to get to his feet.
“He’s one of the best strikers in the world and I fought 15 minutes with him,” Nurmagomedov said. “I wanted to go 15 minutes [to prove a point].”
UFC president Dana White has said that McGregor will likely return to the Octagon by summer to defend his lightweight belt. If he does, it’s likely to be against Ferguson in a title-versus-title match.
But if McGregor chooses not to fight at all or wants to face someone in a different weight class, a Ferguson-Nurmagomedov bout, which was scheduled and canceled three times previously, would not be a bad replacement.
After his win, Nurmagomedov ran over to ex-boxing heavyweight champion Mike Tyson and embraced him at cageside. The two are friends, and there is a similarity in their dominance — Tyson with his power and Nurmagomedov with his grappling.
Barboza was virtually helpless once the fight hit the ground, and referee John McCarthy watched him carefully. He let it finish, but Barboza’s face was a mess and he walked unsteadily back to the locker room.
One thing is clear after watching that decimation: It’s going to take the performance of a lifetime for any lightweight, including McGregor and Ferguson, to defeat Nurmagomedov.
More UFC 219 coverage from Yahoo Sports:
• Kevin Iole: Nurmagomedov is class of UFC’s lightweight division
• Cyborg prevails despite Holm’s grueling test
• What’s next for Cyborg after defeating Holm?