Press any seasoned observer to identify the sport’s most dominant fighters, and it will not take long before he or she zeroes in on Khabib Nurmagomedov.
The reigning undisputed Ultimate Fighting Championship lightweight titleholder carries a perfect 28-0 professional record and an ice-cold disposition that enhances the intimidation factor associated with him. Nurmagomedov has rattled off 12 consecutive victories—Rafael dos Anjos, Michael Johnson and Al Iaquinta are among the crossed-off names on his hit list—since he joined the UFC roster in 2012, many of them in lopsided fashion. The American Kickboxing Academy export last appeared at UFC 242 on Sept. 7, when he submitted interim champion Dustin Poirier with a third-round rear-naked choke to unify the 155-pound crown.
As Nurmagomedov waits for the fog of the coronavirus pandemic to clear, a look at a few of the rivalries that made him a household name:
Nurmagomedv and Ferguson have been matched up five times and have yet to fight. (Photo: Mike Sloan/Sherdog)
Five times the UFC has tried to pair Ferguson with Nurmagomedov, and five times those plans have fallen through. The reasons for the cancellations range from injury to global pandemic. Despite the fact that they have not yet locked horns inside the cage, the sport’s top two lightweights have continued to build heat between one another. Ferguson ruffled the Russian sambo practitioner’s feathers during an ESPN interview in early April, when he claimed “The Eagle” was “scared” and “running” to such an extent that he “bailed out” on their scheduled UFC 249 confrontation. The event was later postponed, and Nurmagomedov returned to his native Russia, where he finds himself under no-travel restrictions due to the COVID-19 crisis. He responded to Ferguson’s accusations via Instagram: “You know what’s interesting? My name is Khabib. I am not coronavirus. My name is not coronavirus, but the number one thing that makes me crazy is when people say I pull out or I do something. I [don’t] understand this. I’m still training since December. I train very hard since December.” The jury remains out on whether or not Ferguson and Nurmagomedov will ever face each other in the Octagon.
Nurmagomedov handed McGregor an embarrassing defeat. (Photo: Getty Images)
The indomitable Nurmagomedov retained his lightweight crown and secured the most significant victory of his career when he submitted McGregor with a neck crank in the fourth round of their UFC 229 headliner on Oct. 6, 2018 at T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas. McGregor tapped 3:03 into Round 4, failing in his bid to reclaim the 155-pound throne in his first appearance inside the Octagon in nearly two years. More than 20,000 fans were in attendance, resulting in a $17 million live gate—a record for an MMA event in the state of Nevada. As many anticipated, Nurmagomedov overwhelmed the Irishman with determined takedowns, focused ground-and-pound and suffocating positional control. McGregor was essentially a non-factor outside of the third round. Nurmagomedov struck for another takedown in the fourth, climbed to mount and unleashed punches before transitioning to the back, his master plan unfolding for all to see. Soon after, he wrapped his arms around McGregor’s neck, closed off escape routes and prompted the tapout. Afterward, Nurmagomedov scaled the fence and attempted to attack Dillon Danis, one of McGregor’s cornerman, his actions inciting a melee on the floor of the arena. Meanwhile, two men in Nurmagomedov’s entourage entered the cage and took swings at McGregor, with the former champion returning fire in self-defense. Pandemonium ensued, marring an otherwise memorable event.
Barboza absorbed a horrendous beating at the hands of Nurmagomedov. (Photo: Getty Images)
Nurmagomedov grounded, pounded and systematically dismantled the former Ring of Combat champion across three rounds in the UFC 219 co-main event on Dec. 30, 2017 at T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas. Scores were 30-25, 30-25 and 30-24, all for Nurmagomedov. Barboza was out of his depth. Nurmagomedov marched him down with punches, pushed him to the fence and tripped him to the floor; he often appeared amused by his work, a sadistic grin stretching across his face. Barboza absorbed a horrendous beating whenever he hit the mat, as the Dagestani brute unleashed his ferocious brand of ground-and-pound with short punches and elbows. The scene repeated itself in all three rounds. Barboza took his shots when the two men were upright but too often found himself either operating off his back foot, struggling for air in the clinch or fighting for survival on his back.