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The Road to UFC 229: Khabib's run of lightweight dominance


Finally wearing the UFC lightweight crown he has chased for years, unbeaten Khabib Nurmagomedov is on top of the world right now, and he’s ready to defend that title against longtime rival Conor McGregor in the main event of UFC 229 on October 6. It’s the biggest fight of the year, but before UFC 229 rolls around, we’re going into the archives for fight reports and UFC FIGHT PASS videos that show just how dominant “The Eagle” is on fight night.

UFC on FX – Kamal Shalorus (Watch on UFC FIGHT PASS)

By Frank Curreri - “The Eagle” has landed, and his name is Khabib Nurmagomedov.

Making his debut in both the U.S. and the UFC, the highly-touted Russian upped his record to 17-0 with an impressive dismantling of the typically immovable object that is Kamal Shalorus. The Sambo standout dropped Shalorus in the first round with an uppercut to the jaw, then rained down punches but could not land the shot that would have sealed the deal.

Opponents rarely put Shalorus, a world-class wrestler who was born in Iran near the Russian border, on his back. But Nurmagomedov managed the feat several times. The last of those occasions was in the third round, when the Russian escaped a guillotine, passed guard and sank in a rear naked choke that forced the tap out at 2:08.

The win puts Nurmagomedov is elite company. The only other fighter to defeat or finish Shalorus is veteran lightweight Jim Miller.

UFC 148 – Gleison Tibau (Watch on UFC FIGHT PASS)

It was an emotional win for Khabib Nurmagomedov, and rightfully so, as the 155-pound prospect scored the biggest victory of his career with a shutout three round decision over Gleison Tibau that upped his unbeaten record to 18-0 and brought him to tears in the middle of the Octagon.

The stars of the first round were the Brazilian fans chanting for their fighter and their country, throwing in a song as well during the first five minutes. In the cage, it was a stalemate, as Nurmagomedov tried but couldn't succeed in taking his foe down, while Tibau’s offense consisted of a couple flush counterpunches as the Russian came in and threw wide.

Round two was a close one as well, but Nurmagomedov appeared to be getting a little closer to Tibau (34-8) with his punches, marking up the Brazilian’s face despite still getting tagged with counters that kept the veteran Tibau in the fight.

After yet another nip and tuck session between the two lightweights to start round three, Tibau got a takedown just before the midway point, but he was unable to do anything with it as “The Eagle” shot right back to his feet. And in the end it was Nurmagomedov’s aggression and pushing of the fight’s pace that may have swayed the judges to award him the fight via unanimous scores of 30-27.



A post shared by Khabib Nurmagomedov (@khabib_nurmagomedov) on Jul 26, 2018 at 10:05am PDT

UFC on FX – Thiago Tavares (Watch on UFC FIGHT PASS)

Lightweight prospect Khabib Nurmagomedov made a major statement in the main card opener, emphatically stopping veteran Thiago Tavares in the first round to improve to 19-0 as a pro.

After a tense feeling out process as Tavares talked and Nurmagomedov used lateral movement while looking for an opening, the Dagestan native found the sweet spot, sending Tavares to the mat with a short left uppercut. An unanswered series of elbows followed, with referee Dan Miragliotta halting the bout 1:55 into the fight.

UFC 160 – Abel Trujillo (Watch on UFC FIGHT PASS)

By Laura Gilbert - Russian-born, AKA-honed ground monster Khabib Nurmagomedov made it 20 in a row with a three-round ragdolling of Abel Trujillo. The 24-year-old won the lightweight bout with scores of 30-27 (x3) and broke the UFC record for most takedowns in a fight with 21.

The two kept far more distance than yesterday at the weigh-in when they had to be separated, and the first throw came from Trujillo, who connected with a left. Trujillo came forward twice more with strikes before earning a takedown. Nurmagomedov thanked him by locking in an armbar attempt, and once Trujillo rolled out and stood up, Nurmagomedov took his back and threw him to the ground eight times in a row, never losing his grip around Trujillo’s back as the Blackzilian stood. Trujillo rolled out on the last takedown and was quickly triangled, where he stayed until the bell.

After another round-opening standoff, Trujillo swung for the fences, but Nurmagomedov landed then took down Trujillo. Both men scored with haymakers in the ensuing exchange on the feet, and then the Russian Sambo champion got another takedown on the All-American collegiate wrestler, followed by another cartwheeling trip that put him on Trujillo’s back with both hooks in. Though Trujillo briefly landed in top position and teed off after one takedown, both men continually got back up to their feet.

Trujillo chased Nurmagomedov with a left, but was clipped by a counter and wound up securely in the Russian-born fighters’ bodylock, as the rinse-and-repeat takedowns tallied up toward 20. Nurmagomedov landed some knees on the ground and mixed it up with one high-altitude takedown and a suplex but was relentless in getting things to the mat.

Nurmagomedov’s record remains perfect at 20-0, while Trujillo drops to 10-5. "I’m very sorry I didn’t make weight for the fight," said "The Eagle," who sacrified 20% of his purse after coming in 2.5 pounds over the lightweight limit. "I also wanted to showcase my wrestling techniques in support of the ‘Save Olympic Wrestling’ campaign. Wrestling means a lot to me and we have to do what we can to keep it alive.”

UFC 165 – Pat Healy (Watch on UFC FIGHT PASS)

Rising Russian star Khabib Nurmagomedov moved his perfect record to 21-0 in the main card opener, taking a hard-fought three round unanimous decision win over lightweight veteran Pat Healy.

“UFC, give me a title shot,” said Nurmagomedov. “I’m ready.”

Scores were 30-27 across the board.

As promised, Healy (31-16, 1 NC) pressured Nurmagomedov from the opening bell, forcing the Russian to fight going backward in the early going. But once “The Eagle” settled into the fight, he began giving back as good as he got with punches and knees, quickly reddening Healy’s face. Of course, that wasn’t going to slow the Oregon veteran down, and despite getting cut under his left eye, he kept moving forward and swinging until getting taken down in the final minute.

The pace remained high in the second, with Healy stalking and throwing, and Nurmagomedov countering any chance he got. Where Nurmagomedov was able to get out in front was in the variety of his attack and his grappling work, which produced another late takedown.

Nurmagomedov shot for a takedown early in round three but was turned back, allowing Healy more time to get his punches off. With a minute gone though, Nurmagomedov got his takedown and went to work. And while Healy got up midway through the round, Nurmagomedov picked him up, carried him across the Octagon and slammed him, igniting the crowd before the Russian grounded and pounded Healy for the rest of the fight.

UFC on FOX – Rafael Dos Anjos (Watch on UFC FIGHT PASS)

Khabib Nurmagomedov’s 22nd win without a loss was another dominant effort, as he shut out Rafael Dos Anjos over three rounds, snapping the Brazilian’s five-fight winning streak in the process.

All three judges scored the bout 30-27.

Nurmagomedov’s takedown dominance continued, as he put Dos Anjos on the canvas in the second minute, albeit briefly. And though the Brazilian tried to work a stick and move strategy, the Dagestan native’s plan was to rush with punches and get the takedown, a method that was working for him because even when he couldn’t get the takedown, he landed enough shots on the way in and controlled the action to such an extent at close range that the points were piling up.

An early second round takedown by Nurmagomedov almost ended in disaster thanks to a Dos Anjos guillotine choke attempt, but “The Eagle” pulled free and once again resumed control at close quarters, putting another round in the bank.

Dos Anjos showed plenty of urgency as he came out for the third round, knowing he needed to turn things around, and fast. But after some positive early moments, a thudding takedown by Nurmagomedov put the ball back in the Russian’s court, and he kept it there until the final bell.

UFC on FOX – Darrell Horcher (Watch on UFC FIGHT PASS)

Back in action after a series of injuries kept him sidelined for two years, number two-ranked lightweight contender Khabib Nurmagomedov continued to add to his unbeaten win total, stopping late replacement Darrell Horcher in the second round.

Horcher, making his UFC debut, replaced the injured Tony Ferguson on April 7. The bout was held at a catchweight of 160 pounds.

Nurmagomedov took a little while to get going in his first fight since April of 2014, but midway through the round, “The Eagle” scooped Horcher up and slammed him to the mat. There, the Dagestan native patiently took his time before unleashing a series of elbows that cut the Pennsylvania product. In the final minute, Nurmagomedov took Horcher’s back and unleashed more strikes, but the newcomer made it to the horn.

The bout went back to the mat within 30 seconds of the start of round two, and this time, Nurmagomedov ended matters, with strikes from a mounted crucifix and then the back position prompting referee James Warring to step in at the 3:38 mark.

With the win, Nurmagomedov improves to 23-0; Shermansdale’s Horcher falls to 12-2.

UFC 205 – Michael Johnson (Watch on UFC FIGHT PASS)

Unbeaten Khabib Nurmagomedov had hoped to fight for the lightweight title on tonight’s UFC 205 card, and while he didn’t get that chance, he most certainly made a strong case for a championship fight with a dominant third-round submission of Michael Johnson that lifted his perfect pro record to 24-0.

Johnson set a fast pace to start the fight, tagging the No. 2-ranked Nurmagomedov with several hard lefts to the head. Nurmagomedov stayed in the pocket with his foe, paying a price to get within grappling range. But once he did, he was able to return the favor and get Johnson in trouble with a steady stream of ground strikes. In the final minute of the round, Nurmagomedov unleashed a furious barrage of punches, even pushing his foe into the fence as he tried to rise, capping off a big round.

As round two opened, Johnson’s strikes became more defensive in nature, as he tried to keep the Dagestan native off him, but Nurmagomedov kept pressing, failing on his first couple takedown attempts but eventually getting Johnson to the mat in the second minute. Back on the canvas, Nurmagomedov went on the attack again, drilling Johnson with shot after shot before the horn intervened.

Courageously answering the bell for round three, Johnson exchanged blows with Nurmagomedov before getting taken down, and referee John McCarthy was watching carefully as “The Eagle” landed more shots. Nurmagomedov even appeared to be concerned for his opponent, saying, “You gotta give up.” Eventually, he had to though, as Nurmagomedov sunk in a kimura that finished the bout at 2:31 of the final frame.

UFC 219 – Edson Barboza (Watch on UFC FIGHT PASS)

On the day Khabib Nurmagomedov and his wife welcomed a son into the world, “The Eagle” also secured his place as the top contender for world title honors at 155 pounds, as he scored a dominant three-round unanimous decision victory over Edson Barboza in the co-main event of UFC 219 at T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas.

“If the UFC gives me one hour rest, I can fight right now with (lightweight champion) Conor (McGregor) or (interim champion) Tony (Ferguson).”

Scores were 30-25 twice and 30-24.

The No. 4-ranked Barboza (19-5) opened with a series of inside leg kicks as Nurmagomedov pressured him, and while it took a minute, he ultimately was able to lock up with the Brazilian against the fence. Barboza escaped the initial takedown, but with a little over three minutes to go, “The Eagle” put his foe on the deck and fired off hard shots from the top position. As the round progressed, Nurmagomedov appeared to be getting stronger as he kept Barboza grounded, all the while drilling his foe with blows that didn’t stop coming.

It was Nurmagomedov opening up with kicks to begin round two, and when you add in the Dagestan native’s pressure, Barboza was forced into a defensive mode once more. After a spell against the fence, Barboza gamely fired off punches, but Nurmagomedov walked through them and put the bloodied Brazilian on the mat again, where the ground attack resumed again.

The third was more of the same for Nurmagomedov, and while Barboza was able to land a spinning kick and a knee in the final frame, the shots had no effect on the now 25-0 Nurmagomedov.

UFC 223 – Al Iaquinta (Watch on UFC FIGHT PASS)

There would be no Miracle on Atlantic Avenue for Al Iaquinta. Looking to catch top contender Khabib Nurmagomedov napping in their UFC 223 main event at Barclays Center, the Long Islander gave a gritty effort for five rounds, but the unbeaten Nurmagomedov was not to be denied, as he won a shutout unanimous decision to win the UFC lightweight title.

The victory was the culmination of a bizarre week for Nurmagomedov and the UFC, as the Dagestan native saw opponents Tony Ferguson and Max Holloway both fall out of the title bout to determine a successor to Conor McGregor before Iaquinta, who was originally scheduled to face Paul Felder on the card, stepped in.

“Nothing changed,” Nurmagomedov said. “It doesn’t matter who if you’re ready. Give me 30 minutes and I can fight with anybody.”

Scores were 50-44 and 50-43 twice.

Iaquinta came out in a low stance and caught Nurmagomedov with a quick right hand before tossing aside his opponent’s first takedown attempt. He wasn’t as fortunate with the second one, and Nurmagomedov went to work, briefly taking Iaquinta’s back before the New Yorker got to his feet. He wasn’t there long, as Nurmagomedov put him back on the canvas. This time Nurmagomedov was able to land several left hands as Iaquinta sought daylight, but there was none there. By the end of the round, Iaquinta was on his feet, but his left eye was rapidly closing.

Just as in the first round, Iaquinta was able to avoid Nurmagomedov’s initial takedown attempt of round two, but not the second, as the swarming Dagestan native was relentless with his grappling attack. Midway through the frame, Nurmagomedov took Iaquinta’s back and began firing off punches as he fished for a submission. Iaquinta was game as expected and was able to make it out of the round, but he had few answers for “The Eagle.”

After dominating the first two frames on the mat, Nurmagomedov showed off some of his striking game in rounds three and four, bloodying Iaquinta’s face with a series of stiff jabs. The Long Islander got in some shots in retaliation, but they didn’t affect the Russian, who put two more rounds in the bank.

Down on the scorecards but not willing to cave in, Iaquinta had some of his best moments of the fight early in round five, as he landed strikes and avoided a Nurmagomedov takedown, but from the midway point of the round on, it was Nurmagomedov surging back into action and putting Iaquinta on the mat. And while Nurmagomedov did his best to finish his opponent in the closing minute, “Raging Al” wasn’t having it, as he was able to make it to the final horn.

With the win, Nurmagomedov improves to 26-0. Wantagh’s Iaquinta falls to 13-3-1.