The biggest surprise in the UFC 223 main event was that it went all five rounds — but the winner was no surprise whatsoever.
After Multiple changes to UFC’s 223 main event that saw Tony Ferguson pull out due to a knee injury, current UFC featherweight champion Max Holloway stepped in just six days prior to the event. Only to be deemed medically unfit to compete and pulled from the main event. We then saw Anthony Pettis look to take his place as his fight with Michael Chiesa was cancelled due to lacerations Chiesa sustained when Conor McGregor smashed the window of the bus he was in. That fell through. Paul Felder also stepped up but was denied by the commission due being unranked. His opponent, Al Iaquinta, was finally deemed acceptable. So at long last, UFC 223 had a main event between Khabib Nurmagomedov and Al Iaquinta, booked only on Friday, the day before the event.
Of course, there was the matter of the NYSAC not recognizing Iaquinta as champ if he won, due to weighing in (for the Felder fight) at 155.2lbs, over the championship weight for title fights.
In the end, the UFC promised to ignore that, and fans wound up with an interesting pairing in Brooklyn. Iaquinta opened the action with a couple of punches as Nurmagomedov circled. Nurmagomedov shot for the takedown but was too far away, missing the mark. Nurmagomedov shot again for the single and powered Iaquinta to the mat. Khabib then quickly took side control, and Iaquinta gave up his back. They scrambled, and Iaquinta made it back to his feet against the cage! Nurmagomedov powered him back to the mat however, and jumped to mount. The ups and downs continued, with Nurmagomedov all over his opponent, driving him back into the cage to end the round.
Iaquinta came out to start the second with low stance and pressed the action. Nurmagomedov fired back with a few shots that missed then shot the single. Al Iaquinta broke free, but Nurmagomedov shot the takedown again and drove him to the mat. Iaquinta then began working back to his feet as Nurmagomedov continued to grind him out. Al gave up his back, and Nurmagomedov was quick to find the hooks and look for the choke. Iaquinta managed to fight the hold, and was rewarded with punches from the top. He then covered up and looked to escape, only for Nurmagomedov to roll and try another choke. Iaquinta escaped again but Nurmagomedov remained on top to end the round.
The third saw Nurmagomedov be first to strike; Iaquinta responded with a right. Iaquinta took the center of the octagon and pressed the action. Nurmagomedov, back in center, fired off a high kick. Iaquinta stayed in the low stance and Nurmagomedov shot a take down that was stuffed. Next, Iaquinta followed with a couple hard shots. Iaquinta fired off a leg kick and Nurmagomedov responded with his own. Khabib came in with a low kick that Iaquinta countered with a punch; Nurmagomedov fired with a left followed by a right. The two continued to exchange as the third round came to an end.
The opening bell of round four saw Iaquinta moving forward with that low stance again. That he had made it this far was impressive. Nurmagomedov opened with a punch combo that pushed Iaquinta back. Iaquinta fired back with a right. Nurmagomedov started to load up on the jab but Iaquinta kept walking through it and firing back. Nurmagomedov shot another take down that missed the mark; the two went back to exchanging. Iaquinta pressed the action, and went for a take down of his own that Nurmagomedov escaped. Al then caught his opponent on the way out with a right. Iaquinta kept moving forward as the two exchanged to close out the fourth, showing impressive heart.
The final round saw Khabib Nurmagomedov open with a shot at the take down that Iaquinta stuffed. Nurmagomedov fired the jab, which Iaquinta answered with a left to the body. Iaquinta followed with a strong left; he started to open up and land now. Nurmagomedov came back with the jab followed by driving him back into the cage. Iaquinta broke free but Nurmagomedov unloaded, sending Iaquinta into retreat mode. Nurmagomedov pursued with a flying knee that just missed the mark. Nurmagomedov went for the take down as soon as his feet hit the mat, and he dragged Iaquinta down. He then took Iaquina’s back looking for the choke, but Al was able to defend it. They rode it out from there until the horn sounded — at there was no surprise at who won gold.
After the fight, Khabib Nurmagomedov called for a fight with Georges St. Pierre at New York’s Madison Square Garden.
Khabib Nurmagomedov def Al Iaquinta by unanimous decision (50-44, 50-43, 50-43)