As a resident of Paris, Nassourdine Imavov came into his bout with Joaquin Buckley at UFC Paris with a sizable home-field advantage. The MMA Factory middleweight looked to establish himself firmly in the rankings as this would be his first fight with a number next to his name, a number he took from Edmen Shahbazyan late in 2021.
On the other hand Joaquin Buckley wanted to play spoiler to the home-crowd’s hopes and break into the rankings, which would give him future chances to put to use the star power he gained from his knockout of Impa Kasanganay, a knockout that many have dubbed the greatest knockout in UFC history. Buckley’s intensity and explosiveness is a challenge for many a contender, no matter their rankings, but the Parisian seemed likely to try and counter that with his more measured, technical striking style. Extra motivation was provided for this bout for either man as they had both talked a healthy amount of smack in the build-up and bad blood simmered below the surface during Bruce Buffer’s announcements as the pair walked to the center of the cage to stare each other down.
The height difference was apparent from the get-go, but Buckley is used to being the shorter man at middleweight. The American came out kicking hard but Imavov still gained the front foot early and backed Buckley up to the cage despite a lack of serious output. Buckley circled on the outside constantly with occasional blitzes towards the Frenchman, throwing his patented bombs. A front kick from Imavov dislodged the mouthpiece and referee Mark Goddard stopped the fight to allow him to put it back in. Imavov, however, did not want to allow Joaquin the time to do so and got a stern warning from Goddard for his impatience. When action resumed, the Dagestan-born Imavov got back to his forward pressure and front kick heavy offense. He also clearly intended to mix the martial arts as a clinch exchange soon resulted in some good strikes landing on Joaquin. Over and over again Buckley tried to land his big right hand but Imavov simply ducked down behind the big wall of bone that is his lead left shoulder. This sequence repeated itself many times in the first two rounds as Nassourdine’s speed proved to be an important factor in his performance. At one point a massive right roundhouse from Imavov seemed to land on the chin of a Buckley who ducked into the strike. Still, the American incredibly ate the kick with ease and continued his takedown attempt. Imavov defended the takedown with ease and got into full mount with just fifteen seconds left in the round. Ground and pound rained down until the buzzer sounded. With five minutes up, the hometown kid was in the lead.
A slip and clean right hand counter from Imavov saw his confidence growing in early round two. Buckley was throwing volume when he could but so far Nassourdine had blocked or dodged just about everything. This lead to more desperation from Buckley as his hooks got even wilder and his movement more erratic. The fan favorite Imavov played the part of the emotionless terminator to perfection, stalking his opponent. One of Buckley’s blitzes saw him finally corner his opponent and land two big hooks, but Imavov ate it and escaped the situation. Soon after, the Frenchman landed a big right of his own, but much straighter, and then ducked in on a successful takedown against the cage. Buckley tripoded to try to get up but Imavov took away his based and stepped over to half guard, and then took the back smooth as you like. A neck crank attempt contorted the face of the American and clearly caused him pain but he refused to tap to a submission that was not fully locked in. Still, Imavov had a minute to work and kept alternating between strikes and submission attempts to the crowd’s delight. Elbows to the side of the head cut open Buckley badly and another vicious neck crank attempt followed. For good measure, Imavov even slapped his foe in the face, a la the infamous ‘Stockton Slap’ of the Diaz brothers, right before the end of the second round.
A shifting uppercut early in the last round put Buckley on his back foot but he was not to be deterred. The underdog, clearly down two rounds, blitzed forward and landed some big shots while Imavov’s hands were down. Nassourdine had a trick in his back pocket which he pulled out now when faced with serious adversity for the first time in the fight. He displayed his Dagestani heritage as he took down Buckley to smother the blitz. However, Buckley was able to get back to his feet quickly. The third round saw Imavov slowing down a tad which allowed Buckley to land some big shots against Imavov’s hands-down style. Nassourdine was landing his own shots, to be sure, which made it close, but this round was initially by far the best round for Joaquin Buckley. Instead of avoiding the big attacks of Buckley, Imavov simply shelled up no when his opponent came forward. Another failed takedown attempt turned into a clinch. That delayed the onslaught for a minute and let the Frenchman recover but Buckley was not to be held against the fence.
For the first time, it was Buckley who was going forward. A massive knee after a failed takedown attempt landed flush on the chin of Imavov, showing his toughness off but also turning the tide more. Buckley was clearly in the lead of the final round of the fight with less than a minute left, but would it be too little, too late? Buckley swung like a wild man and both men were absolutely exhausted, but Imavov just survived to the final bell. The home crowd seemed to recognize that their fighter had lost the round but still cheered exuberantly, assuming that he had won the first two rounds, and rightly so. The fans in Paris cheered at the unanimous decision and an exhausted but cheerful Nassourdine Imavov gave his post-fight interview where he was complimentary of Buckle despite the bad blood that they brought into the cage initially.
Official Result: Nassourdine Imavov def. Joaquin Buckley via UD (29-28, 29-28, 30-27)