(Reuters) - Khabib Nurmagomedov battled his way to a unanimous decision victory over Al Iaquinta in their lightweight clash at UFC 223 to become Russia’s first undisputed UFC champion at the Barclays Centre in Brooklyn on Saturday.
Nurmagomedov takes over as champion from Irishman Conor McGregor, who was stripped of a title he never defended, and also faced assault and criminal mischief charges in a New York court for his part in a fracas following Thursday’s media day for the event.
With Nurmagomedov’s original opponent Tony Ferguson forced to pull out a week ago due to a knee injury and replacement Max Holloway withdrawn for medical reasons during his weight cut, Iaquinta stepped in on Friday and agreed to take the fight.
Nurmagomedov showed his hand early, wrestling the 30-year-old American to the ground and dominating him but after two punishing rounds, Iaquinta began to thwart the undefeated Russian’s takedowns and kept the fight on their feet.
The 29-year-old Russian looked clumsy in the striking exchanges as Iaquinta found success with his counter right hand, and it was not until the middle of the fifth and final round that Nurmagomedov managed to get the fight back to the mat.
Iaquinta, who had been preparing for a three-round bout on the undercard and weighed in marginally over the lightweight limit, put on a determined display but was unable to find the killer punch that would turn the fight in his favour.
After five grueling and mostly one-sided rounds, the judges gave the Russian victory by a huge points margin as Nurmagomedov improved his record to 26-0. Iaquinta slipped to 13-4-1 with the loss.
In the women’s strawweight title fight, Rose Namajunas won a unanimous decision victory over Joanna Jedrzejczyk to retain the belt the American won via knockout the last time the two met in November.
Namajunas stayed light on her feet, bobbing and weaving to keep out of the way of Jedrzejczyk’s awesome striking power, and though the Pole wore her down with kicks to her lead leg as the fight wore on, the champion finished strongly to seal the win.
Reporting by Philip O'Connor in Stockholm; Editing by John O'Brien