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UFC 242 Aftermath: Considering Khabib Nurmagomedov’s place among the all-time greats

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Esther Lin, MMA Fighting

On Saturday night, Khabib Nurmagomedov defended his UFC lightweight title with a third-round submission win over interim champion Dustin Poirier. It was, for the most part, total domination.

Poirier had brief moments of success in the second and third rounds but ultimately they were fleeting and Nurmagomedov did what he’s done to 27 other men — he smashed him. The win had fans everywhere salivating over the possibility that he and Tony Ferguson may finally lock horns and what that will look like, but it should also have us asking another questions: Is Khabib the 155 pound GOAT?

The Greatest of All Time argument is by nature a subjective and complicated one. But as Nurmagomedov continues to dominate a division that has been heretofore impossible to dominate, the arguments against his case continue to shrink.

Since joining the UFC in 2012, Khabib has won 12 fights in a row, six by stoppage. More impressively still, in all that time, Nurmagomedov has lost just one round - the third round to Conor McGregor. That’s 31 consecutive rounds of sustained dominance, second only to Georges St-Pierre’s all-time record of 34. Of course, after St-Pierre lost a round to Jake Shields, he then dropped another and won a close decision; Khabib came back by stopping McGregor in the very next round.

But it’s not just the level of dominance that Khabib has sustained that make a case for GOAT status, it’s also the quality of his opposition.

Opponents of Nurmagomedov’s supremacy (largely Tony Ferguson fans) have been quick to call into question his strength of schedule but after Saturday, that argument is invalid. Nurmagomedov now has wins over seven fighters who were ranked at the time he defeated them, including four fighters who are currently in the top 10. For the past five years, Khabib has been in there with some of the very best fighters in the world and has made all of them look like amateurs, a feat which is even more impressive when you consider the history of the lightweight division.

Unlike most other divisions in MMA, 155 pounds has had a tumultuous history. Like heavyweight, no one fighter has been able to reign atop it for too long with the current longest title defense streak set at three, a record shared by B.J. Penn and Benson Henderson (and also Frankie Edgar, though one of his defenses was the draw with Gray Maynard).

Nurmagomedov now has two successful title defenses under his belt and he’s still in his prime. In his next bout, he’ll most likely face Ferguson who is a worthy and interesting challenger but who will also be 36 by the time they fight and competing in a division where fighters age like bread.

Look, it’s easy to underestimate Khabib. We all can see the flaws. He’s a rudimentary striker at best and his defense appears ungainly and awkward. “If you could just stop the takedowns, he’s a sitting duck” we all say to ourselves. But you can’t.

We’ve been conditioned to to believe that being well-rounded is the most important thing for MMA but the reality is that being a jack-of-all-trades is fantastic, until you run into a true master of one. Heading into UFC 242, many smart MMA analysts said Poirier was the toughest challenger for Khabib and picked him as the man to finally add the “and 1” to Khabib’s resume. Instead, he fell like all the others. That’s because though Poirier is the second-best lightweight in the world right now, on Saturday night he fought the best lightweight in history and one of the best fighters ever, regardless of weight class.


UFC 242 Quotes

“Only one thing it was very close was his guillotine. First time, it was very good guillotine but I expect it from him because I watch all his fights and I know he is all the time going to guillotine. First time, it was close.” - Khabib on Poirier’s guillotine attempt in the third round.

“I have to live the rest of my life asking myself if I could have done more, if I could have maybe escaped some of those takedowns. If I could have pushed harder when I had my underhooks against the fence. Those are the questions that will haunt me.” - Poirier on the loss.

“Tony Ferguson is next in line for the fight if he accepts the fight. We’ll see how this thing plays out when Khabib will fight again and if Tony wants the fight.” - Dana White on who is next for Khabib, leaving the door open for . . .

“Book my rematch for Moscow” - Conor McGregor tweeting after the fight.


Stock report

Stock up - Khabib Nurmagomedov: Khabib dominated a man many thought would be his toughest matchup and staked his claim to both the lightweight GOAT title as well as the top P4P fighter. He also did it in front of his father for the first time in the UFC. The Eagle is soaring right now.

Stock down - Dustin Poirier: There’s no shame in losing to Khabib but given the landscape of the lightweight division, it may be a long road back to the title for Poirier and he even hinted at possibly considering retirement.

Stock up - Paul Felder: Though many thought he lost the fight, Felder is now on a five-fight winning streak in the lightweight division and deserves a title eliminator against the winner of Justin Gaethje vs. Donald Cerrone.

Stock down - Edson Barboza: It’s a tough pill to swallow for Barboza, especially since he arguably won the fight, but the loss on Saturday likely ends any hopes he had of fighting for a belt as he has now lost four of his last five.

Stock-up - Curtis Blaydes: Blaydes has beaten everyone he’s fought other than Francis Ngannou and seems like a terrible style matchup for Stipe Miocic. Blaydes is the heavyweight not enough people are talking about right now.

Stock-up - Al Iaquinta: Remember when Ragin’ Al fought Khabib on 24 hour’s notice and went the distance? Well he’s officially the only person to go five rounds with Khabib and see the judge’s scorecards.


Official matters

While UFC 242 was mostly excellent from top to bottom, there were two major flaws worth discussing. The first was the location. We don’t need to get too bogged down in the weeds on the creation of the stadium, etc, but the fact that the ventilation/air conditioning for the arena didn’t function or didn’t function well was a major issue. Not because it was uncomfortable for the fans/media but because of the reports from fighters after their bouts saying that the canvas was scorching hot. When fighters are unable to articulate thoughts other than “I’m so hot” after a fight, that’s a bad look and a legitimate health concern. Next time, hopefully they’ll be better prepared.

Then of course, there’s also the issue of the judge’s scorecards in the Felder-Barboza fight. Felder won a split decision with scorecards of 30-27, 29-28, and 30-27. That means only one judge scored that fight in a way that is defensible because scoring that bout 30-27 either way is completely insane. Again, it’s nothing new with MMA judging but it was a letdown on an otherwise excellent night.


Fights to make

Khabib Nurmagomedov vs. Tony Ferguson: Don’t overthink this. It’s time. This is the best fight in MMA history. Can’t wait.

Paul Felder vs. winner of Justin Gaethje-Donald Cerrone: The Gaethje-Cerrone winner will still need one more fight before he gets a title shot and Felder deserves his crack at the elite. Match them up and the winner gets the next shot after Tony.

Dustin Poirier vs. Edson Barboza: This feels mean to Barboza as he has had one of the most difficult stretches of opponents in all of MMA but this is a tremendously exciting fight and if Barboza wants any shot at getting back to contention, he needs a big name win.

Islam Makhachev vs. Gregor Gillespie: Gillespie is the dark-horse candidate to give Khabib problems. Let’s see how he does against mini-Khabib and let’s also see Makhachev start making his way up the division.

Curtis Blaydes vs. winner of Junior dos Santos-Alexander Volkov: Blaydes is one win away from a title shot and JDS-Volkov is the logical conclusion to get him over the hump.