Whilst doubts have been cast as to Nurmagomedov’s future, no questions were left unanswered inside the octagon on October 24th.
The UFC saw a rare change in fight scheduling, with the Main card taking place at approximately 7 pm BST. Consequently, this led to Pay-Per-View buys taking an unanticipated dip in the United States, due to the fight broadcasting in the relatively early hours of the day. On the other hand, this was a welcome change for the UFC’s ever-expanding Middle- Eastern and European fanbase.
The start of round 1 saw Nurmagomedov applying his trademark stand-up pressure on Gaethje. Surprisingly however, fans did not see the numerous early takedown attempts which Nurmagomedov relies on to wear down his opponents, eventually capitalising through his pedigree in wrestling and arsenal of submissions. Instead, fans saw the undefeated fighter’s takedowns initially thwarted by the former NCAA Division 1 wrestler in Gaethje. The challenger held a slightly lower and more open wrestling stance to combat Nurmagomedov’s infamous single and double-leg takedown capabilities. This position arguably compromised Gaethje’s own pressure led boxing style.
Eventually, Nurmagomedov’s ability to close the distance and nullify Gaethje’s wild ‘swinging for the fences’ punching style, led to a double- leg takedown for the undefeated Champion in the 5th minute.
From this position, Nurmagomedov controlled Gaethje on the fence and without reply, reached a dangerous arm-bar position in which the challenger was fortunate to see the bell before his arm could be fully extended.
Nurmagomedov closed the round out convincingly – once again confirming to the world he is not only a world class wrestler, but a dangerous all round martial- artist. The odds were beginning to stack against the interim- champion.
The second round followed a similar vein to the first. Nurmagomedov began with early leg kicks, followed by walking down and jabbing at will toward the seemingly tiring interim- champion. The fight began to mirror the end of round 1 when Gaethje’s uncommonly weak leg kick was caught by the champion, leading to Nurmagomedov taking the challenger’s back and engaging in a dominant position on the fence.
It was from this position that Nurmagomedov showed a true mastery of the ground game by effortlessly transitioning from an arm-bar attempt, into a triangle choke. Interestingly, during the post-fight conference it was confirmed that Nurmagomedov consciously chose to change his offensive attack mid-fight, to avoid damaging the arm of Gaethje due to his unwillingness to tap out. This was apparently a sign of respect to Gaethje and his family – who were present at the interim champion’s first foreign soil event. Nevertheless, the triangle choke in which Gaethje was trapped, caused him to be put to sleep early in the 2rd minute of round 2. This sudden and ingenious move by Nurmagomedov clinched another historic fight, leading to an impressive and unmatched 29-0-0 professional record.
The culmination of the fight saw an outpouring of emotion from the ‘#AndStill’ undisputed, undefeated Lightweight champion and Pound for Pound best fighter on the planet. With the recent passing of Nurmagomedov’s father, alongside injuries such as a broken toe and sickness before the fight, the win for Nurmagomedov capped off all the hard work and dedication in which he has showed as a champion from the start of his career,
Nurmagomedov laid down his gloves in his post-fight interview, claiming he will no longer fight after the death of his father. However recent media revelations and commentary from the UFC’s president Dana White, claim the current champion may wish to follow on his father’s final wish of a 30-0-0 record. Despite this, nothing can ever be certain, especially amongst the current global climate. One certainty that we do have: is the rematch and return of ‘the notorious’ Conor McGregor vs Dustin ‘the diamond’ Poirier on January 23rd. Could this match be enough to entice Nurmagomedov to reach his 30-0-0 aspirations, or will he leave the octagon as potentially the greatest fighter to have ever graced the sport?