Saturday’s UFC 223 event is in the books, and now that the dust has settled in Brooklyn, it’s time to go to the scorecard to see who the big winners were at Barclays Center.
1 – Khabib Nurmagomedov
“The Eagle” has landed. Seemingly destined for UFC gold from the time he stepped into the Octagon for the first time in 2012, Khabib Nurmagomedov got through injuries and postponed bouts to make it to Saturday’s main event. That wasn’t the easiest task, either, because while most of the attention went to the folks who were going to fill in for the injured Tony Ferguson (Max Holloway, Anthony Pettis, Paul Felder) and the one who actually made it to fight night (Al Iaquinta), it was forgotten that Nurmagomedov had five names pass by his desk in the space of his week. But when it was time to fight, he got it done, winning a shutout decision over Iaquinta to take the UFC lightweight title. Destiny fulfilled, now we’ll see what Nurmagomedov does with the belt in a stacked division. He promises to be an active champion, so get ready for some big fights, and hopefully no more drama like we had last week.
2 – Rose Namajunas
Rose Namajunas is the groundfighter, right? Well, the UFC women’s strawweight champion may have fooled us all these years, because at Barclays Center, she basically won a kickboxing match over one of the best kickboxers in the game in Joanna Jedrzejczyk. Looking sharp throughout, Namajunas has clearly settled into her role as champion, and with the top challenger vanquished twice, “Thug Rose” might be settling in for a long reign at the top. Then again, the win over Jedrzejczyk was a close one (for the record, I had Joanna winning 48-47) and an instant classic, so I would have no problem seeing these elite 115-pounders run it back a third time.
3 – Zabit Magomedsharipov and Kyle Bochniak
As Saturday’s Fight of the Night winners, it’s only fitting to put Zabit Magomedsharipov and Kyle Bochniak together here, and I’m sure the fans in attendance in Brooklyn would agree, as they roared for these featherweights as if it were the main event. And hey, I wouldn’t have had a problem with another two rounds, and maybe someday we’ll see it. But for now, let’s appreciate the still evolving Magomedsharipov, one of the most dynamic fighters in the division, and the gritty Bochniak, a Boston strong battler many expected to get run over last weekend. But “Crash” believed, and he wasn’t going anywhere in this one, making him an “overnight” success after more than four years as a pro. Oh yeah, Bochniak is Forrest Griffin’s new favorite fighter, too, so there’s another bonus.
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4 – Olivier Aubin-Mercier
A longtime protégé of Georges St-Pierre, Olivier Aubin-Mercier may not reach the heights the future Hall of Famer has, but hey, the potential is there, not just to be a success in a stacked division, but to be a champion and a star. And don’t think that becoming a champion means a fighter automatically gets the star next to his or her name. He or she has to have that something extra, and Aubin-Mercier has that thanks to a witty sense of humor that makes him easy to root for. Oh yeah, he can fight too, and after a knockout of seasoned veteran Evan Dunham, “The Quebec Kid” will likely get a chance to put his four-fight winning streak on the line against a higher-ranked foe.
5 – Al Iaquinta
No, Al Iaquinta didn’t win against Khabib Nurmagomedov on Saturday night, but he took his shot, fought the fight, and went five rounds with a guy who’s a terror to fight on a full camp, let alone a day’s notice after training for a kickboxer (Paul Felder). More importantly, Iaquinta got the love and respect from the fight world that he’s deserved for a long time. Now let’s hope that real estate takes a back seat for a while as “Raging Al” gets a chance to stay busy, put some more wins together and make another run at the title.