Khabib Nurmagomedov comfortably defeated short notice replacement Al Iaquinta in the UFC 223 main event, earning multiple 10-8 rounds and bloodying Iaquinta’s face with jabs when they stood and traded.
UFC analyst Joe Rogan was under fire for seemingly over-the-top criticism of Khabib’s performance, particularly his assessment of his stand-up despite Iaquinta definitively getting outstruck. Rogan has since apologized, saying that he was just looking for flaws in Khabib’s game, and that Iaquinta exposed some cracks in Nurmagomedov’s defense.
Javier Mendez, Nurmagomedov’s coach at American Kickboxing Academy, had the chance to rewatch the fight through the UFC broadcast, and he was also critical of Rogan.
“I saw the fight last night with Joe Rogan [commentating] and he totally didn’t understand what the hell’s going on,” Mendez said on The MMA Hour (transcript via MMA Fighting), “because he totally based that thing completely wrong. ‘Oh, he exposed Khabib. There’s a lot of holes in his game.’ There’s no holes in his game. He’s never been a stand-up guy, yet he’s gotten better, and if you don’t acknowledge how much better he’s gotten compared to the last time, then you’re not really doing your research. Because he switched southpaw on this guy, he even did a goddamn back kick, for God’s sake.
“He’s improving all the time and you need to acknowledge that. Don’t act like he’s got these holes in his game. Jesus Christ, do you think if he’s going to fight Nate Diaz, we’re going to stand with Nate Diaz? Do you think we have a chance [standing] against Nate Diaz? Do you think I think that? For God’s sake, no way. No way in hell are we going to fight with Conor [McGregor]’s stand-up too. Everybody’s got a different gameplan, and if you don’t change the gameplan according to what’s going on, you’re going to get checkmated.”
The way the fight played out, Nurmagomedov took down Iaquinta in the first two rounds, beating the New Yorker up with ground-and-pound, threatening with a rear-naked choke, but failing to finish him. Khabib did not manage takedowns in rounds three and four, so it was glorified kickboxing match between him and Iaquinta. While Al did land some power shots on the Russian, Khabib bloodied Iaquinta’s face with jabs. More striking occurred in the final round, and Khabib was able to secure a takedown off of putting Iaquinta in some trouble against the fence.
Mendez also said that Khabib spending the middle portion of the bout on the feet was not part of the gameplan. The aftermath of the fight led some to reassess Khabib’s chances if he were to use the same tactics against Conor McGregor or Tony Ferguson, and Mendez had this to offer in response.
“I think they’re 100-percent correct in the way they’re thinking, but let’s see how the gameplan plays out,” Mendez said. “Let’s see if we’re foolish enough to stand with Conor like that, or let’s see how much we’ve improved since then. That’s the one thing you saw from Khabib, let’s face it — when he was punching, he was punching one-two; he was dropping his hands; his chin was up high; he leaned back. So if Al would’ve been smart enough to come at him with threes and fours, then he could’ve potentially clipped us. But Al was doing ones and twos himself, he wasn’t doing too many combinations.
“That’s not something Conor’s going to do. If that ever happened, Conor’s going to throw combinations because he’s schooled enough in the art of boxing that he’s going to come out, he knows one-twos are aren’t enough. So it’ll be a completely different gameplan. Like I said, Joe Rogan — Joe Rogan’s saying he’s been exposed, this and that. I’m going, man, is he crazy? When has Khabib ever been known to be some great striker? It’s like all of a sudden Khabib’s some great striker? We always knew he had holes in his stand-up. I always say it. When have I ever told you that Khabib is a great stand-up fighter? I’ve never said that. I said he improves all the time, and he’s improved.”
And yes, you’re not the only one who noticed that Mendez said “There’s no holes in Khabib’s game” and “We always knew he had holes in his stand-up” in the same interview.