UFC 223 proved to be the night Khabib Nurmagomedov had long envisaged, to a certain extent.
While The Eagle probably didn’t assume that he would capture the UFC lightweight championship against Al Iaquinta, he’s remained confident that he'll sit on the 155-pound thrown while keeping his incredible unbeaten record intact.
He did that relatively easily against Ragin’ Al; taking home the decision win but not everyone was left impressed with his performance against a lower-ranked opponent. To his credit, the dominant, bear-grappling Dagestani had to put up with quite a lot leading up to fight week; things that would have potentially made other fighters drop out.
Tony Ferguson’s injury saw Max Holloway step in – then step out at the last-minute. UFC confirmed Iaquinta as the opponent, but not before names like Paul Felder and Anthony Pettis were also in the running – while nobody is going to forget the Conor McGregor bus situation anytime soon either.
Since that performance, though, Nurmagomedov has drawn a lot of criticism. Fighters that are usually silent have now spoken out, claiming they can defeat Khabib, ranging from Eddie Alvarez and Dustin Poirier, right through to Kevin Lee.
Despite being the king of the division, his coach Javier Mendez of the American Kickboxing Academy understands why Nurmagomedov can be considered the best lightweight on the planet. That’s despite holding the championship while amassing 26 straight wins in a perfect professional record.
When speaking to Express Sport, Mendez noted that fans are always going to question the validity and legitimacy of Nurmagomedov’s title win, and the doubt surrounding his position as the greatest can only end once he manages to get past McGregor.
THE EAGLE VS. THE NOTORIOUS
He said: “I think that the asterisk will be Conor.
“Because he’ll have to fight Conor to really, in everybody’s eyes, be considered the best lightweight, even though I consider him the best lightweight.
“But to be honest, a lot of people won’t consider him to be the best until they clash. Unless Conor moves up in weight or retired.
“As long as Conor is still in the game and it was his title, people are going to say, ‘What if? What if?’ And rightly so.”
A fight been the pair has been rumoured for a long time. That excitement only turned up a notch in Brooklyn when they tried to get face to face, while Khabib admitted in a Q&A session in Russia last month that the two camps are talking.
With Nurmagomedov taking time off for Ramadan and expected back in the Octagon in November and December, and with the Notorious’ legal issues looming over him like a dark cloud, 2018 might be a challenging year to get that super fight booked.
What do you make of Khabib Nurmagomedov’s coach admitting he can’t be considered the best lightweight in the world? Have YOUR say in the comments section below.