To first understand the demented nature of UFC 223, it is best to begin at the end and then work back because the event concluded simply enough.
Indeed, as was widely anticipated – although the probability differed for each new opponent – Khabib Nurmagomedov emerged from Brooklyn’s Barclays Center as the undefeated and undisputed (or rather heavily disputed) lightweight champ.
In the most unpredictable week in UFC history – a statement of gravitas given the rollercoaster rides of recent years – Nurmagomedov dominated a game Al Iaquinta over five rounds to claim the belt.
But the journey there was far from straightforward. Here’s a synopsis of the last week: Nurmagomedov was initially scheduled to face Tony Ferguson but the fight was scrapped for a fourth time after the interim champ tripped over a cable and tore his ACL.
Featherweight king Max Holloway accept a call-up to step into the main event slot on six-days notice but was then declared medically unfit to continue his weight cut by the New York State Athletic Commission.
Undercard fighters Anthony Pettis (pay disagreement) and Paul Felder (unranked) were both denied shots at Nurmagomedov before Iaquinta was handed the opportunity 24 hours before fight night.
The narrative throughout the week shifted from one to the next but the Dagestan-native deserves tremendous credit for riding through it all.
While his performance, particularly in the striking department, cast further uncertainty over his capacity to defeat Ferguson or Conor McGregor, it was a commanding display befitting of any champion.
The 29-year-old called for former two-weight belt holder Georges St Pierre next, although, divisive Irishman McGregor lurks in the background.
McGregor whipped up chaos after allegedly leading his friends and camp members in an attack on a transport van carrying fighters – including Nurmagomedov – during fight week but is expected to contend for the belt he has just been stripped off.
“We have to finish this beef, chicken or something like this,” Nurmagomedov said at the UFC 223 post-fight news conference.
“He has to stop eating Burger Kings. You want to fight? Come. I told you guys, I’m going to make him humble. I’m going to change his game. Now only one champion.
“No more fake champions, no more champion who never defend his title or something like this. Now UFC has champion, and this champion wants to defend his title.
“You want to fight? Come here. Inside the cage? Come. Outside the cage? Come. Let me know without camera, without like all this media.”
Three fights were dropped from the card as a result of McGregor’s alleged bizarre bus attack but it could have been four had Rose Namajunas decided to withdraw.
The strawweight queen was inside the bus at the time of the incident and admitted after defending her title against Joanna Jedrzejczyk that she considered pulling out.
“It shook me up just because it was just such a – I didn’t know how far it was going to escalate,” Namajunas said in the post-fight press conference.
“All the guys inside, they wanted to fight back, they wanted to go jump out of the bus. But I’m like, ‘I don’t know if they’re going to open the door, and they’re going to all come in.’ They’re obviously not directly after me, but I’m just caught in this scenario, so I don’t know.”
Thankfully, the 25-year-old remained on the card and retained her title with a technically tight performance, banishing the “fluke” sentiment stemming from her first-round KO of Jedrzejczyk at UFC 217 to secure a unanimous decision win.
And so the show moves on but UFC 223 has left an indelible mark for good and for bad.
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