Undefeated, undisputed and undeniably the biggest star in MMA right now.
Khabib Nurmagomedov is the unified UFC lightweight champion, and following an electric performance in the main event slot of UFC 242 at The Arena on Yas Island, where the UAE is concerned, he is the people’s champion, too.
The Muslim-fighter’s third-round rear-naked choke submission of a very game challenger in Dustin Poirier generated the type of weight for his reputation only the top-heavy pressure of his suffocating wrestling pedigree can equal.
Powered by the partisan crowd, Khabib siphoned the energy and concurrently the hope out of Poirier, who did impress with a stinging right-hand in the second round and an attempted guillotine choke shortly before the arrival of the end in the third stanza.
However, 28 different questions have been posed to Khabib during his unblemished career and so far he has answered every one in the same emphatic fashion, by ‘smeshing’ each opponent.
They say pressure makes diamonds, and Poirier has certainly earned his alias, but in that case what on earth is Khabib?
Created on the hills of Dagestan, the various composite metals of granite and iron have combined to birth an immovable force of nature.
And make no mistake his triumph has presented a gleaming new jewel to adorn the UAE sporting calendar.
The expectations heading into the promotion’s long-awaited return to these shores was enormous.
To rival other mainstream sports held here, such as the Formula One, golf, tennis and so on, MMA needed its own grand night.
But unlike the dull nature of UFC 112, this numbered event delivered from top to bottom. In terms of pure sporting spectacles, there are few rivals for MMA.
The conditions in Abu Dhabi added a somewhat bittersweet ingredient to what is a unique fragrance as well. Indeed, the stinging aftershave of blood and sweat, blended by the smothering heat of The Arena produced a signature scent of pure violence.
The humidity turned the fighters into rain dancers, sweat droplets spraying out of the Octagon and slapping onto onlookers for an experience which is hard to match elsewhere on the sporting landscape.
Indeed, no other can offer the collision of flesh on flesh which rings through the ears or the sight of these phenomenal athletes wielding every fibre of their shredded muscle in the name of sport and entertainment.
The heat and humidity only added to the drama, the incandescent lights turning the Octagon into a sauna.
It was like breathing through a straw at some points and when the main event arrived, it was as if the crowd had saved its collective breath, sucking in every ounce of oxygen throughout the evening to release a burst of support for Khabib.
But beneath the raw violence was respect. It was the theme of the event, hallmarked by Khabib’s post-fight speech and very much reflected by the Abu Dhabi crowd rising to their feet and applauding an emotional Poirier during his post-fight interview.
This event showcased the best of MMA.
Overall, it was an excellent night of action, one which provides the perfect tonic to the lacklustre affair of UFC 112 nearly a decade ago.
Arguably it is the most significant aspect of this card in that from an entertainment standpoint, it serves as the ideal opener for the five-year deal with the Abu Dhabi Culture and Tourism Authority, giving MMA’s premier promotion momentum in an emerging market, which was certainly not the case in 2010.
It was an especially good evening for some of the fighters competing closer to home in the UAE.
Palestinian-American Belal Muhammad and Morocco’s Ottman Azaitar both scored popular victories in the capital, the latter producing one of the night’s highlights with the detonation of a thunderous right-hand on the ear of Teemu Packalen setting off an explosion of noise inside the arena.
However, there was no sound louder than the chorus of ‘Khabib’ which shook the arena’s foundations when he was crowned the undisputed UFC lightweight champion.
They came to see one man, and left having witnessed an indestructible force.
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