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Press any seasoned observer to identify the sport’s most dominant
fighters, and it will not take long before he or she zeroes in on
Khabib
Nurmagomedov
.

The reigning undisputed
Ultimate Fighting Championship
lightweight titleholder carries
a perfect 28-0 professional record and an ice-cold disposition that
enhances the intimidation factor associated with him. Nurmagomedov
has rattled off 12 consecutive victories—Rafael dos
Anjos
, Michael
Johnson
and Al Iaquinta
are among the crossed-off names on his hit list—since he joined the
UFC roster in 2012, many of them in lopsided fashion. The
American Kickboxing Academy
export last appeared at UFC 242 on
Sept. 7, when he submitted interim champion Dustin
Poirier
with a third-round rear-naked choke to unify the
155-pound crown.

As Nurmagomedov waits for the fog of the coronavirus pandemic
to clear, a look at a few of the rivalries that made him a
household name:

Nurmagomedv and Ferguson have been matched up five times and
have yet to fight. (Photo: Mike Sloan/Sherdog)



Five times the UFC has tried to pair Ferguson with Nurmagomedov,
and five times those plans have fallen through. The reasons for the
cancellations range from injury to global pandemic. Despite the
fact that they have not yet locked horns inside the cage, the
sport’s top two lightweights have continued to build heat between
one another. Ferguson ruffled the Russian sambo practitioner’s
feathers during an ESPN interview in early April, when he claimed
“The Eagle” was “scared” and “running” to such an extent that he
“bailed out” on their scheduled UFC 249 confrontation. The event
was later postponed, and Nurmagomedov returned to his native
Russia, where he finds himself under no-travel restrictions due to
the COVID-19 crisis. He responded to Ferguson’s accusations via
Instagram: “You know what’s interesting? My name is Khabib. I am
not coronavirus. My name is not coronavirus, but the number one
thing that makes me crazy is when people say I pull out or I do
something. I [don’t] understand this. I’m still training since
December. I train very hard since December.” The jury remains out
on whether or not Ferguson and Nurmagomedov will ever face each
other in the Octagon.

Nurmagomedov handed McGregor an embarrassing defeat. (Photo:
Getty Images)



The indomitable Nurmagomedov retained his lightweight crown and
secured the most significant victory of his career when he
submitted McGregor with a neck crank in the fourth round of their
UFC 229 headliner on Oct. 6, 2018 at T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas.
McGregor tapped 3:03 into Round 4, failing in his bid to reclaim
the 155-pound throne in his first appearance inside the Octagon in
nearly two years. More than 20,000 fans were in attendance,
resulting in a $17 million live gate—a record for an MMA event in
the state of Nevada. As many anticipated, Nurmagomedov overwhelmed
the Irishman with determined takedowns, focused ground-and-pound
and suffocating positional control. McGregor was essentially a
non-factor outside of the third round. Nurmagomedov struck for
another takedown in the fourth, climbed to mount and unleashed
punches before transitioning to the back, his master plan unfolding
for all to see. Soon after, he wrapped his arms around McGregor’s
neck, closed off escape routes and prompted the tapout. Afterward,
Nurmagomedov scaled the fence and attempted to attack Dillon
Danis
, one of McGregor’s cornerman, his actions inciting a
melee on the floor of the arena. Meanwhile, two men in
Nurmagomedov’s entourage entered the cage and took swings at
McGregor, with the former champion returning fire in self-defense.
Pandemonium ensued, marring an otherwise memorable event.

Barboza absorbed a horrendous beating at the hands of
Nurmagomedov. (Photo: Getty Images)



Nurmagomedov grounded, pounded and systematically dismantled the
former Ring of
Combat
champion across three rounds in the UFC 219 co-main
event on Dec. 30, 2017 at T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas. Scores were
30-25, 30-25 and 30-24, all for Nurmagomedov. Barboza was out of
his depth. Nurmagomedov marched him down with punches, pushed him
to the fence and tripped him to the floor; he often appeared amused
by his work, a sadistic grin stretching across his face. Barboza
absorbed a horrendous beating whenever he hit the mat, as the
Dagestani brute unleashed his ferocious brand of ground-and-pound
with short punches and elbows. The scene repeated itself in all
three rounds. Barboza took his shots when the two men were upright
but too often found himself either operating off his back foot,
struggling for air in the clinch or fighting for survival on his
back.


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