UFC 185 saw a string of upsets throughout the card, particularly with the final two title contests. In the headliner, Rafael dos Anjos capped off a great performance by defeating Anthony Pettis and becoming the new UFC lightweight champion. However, the big winner in this picture is actually Khabib Nurmagomedov.
“The Eagle” has been on the sidelines for an extended period of time due to an injury. Nurmagomedov’s inactivity has kept him out of the immediate title picture, but he remains undefeated at 22-0 and his resume is full of wins over credible opposition. His combat sambo background, combined with his relentless pressure, have made him a wrecking machine who has run through everyone put in front of him, including the new UFC lightweight champion.
Dos Anjos and Nurmagomedov met last April at UFC on Fox 11. Nurmagomedov emerged victorious via unanimous decision. He took down the Brazilian throughout the contest, nailing six takedowns in their three-round affair. The FightMetric numbers tell the story. Nurmagomedov pushed forward, throwing a total of 135 strikes to accompany the aforementioned takedowns. Nurmagomedov also managed to secure six passes while on the ground, showing why his ground game is so rightfully feared.
With dos Anjos now reigning as the current lightweight champion, the path for Nurmagomedov to title contention is pretty clear. He has a fight against Donald “Cowboy” Cerrone in May which is serving as a title eliminator. Cerrone’s striking is good enough to give Nurmagomedov problems, but Nurmagomedov’s forward pressure could be enough to disrupt Cerrone’s rhythm.
If Nurmagomedov is able to get past Cerrone (and that’s no sure thing), the UFC has a ready-made rivalry match between Nurmagomedov and dos Anjos. Despite Nurmagomedov’s prior clear victory over the champ, there’s plenty of tension between the pair. That’s because in the lead up to their April bout, Nurmagomedov decided to show the Twitter world his comedic skills. Nurmagomedov also irked the Brazilian with his choice of shirts.
It’s pretty clear the UFC is banking on Nurmagomedov ascending to title contention. In the moments leading up to dos Anjos and Pettis squaring off, the UFC broadcast team chose to focus a lot on Nurmagomedov. That’s saying a lot given the fact Nurmagomedov has been out of action for nearly a year. They even mentioned Nurmagomedov’s victory over dos Anjos which, while it is a known fact, is still a statement that should’ve waited until after the main event. In contrast, Cerrone was an afterthought in the broadcast team’s mind despite the fact that “Cowboy” was in the building.
Nurmagomedov knows that although Cerrone is a dangerous fighter, it’s a winnable fight for him. He also knows he already owns a convincing victory against dos Anjos. Those two facts have clearly given Nurmagomedov a lot of confidence heading into UFC 187. He’s already begun to warn the Brazilian champion that he’s coming for the UFC belt, and we’ll surely hear more from Nurmagomedov in regards to the title picture in the build-up to his showdown with Cerrone. We know the combat sambo specialist has all the skills and potential in the world to become UFC champion, but now he has the added confidence boost of knowing he’s already beaten the current champ. UFC 187 is a stacked card to begin with, but it’s safe to say the lightweight division just added another wrinkle in the title picture prior to the event.