UFC 242 Fight Retrospective: Khabib vs Iaquinta (Full fight video)
With UFC 242 fast approaching, Sportskeeda takes a look back at what turned out to be one of the biggest challenges of Khabib Nurmagomedov's career when he faced a relentless Al Iaquinta at UFC 223 in 2018.
The background: A series of unfortunate events
During the build-up to UFC 223 you would have been forgiven for asking if this event was in fact cursed by some sort of higher power. From Conor McGregor's infamous attack on a bus full of fighters to multiple freak accidents leading to late drop outs, nothing around UFC 223 ran smoothly.
The original main event bout between Khabib Nurmagomedov and Tony Ferguson fell through after Ferguson tripped over some wiring at a press event, completely shattering all of the ligaments in his knee - making this the third time in three years that this particular match-up fell at the final hurdle.
Luckily, the UFC had a more than worthy replacement ready to step up and save the main event, in featherweight champion Max Holloway. However, the UFC 223 curse struck again and Holloway, during the process of cutting weight, was deemed unfit to compete by medical professionals.
Unbelievably, this wasn't the last of the troubles surrounding the main event. Anthony Pettis was offered the chance to step in, but was unable to cut down to 155lbs in time. Paul Felder offered his services, but was turned away by the State Athletic Commission as he was not a ranked fighter.
Finally, the number 11 ranked lightweight in the world Al Iaquinta was offered the fight, and in typical fashion, the New Yorker did not think twice about stepping into the cage with one of the most lethal fighters on the planet.
For Iaquinta, this fight was basically a free hit. It is incredibly rare that a fighter ranked outside of the top 10 is handed a title shot, and with the opportunity coming at such late notice, there was always the possibility that Iaquinta could capitalise on an opponent who hadn't prepared for his style.
In reality, the fight started pretty much exactly as you would expect any Khabib fight to start, with the Dagestani wrestler completely dominating his opponent on the ground for two full rounds.
However, in those opening rounds, Al Iaquinta did something that very few fighters before him had managed. He survived Khabib's onslaught. All of a sudden, the style of the fight completely changed, and both men engaged in a battle of striking on the feet - something we have rarely seen Khabib do before or since.
In the remaining rounds, we saw an incredible display of heart and courage from Iaquinta, who walked forward, eating everything his opponent had to throw at him and waiting for a moment, an opening to land a big shot on Khabib - but that moment never came.
Khabib claimed a well-deserved unanimous decision victory in the end, and showed the world that there is more to his skill-set than just a vicious ground and pound game - he proved he can handle himself on his feet too.
Iaquinta, on the other hand, not only gave us an incredible display of heart and courage, but he also proved that he can cut it with the best fighters in the world in his division.
UFC 223 shaped the entire lightweight division as we know it heading into UFC 242 this weekend.
The unfortunate injury to Tony Ferguson has removed him from title contention ever since. Holloway's fleeting appearance led to an eventual interim title fight with Dustin Poirier, who will fight Khabib for the undisputed belt at UFC 242 this weekend.
Then there is Conor, who attacked Khabib's bus beforehand, causing injuries to a number of fighters who were originally scheduled to be on the under-card. Unbelievably, these criminal actions were enough to earn McGregor a title shot in Khabib's next outing.
Meanwhile, Al Iaquinta's stock rose considerably after UFC 223; he now sits at number 6 in the UFC lightweight rankings.
Khabib Nurmagomedov will defend his UFC lightweight championship against Dustin Poirier this weekend at UFC 242. Keep up to date with all the news at @SportskeedaMMA on Twitter.