The UFC returned to Fight Island on Saturday for UFC 254. The highly-anticipated bout featured lightweight champion Khabib Nurmagomedov facing interim champion Justin Gaethje in order to unify the belt. The fans expected fireworks, and Nurmagomedov provided them en route to his victory.
Nurmagomedov secured the victory during the second of five rounds. He took Gaethje to the ground and then did what he does best. He used a triangle choke to put the interim titleholder to sleep and remained undefeated. Once Gaethje recovered he immediately went over to a weeping Nurmagomedov and offered his congratulations.
Gaethje originally created excitement for a potential fight against Nurmagomedov in May. He defeated Tony Ferguson during UFC 249 to capture the interim lightweight title and then immediately issued a challenge. He told the world that he wanted to face off with Nurmagomedov and unify the belt.
He made this proclamation to commentator Joe Rogan after securing his TKO victory over Ferguson. He said at the time that there is no other challenge that he wants and that he was prepared to face the undefeated Nurmagomedov. Gaethje is currently on a four-fight winning streak and has accumulated a 22-2 record in his career.
"Khabib is the best in the world," he said during the post-fight interview. "I've been working since I was 4 for challenges like this. I'm happy to represent the United States of America against Dagestan — or Russia's best. He's 28-0, and there's no other challenge I want right now. I want to fight him."
Prior to the highly-anticipated UFC 254 bout, Nurmagomedov had successfully defended his title twice. However, he remained away from the octagon for more than a year. He was previously scheduled to face off with Ferguson during UFC 249, but a travel ban kept him in Russia. Gaethje was the replacement for the main event and set up the title bout with his victory.
One interesting twist from the match is that UFC President Dana White previously contacted both Gaethje and Nurmagomedov about a potential spot on The Ultimate Fighter. He first reached out to Nurmagomedov to see if he would be interested in coaching opposite Conor McGregor and then fighting him at the end of the season. According to the fighter's agent, Ali Abdelaziz, he shut down the opportunity.
"Last week, Dana White called me, said 'Ali what do you think about if Khabib wins, him and Conor will do The Ultimate Fighter on ESPN?'" Abdelaziz told TMZ. "Khabib turned it down. ... He said, 'This man is human trash. He's garbage. When you touch s—, you smell like s—. [Conor] hasn't earned the fight." Abdelaziz also said that the UFC made the same pitch to Gaethje if he reigns victorious during the upcoming matchup.