One of the most exciting divisions in all of combat sports just got a little bit more interesting.
Khabib Nurmagomedov was set to fight for No. 1 contender status against Donald Cerrone at May’s UFC 187 before a knee injury forced him to withdraw and begin a long road to recovery.
Holding a professional record of 22-0 with his most recent winagainst current UFC lightweight champion Rafael Dos Anjos, Nurmagomedov is one of the most feared fighters in a stacked division. With his rehab on track and going exactly as planned, he is looking for an early fall return, ideally on the UFC 192 card on October 3rd in Houston, Texas. The card will most likely be headlined by his AKA teammate, light heavyweight champion Daniel Cormier.
Perhaps most surprising is the fighter Nurmagomedov currently has his sights set on. For someone who was considered the uncrowned No. 1 contender before his injury, it was widely believed that he would be pitted against someone like Anthony Pettis, a big name who has shown championship caliber skills.
However, it was unveiled on this evening’s UFC Tonight that Nurmagomedov chose to call out rising star “Ragin” Al Iaquinta. This was a bit odf a shock in that Iaquinta currently ranked twelfth while he is is ranked third.
Despite the rankings, there aren’t many lightweight fighters with more momentum then Iaquinta. He has won his last four bouts, the most recent of which was a controversial split decision victory against the always game Jorge Masvidal at April’s UFC Fight Night 63.
Iaquinta, however, is dealing with some knee issues of his own. He was originally scheduled to face Bobby Green at UFC Fight Night 71 but Green was forced out due to an undisclosed injury. He then hit the lottery by Gilbert Melendez stepping in to replace the injured Green, but that was short lived as Melendez failed his post-fight drug test at UFC 188 and was suspended immediately.
Melendez would have easily been the highest profile fight of Iaquinta’s career, and not getting that chance was a tough pill to swallow. Despite his hunger to fight, fighting four times in eight months and losing two opponents in less than a month does exhaust both the mind and body.
Because of this, Iaquinta opted to get a nagging knee injury examined next Monday, which may result in surgery. Iaquinta has maintained that if surgery is not required, he would love an opportunity to face off against Nurmagomedov, making that the highest profile and toughest test of his career.
Both fighters are fan favorites because of their style of fighting as well as their personality outside of the octagon. While it’s unsure how the chips will fall, there’s no question that MMA fans will be waiting to see the what and who is on the horizon for both fighters.