— Горный ветер (@neluibit) April 9, 2018
Undefeated lightweight star Khabib Nurmagomedov has always had a massive following in his home of Dagestan, and in larger Russia. Now that he’s the UFC lightweight champion—a distinction he earned with a UFC 223 unanimous decision defeat of Al Iaquinta—his stardom in his homeland looks like it’s ready to rocket to new heights.
Days after winning the UFC lightweight title, the undefeated star touched down in Makhachkala, Dagestan, and received a true hero’s welcome, as throngs of locals awaited his arrival to show their support. See video footage of Nurmagomedov’s homecoming in the video a the top of this post, and some accompanying photographs below (via Karim Zidan of BloodyElbow).
UFC lightweight champ Khabib Nurmagomedov has arrived in his native Dagestan, where he received a hero’s welcome from fans awaiting his plane to arrive pic.twitter.com/H9cY9mcTdC
— Karim Zidan (@ZidanSports) April 9, 2018
With his defeat of Iaquinta, Nurmagomedov extended his record to an insane 26-0—an almost unprecedented score in the perilous sport of mixed martial arts.
Iaquinta, of course, was not the man Nurmagomedov originally expected to fight at UFC 223. Far from it.
Initially, Nurmagomedov was expected to battle then interim champion Tony Ferguson. Regrettably, Ferguson was forced out of the fight after he sustained a freak injury while handling his UFC 223 promotional duties, which marked the fourth time a scheduled Nurmagomedov vs. Ferguson bout has been cancelled.
When Ferguson withdrew from the contest, UFC featherweight champion Max Holloway stepped up on a mere 6 days notice. Unfortunately, he too was forced out off the card when the New York State Athletic Commission decided they didn’t like the look of his weight cut.
After briefly considering Anthony Pettis and Paul Felder, the UFC then gave the incredibly gusty Al Iaquinta the last-minute fight with Nurmagomedov.
Having earned the UFC lightweight title, Nurmagomedov is likely to make his first defense sometime toward the end of this year—perhaps in a rescheduled bout with Ferguson, or even against Conor McGregor, who is currently in hot water.
What do you think the future holds for Khabib Nurmagomedov?
This article first appeared on BJPenn.com on 4/9/2018.