After an astonishing turn of events on Friday, Khabib Nurmagomedov vs. Al Iaquinta is the new main event of UFC 223.
The bout came together after a chain of events kicked off when the New York State Athletic Commission, which is overseeing the event on Saturday night at Barclays Center in the New York City borough of Brooklyn, pulled original headliner Max Holloway from the bout due to concerns over his weight cut.
The bout will be a five-round fight. If Nurmagomedov wins, he becomes UFC lightweight champion. If Iaquinta wins, he will not become champion, as he weighed in at 155.2, two-tenths of a pound over the championship weight limit.
Holloway, the UFC featherweight champion, had accepted the lightweight fight on six days’ notice after Tony Ferguson had to pull out of the original main event, and insisted he was okay to continue cutting weight and was “close,” but the commission deemed Holloway medically unfit to compete.
From there, the UFC attempted to make a bout between Nurmagomedov and former UFC and WEC lightweight champion Anthony Pettis. Pettis, whose originally scheduled fight with Michael Chiesa was scrapped on Thursday after Chiesa was injured in Conor McGregor’s van attack, weighed in at 155.2 pounds, two-tenths of a pound over the limit for a championship fight.
While the NYSAC had set a precedent in allowing MMA championship fighters an extra two hours to weigh-in last year, when Daniel Cormier made weight on a second attempt for his UFC 210 bout with Anthony Johnson in Buffalo, the scale was soon removed and Pettis was not allowed another attempt to weigh-in.
The UFC then attempted to make a fight between Nurmagomedov and Paul Felder, who was scheduled to fight Al Iaquinta on the card. Felder, who is on a three-fight win streak, was reportedly not allowed to fight Nurmagomedov by NYSAC because he is not ranked in the UFC’s top 15 lightweights.
With Iaquinta now fighting Nurmagomedov, both Felder and Pettis, who train together at Milwaukee’s Rufousport, are without opponents, bringing a card originally scheduled for 13 fights down to nine.
In Iaquinta (13-3), the UFC gets one of the UFC’s most successful lightweights, but also one who has often been at odds in the company. The Long Island native is on a five-fight win streak and has won eight of his past nine, but also missed two years due to injuries and contractual disputes.
Nurmagomedov brings a 25-0 record into the bout, including victories in all nine of his UFC contests.