The 24-year-old makes his first title defense on Friday night in the main event.
The name Nurmagomedov commands respect.
Khabib Nurmagomedov won all 29 of his fights en route to becoming one of the most dominant figures in the sport. His father, Abdulmanap Nurmagomedov, left behind a legacy of his own as a trainer, training at least 18 fighters who became world champions.
Usman Nurmagomedov is the latest member of the family to set new standards for greatness. The undefeated Nurmagomedov is the reigning Bellator lightweight champion and makes his first title defense later tonight against Benson Henderson in the main event of Bellator 292.
“I’m fully aware that some people are watching me because of Khabib and our name,” Nurmagomedov says, speaking through a translator. “There is nothing wrong with that. Obviously, there is pressure to continue the legacy. I also want to show myself that I am the best in the world.”
This fight is also part of the Bellator Lightweight World Grand Prix. Should Nurmagomedov win the tournament, it would be a major achievement for the 24-year-old fighting sensation. At the opposite end of the eight-man bracket is former featherweight champion AJ McKee, who is hungry to add a new piece of gold to his collection at Nurmagomedov’s expense.
“I don’t think it’s a surprise that other people want to fight me,” says Nurmagomedov (16-0). “I’m the champion. As for me, I have a rule that I always focus on the next opponent. I don’t focus on anyone but Benson. I never look at the man in front of me.”
Henderson (30–11) is no longer in his prime, but even at 39, he remains dangerous. A former UFC lightweight champion and perennial contender in Bellator, he has won his last two fights using a style and approach that Nurmagomedov has studied carefully.
“I don’t expect anything new from him,” Nurmagomedov says. “I think he’s a very one-sided fighter. In the last four or five years, he hasn’t progressed or changed his style. But I know he is a tough opponent and it will be a serious, spectacular fight.”
Representing Bellator as the top lightweight champion in the world, Nurmagomedov is poised to further his family’s pedigree with a dominant title win on pay-per-view.
“My goal is to grow and improve,” Nurmagomedov says. “Given by God, I will be the winner again.”
A win is crucial for Merab Dvalishvili and Petr Yan
The winner of tomorrow’s UFC Fight Night main event, pitting Merab Dvalishvili against Petr Yan, has title implications.
Aljamain Sterling is the reigning bantamweight champion and his next title defense will take place against Henry Cejudo this May at UFC 288. If Sterling wins, he will set the new record for consecutive bantamweight title defenses. He is then expected to make the move to featherweight, which, in turn, will open up the bantamweight title picture.
There is depth at bantamweight, but the top contenders are Sean O’Malley, Dvalishvili, Chito Vera and Yan. Tomorrow’s match is especially important for Yan, who is currently on his first losing streak. If he beats Dvalishvili, who has looked extremely impressive on his eight-fight winning streak, then he’ll be right back in the title picture.
Dvalishvili will put himself in an amazing position with a win. Jan is an established, elite bantamweight and it will be extremely difficult to keep Dvalishvili out of the title contention if he wins this fight.
Ryan Spann returns to the Octagon at UFC Fight Night
For the first time since beating Dominick Reyes in another galaxy at UFC 281 last November, Ryan Span will return to the cage tomorrow. He will fight Nikita Krylov at UFC Fight Night, a fight that was originally scheduled to take place in late February and was postponed after Krylov was unable to compete.
Spann (21–7) has incredible knockout power and his submission prowess should not be underestimated. Krylov (29–9) is exactly the type of opponent Spann is looking for. Ranked two spots ahead of him in sixth, Krylov doesn’t have the same cardio or strength as Spann, both of which are his trademarks.
This is a fight Spann must win. It will allow him to jump from eighth to sixth – or possibly even fifth – in the class and extend his winning streak to three at the expense of another top-10 contender.
Although Hill Jamahal has secured a foothold at the top of the light heavyweight division, there remains plenty of room for the top contenders. Spann will become one with a win against Krylov, especially if he does it in emphatic fashion.
The Pick ‘Em Section:
UFC Fight Night bantamweight match: Petr Yan vs. Merab Dvalishvili
Choose: Merab Dvalishvili
Bellator 292 Lightweight Title Fight: Usman Nurmagomedov vs. Benson Henderson
Choose: Usman Nurmagomedov
Bellator 292 Lightweight Round: Tofiq Musayev vs. Alexander Shabily
Choose: Tofik Musayev
UFC Fight Night bantamweight bout: Said Nurmagomedov vs. Jonathan Martinez
Choose: Nurmagomedov said
UFC Fight Night 221: Ryan Spann vs. Nikita Krylov
Choose: Ryan Spahn
Last week: 4–1
Record 2023: 22–12
Justin Barrasso can be reached at JBarrasso@gmail.com. Follow him on Twitter @Justin Barrasso.