UFC lightweight champion Khabib Nurmagomedov put on a masterful performance in the second round of his UFC 254 title defense against Justin Gaethje. But despite a high-pressure attack, two of three judges had Gaethje winning the opening frame.
Official scorecards from Saturday’s pay-per-view main event showed a competitive fight in the first round before Nurmagomedov’s brilliant submission attack that forced Gaethje to tap from a triangle choke in the second round of the fight.
Veteran judges Sal D’Amato and Ben Cartlidge gave Gaethje the opening frame via 10-9 score, while Derek Cleary dissented for Nurmagomedov by the same tally.
The 10-9 scores for Gaethje marked just the second time in Nurmagomedov’s 13-fight UFC career where he lost a round – and it wasn’t unanimous.
Gaethje landed several big punches on the advancing Nurmagomedov in the first round, though none of them deterred the champ. He also landed several punishing leg kicks that had a visible effect. After initially avoiding a trip to the canvas, Nurmagomedov was able to get the takedown late in the frame and threaten with an armbar.
Gaethje’s initial success was erased in the second when Nurmagomedov walked through more painful leg kicks and quickly advanced off a takedown. Climbing into mount, he transitioned to a triangle choke from the top and cinched it as he rolled on to his back. Gaethje’s tap was missed by the ref, and he went unconscious.
After his 29th career win, Nurmagomedov retired in the cage and asked for the No. 1 spot on the pound-for-pound list. UFC President Dana White expected the 32-year-old champion’s retirement decision to stick.