Add yet another championship to the remarkable Nurmagomedov team and family.
The undefeated Usman Nurmagomedov, cousin of all-time MMA great Khabib Nurmagomedov, beat Patricky “Pitbull” Freire via unanimous decision (50-45, 50-44, 50-44) to win the Bellator lightweight title Friday night in the co-main event of Bellator 288 in Chicago. Usman is only 24 years old, and his coaches have said he could end up being the best of the Dagestani family.
Islam Makhachev, the longtime teammate of Khabib, won the UFC lightweight title last month at UFC 280, defeating Charles Oliveira via first-round submission with Khabib in his corner as coach. Khabib was not in Usman’s corner Saturday night, but made an appearance via video call during Usman’s postfight interview, courtesy of manager Ali Abdelaziz and Abubakar Nurmagomedov, another cousin who competes in the UFC.
The fight between Usman and “Pitbull” wasn’t particularly close. Usman’s fighting style is different than that of Khabib and Makhachev. He’s more of a striker with one of the best kicking arsenals in MMA, a stark contrast to the wrestling-heavy styles of most Dagestani fighters. Usman can wrestle and grapple when the fight calls for it, though, and had impressive moments on the ground against Freire, bloodying up the now-former champion with elbows.
Most of the fight featured “Pitbull” being unable to get inside Usman’s kicks to pull the trigger on his own offense, and Usman picking him apart from the outside. Freire’s brother Patricio is Bellator’s franchise fighter, the current featherweight champion and former lightweight titleholder.
Usman (16-0) is now 5-0 in Bellator with three finishes. Last year, ESPN ranked Usman at No. 5 on its list of the best MMA fighters in the world under 25 years old.
Freire (24-11) won the vacant Bellator lightweight title, which was given up by Patricio, by defeating Peter Queally via second-round TKO in November 2021. The 36-year-old Brazilian slugger has 10 knockouts in Bellator and is tied with Michael “Venom” Page for the most KO/TKOs in promotion history.
In the main event Saturday, Vadim Nemkov beat Corey Anderson via unanimous decision (48-47, 49-46, 49-46) to retain the Bellator light heavyweight title and take home the $1 million Bellator Light Heavyweight Grand Prix championship.
The two men fought back in April, and Anderson dominated with his wrestling before a clash of heads caused a fight-ending cut on Nemkov. The bout was ruled a no contest. In the rematch, Anderson went 0-for-15 on takedown attempts. Nemkov made the right adjustments and attacked Anderson’s legs with hard kicks throughout.
“In rematches, I never lose,” Nemkov said. “You guys didn’t believe me.”
ESPN had Anderson ranked No. 5 in the world at light heavyweight coming in and Nemkov at No. 8. Afterward, Bellator announced that Nemkov would defend his belt against former UFC title challenger Yoel Romero on Feb. 4 in Inglewood, California.
Nemkov (16-2, 1 NC) is unbeaten in 11 straight. The 30-year-old Russia striker is the protégé of all-time great Fedor Emelianenko. Anderson, a 33-year-old Illinois native, had a four-fight unbeaten streak snapped.