'Zabeast': Russian star Zabit shines in biggest win of career at UFC 235
Magomedsharipov, 28, was given the nod on the scorecards after pouring on pressure in the second and third frames after Stephens marginally got the best of a cagey first round.
As soon as Zabit stepped up a gear, however, it became apparent exactly why he has captured the imagination of fight fans the world over with his performances inside the Octagon, and why he was described by MMA coach Mark Henry as the 'most natural' fighter he had ever seen walk into his gym.
When Stephens' rhythm had been evaluated, Zabit slowly began to open his box of tricks. The American was forced to evade hook kicks, trip takedowns, and even an Anthony Pettis-style jump kick from the cage.
While unquestionably game, Stephens had no significant riposte to Magomedsharipov's assault. A period of sustained pressure in the second saw the Russian enjoy an extended spell in top control but Stephens – who hasn't been submitted in 10 years – was too wily to leave a joint or an artery exposed long enough for Zabit to capitalize.
In the final frame, and with the momentum very much established, the Russian fighter's exemplary footwork presented a non-stationary target as he continued to crack his opponent with scything precision strikes and, as the final bell rang, it was obvious whose hand would be raised.
Zabit Magomedsharipov is a talent, but he was definitely in a fight on Saturday night. Further challenges await.
"Jeremy is a very tough opponent. He has lots of experience in the UFC. This is a big step up for me," Zabit said to UFC commentator Joe Rogan after the fight, via a translator.
And when he asked the fighter who is now a perfect 5-0 in the UFC about his next step, he suggested that the journey has yet to reveal itself but the destination has certainly been identified.
"I would like to face someone from the top 10, whoever it is to take me one step closer to a title shot."Also on rt.com UFC 235: Jon Jones and Anthony Smith battle for the UFC light-heavyweight title in Las Vegas