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Tim Graham: Slow start, low blows are minor inconveniences to Bibulatov's debut

The KeyBank Center crowd didn't seem to mind Magomed Bibulatov's political affections as much as the boring start to his UFC debut.

Bibulatov and expected cannon fodder Jenel Lausa danced for most of the first round of UFC 210's opening match Saturday night. Bored fans booed and hollered occasional "Baba Booey!" and "Hit 'em with the Hein!" catchphrases from Howard Stern's radio show.

Bibulatov is a prized prospect the UFC hopes to groom into a viable challenger for seemingly invincible 125-pound champion Demetrious Johnson. Bibulatov also is backed by his professed hero, Chechen despot Ramzan Kadyrov, a proponent of sharia law suspected of murdering kidnapping and imprisoning critics and opponents.

Oh, well. As Bibulatov became more comfortable in the octagon -- in part by delivering one square knee and one square kick to Lausa's crotch -- and it became increasingly evident Bibulatov was a higher class of fighter, the crowd came around.

He defeated Lausa easily despite losing a point for those low blows. Bibulatov took Lausa to the ground for the second half of the match for a unanimous decision.

"I planned to have more of a standup, back-and-forth war," Bibulatov said through a translator, "but because the point got taken away I had to correct the plan a little bit."

Bibulatov indicated he has been asked about fighting Johnson for too long. In an interview with The Buffalo News on Wednesday, he laughed wearily when asked if he's more exhausted by the topic of Johnson or Kadyrov.

"Both subjects are very painful," Bibulatov said.

The questions will continue. Bibulatov, a fighter averse to trash talk, didn't call out Johnson after Saturday's victory.

No, Bibulatov was careful. He instead declared himself ready for a top-10 or top-15 flyweight opponent.

The problem is there aren't enough elite 125-pound mixed-martial artists on the planet.

The flyweight division is thin, which has helped Johnson retain his UFC title belt since 2012. Yet Johnson is no paper champion. He is considered the world's best pound-for-pound fighter.

Bibulatov can be cultivated into a villainous challenger. In UFC competition, a marketable back story is almost as valuable to a fighter's advancement as his talent.

He made a strong first impression on the audience and a knuckle-imprinted impression on Lausa's face.

Bibulatov was a minus-500 betting favorite, meaning a $50 wager would win only $10.

Lausa was in control for 22 seconds of the 15-minute match. Bibulatov outstruck him threefold, 94-31, and delivered more "significant strikes," 51-10.

"When I got the point taken away," Bibulatov said of referee John McCarthy's below-the-belt deduction, "I decided to go to the ground and take control and not take any risks."

Bibulatov recorded the match's two takedowns, had Lausa on the mat for 7:15 and never was on his back.

"I feel great," Bibulatov said before leaving the octagon. "The first fight in a new promotion is always hard. It was a little bit challenging to concentrate, but it turned out well so I’m happy with the result."

Bibulatov is 14-0, but has fought only twice in the United States.

Johnson is 25-2-1 and will fight No. 3 contender Wilson Reis on April 15.

Johnson won the flyweight title over Ian McCall in June 2012 and has defended it 10 straight times. Johnson hasn't lost since Dominick Cruz (now the top-ranked 135-pound contender) took a unanimous decision in October 2011.

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