October 24, 2020 4:32:59 pm
Khabib Nurmagomedov is the first Muslim UFC champion and the most-visited Russian on Instagram. (AP)
After more than a year, Khabib Nurmagomedov (28: 0) returns to the Octagon on Saturday at UFC 254 in Abu Dhabi against Justin Gaethje (22: 2). The UFC lightweight championship and the Russian’s unbeaten record are at stake, but there’s more to the fight than meets the eye.
Nurmagomedov is an antithesis to the modern, brawl-heavy MMA, a non-stop grappler who shot into the mainstream through dominating superstar Conor McGregor. On Saturday he will face Gaethje – a violent puncher who is considered the Russian’s toughest test to date.
Who is Khabib Nurmagomedov?
Nurmagomedov, the first Muslim UFC champion and the most-visited Russian on Instagram, is arguably the biggest global star in MMA today. The traditional sheepskin headgear of papakha-wearing, bear-wrestling former sambo world champion was a great ambassador for the Russian Republic of Dagestan.
The mountainous region where the Greater Caucasus and the Caspian Sea meet is a constant supplier of wrestling champions, including Olympic gold medalist and three-time world champion Abdulrashid Sadulaev. It has become a sought-after destination for athletes, including India’s hopeful Olympic champion Bajrang Punia. But it is Nurmagomedov who put Dagestan on the map with his unprecedented dominance.
FILE – In this September 7, 2019 file photo, Russian Khabib Nurmagomedov (right) battles Dustin Poirier (Lafayette, La.) During a light mixed martial arts match at UFC 242 at Yas Mall in Abu Dhabi. (AP)
Nurmagomedov’s game plan is simple: defeat the opponents at the beginning of the round and knock them to the ground for five minutes. When it comes to execution, the Russian excels. Nurmagomedov uses his training in judo and combat sambo – a fighting style developed for the USSR military – and combines them with proper travel to defeat the opponent. On the ground, it flows in position to position, shifting and advancing until it can mount its enemy. From there, it is either a bludgeoning club or submissions a la chokes or twists. ???? Follow the express explained in the telegram
His top notch cardio means the pressure is relentless and Nurmagomedov’s punch is deceptively effective. No wonder, then, that Nurmagomedov holds the record for the most takedowns in a fight (21) and has only lost one round in his professional MMA career (the third round against Conor McGregor).
So, is Khabib the goat?
Due to the nature of the sport and its numerous weight classes, pound for pound greatest of all time is hard to call. Nurmagomedov’s flawless record is sure to get him talking. Nobody has amassed a 28-0 streak before.
However, there are asterisks. He achieved his first 16 victories on the Eastern European racetrack. The 12-0 streak in UFC is still impressive, but Nurmagomedov has only defeated four top five fighters in Rafael dos Anjos, Edson Barboza, McGregor and Poirier.
He failed to gain weight for one fight in 2013, and further weight loss bouts forced him to retire from another.
Saturday’s fight against Gaethje is also his third title defense in 30 months. The number of successful title defenses by other GOAT competitors are Jon Jones (11), Demetrious Johnson (11), Anderson Silva (10), Georges St-Pierre (9) and Jose Aldo (7).
Earlier this week Gaethje spoke about his opponent’s dispute over GOAT status.
“He will be remembered as one of the greatest of all time because he beats people,” Gathje told SportsCenter. “When you say this guy fought 28 times and only lost one round, that’s special. We will talk about this forever. He will not have a normal inheritance, he will create another. Another way for other people. ”
Who is Justin Gaethje?
Gaethje is a fighter whose videos you show non-MMA fans to convert.
In three years, over seven fights, Gaethje has become an eternal UFC fan favorite with his violent stand-up style. None of his seven bouts in promotion have exceeded the distance. In fact, his last decisive win was in 2014. And unlike Nurmagomedov, the majority of Gaethje’s seven fights in the UFC were against contenders for the title; Everyone deserves the “Night Battle” or “Night Achievement” bonus.
In this file photo dated May 10, 2020, Tony Ferguson (left) falls behind after stabbing Justin Gaethje during a UFC 249 mixed martial arts fight in Jacksonville, Florida. (AP)
The fun style of meet-in-the-middle-and-trade became frustrating after losing two to former masters Eddie Alvarez and Dustin Poirier. His undisguised aggression and his willingness to inflict and suffer serious damage earned him fans, but also mockery of opponents who claimed that Gaethje was “drunk”, “chinny” and speculation that the 31-year-old was due to the start of the CTE (Chronic traumatic encephalopathy).
At this point, coach Trevor Whitman forced a change in mentality. Gaethje remains a pressure fighter, but he is now shooting. Improved basics, subtleties, and footwork have led him to a four-fight winning streak. While Gaethje’s significant hits per minute remain ridiculously high at 8.37, the focus is much more on counter strikes and head movements.
In May, Gaethje ended his favorite colleague Tony Ferguson’s 12-fight winning streak to get the subtitle and a match against Nurmagomedov. Against Ferguson, Gaethje still looked good, with sharp movements, heavy hooks and kicks in good time to make the lead leg of his opponent ineffective. Its significant hit accuracy of 55.6% is the highest in UFC history. Against Ferguson it rose to 72.6%.
How do the two fit together?
The breakdown was essentially the same for all of Nurmagomedov’s fights. The Russian is at a disadvantage if it turns into a full battle; God save the enemy when Nurmagomedov takes him. ???? Follow the express explained in the telegram
Nurmagomedov’s last two wins were effortless and against excellent strikers McGregor and Poirier. The belief is that Gaethje’s pressure and heavy strikes can annoy Nurmagomedov, especially when the American gets angry. And while the champion has shown improvements in his stand-up game, Gaethje can endure the punishment and hand it out many times more.
Nurmagomedov is expected to dominate once the fight goes down. But here’s the twist: Gaethje is a formidable wrestler himself!
Gaethje had a 191-9 record with two championships at Arizona State High School and is an All-American in NCAA Division I. Gaethje’s credentials surpass the majority of UFC lightweights, and he’s the most successful wrestler Nurmagomedov has faced at the Octagon was. Due to his penchant for entertainment and punching, Gaethje has only attempted a single takedown in his UFC career, but his takedown defense rate is 80% thanks to effective scrambling.
And while Nurmagomedov mainly prevailed against freestyle or Greco-Roman wrestlers, Gaethje, like several American college wrestlers, is also trained in folk style. Unlike the other two disciplines, claws don’t lose points when exposing their back, and the basics are more based on control and finding a pin. The folklore training means that Gaethje will also try to get out of difficulties as soon as they are done.
“The thing with folk style wrestling, folk style wrestling, doesn’t happen anywhere else than in the USA,” Gaethje told MMAJunkie. “I’m just wrestling with folk style. I very rarely wrestle freestyle. In folk style I think the biggest factor is that you are allowed to expose your back without giving up points, which means you are crawling. Whenever he takes me down I’ll turn and roll in a way he has never felt in his life.
“What he’s done all his life, these guys have never been able to expose their backs to get out of a takedown for giving up points, and that is the first thing you learn in freestyle is not to expose your back. So you go straight to your stomach and give up a takedown. You never have to get up either. ”
Why should you watch
It’s cliché, but the main UFC 254 event really is the unstoppable force hitting an immovable object. For Nurmagomedov, this is a big step towards becoming an MMA GOAT. For Gaethje it is a Hollywood highlight of a career that was already a whirlwind full of highlight reel moments.
It’s also a throwback to the old days of MMA, when stylistic match-ups fascinated big fights. In modern times, when boos sound as soon as a fight goes down, Nurmagomedov has made wrestling entertaining with sheer brilliance and dominance. Gaethje is now the humble bat who will always remain popular. However, Saturday is a chance for him to dethrone the king.
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