Top 10 UFC Fighters Of The Decade: #8: Khabib Nurmagomedov
By Ross Markey
Undefeated. Unrivalled. Unmatched.
Whatever way you’d like to spin it — so far in his almost eight year stint with the promotion, Dagestan native, Khabib Nurmagomedov, has looked nothing short of completely comfortable.
Some of the division’s best strikers in recent time couldn’t overcome Nurmagomedov; Conor McGregor was submitted. Dustin Poirier was submitted. Edson Barboza was throttled. And, Rafael dos Anjos was completely dominated.
Up until UFC 229 in October of 2018, Khabib had yet to lose a single round in his Ultimate Fighting Championship tenure. Dominance personified.
At UFC 239 in April, Nurmagomedov is paired with lightweight mainstay, Tony Ferguson, for an incredible fifth time, with injuries and weight management mishaps scrapping four previous ties.
Khabib will attempt to secure a third successful title defence, following his UFC 242 win over Dustin Poirier and bad-blooded submission of Conor McGregor — but this matchup with ‘El Cucuy’ represents so much more than just a championship match.
Both Khabib and Ferguson have established staggering twelve fight win streaks each, with both men posing a air-tight argument regarding lightweight all-time supremacy with a victory.
Nurmagomedov is not only one of the most dominant fighters in the promotion’s history, but the Dagestan native has introduced an audience to an entirely different grappling style. We’ve seen traditional wrestlers like Georges St-Pierre, Matt Hughes, Daniel Cormier, and Cain Velasquez dominate their respective divisions during their heydays, but the level of Nurmagomedov’s wrestling is almost unrivalled.
The Sambo practitioner has set record after record in the UFC, most notably in his matchup with the since disgraced, Abel Trujillo. The 31-year-old landed a shocking twenty one separate takedowns in the three round bout.
Against Edson Barboza, one of the main questions surrounding the matchup, was the sheer gulf in striking between the two. Barboza is an explosive Muay Thai practitioner — with some of the most polished striking in the lightweight ranks ever. Before the clash, Barboza entered with some of the best takedown defense on the roster. Three rounds later, Nurmagomedov had landed four takedowns as Barboza glared at the clock as each round wound to a demoralising close.
In another standout performance, Nurmagomedov scored three takedowns against Conor McGregor, as well as a second round overhand-right knockdown on his way to a dominant fourth round neck crank submission victory.
Even against the dangerous Dustin Poirier, Khabib managed seven takedowns before a rear-naked choke win. Poirier described Nurmagomedov’s grappling perfectly; “I can’t keep him off me”.
Strikers tend to freeze when paired with Nurmagomedov, as with any wrestling based opponent. The constant threat of an impending takedown is prevalent, leading to mistakes in striking defence. Case in point — Khabib’s knockdown of McGregor. The Dagestani faked a dive for the left leg of the former two-weight world champion, before launching an over-hand right. Ahead of the pairing, much was made of the distinct striking advantage McGregor would claim. The knockdown displayed a wily improvement in Nurmagomedov’s standup approach.
For an undefeated fighter to rank at #8 on this Top 10 list may be questionable to some of you, but a cocktail of injuries and overall inactivity due to which, has limited Nurmagomedov to just twelve fights in eight years.
A dominant spell on top of the lightweight pile could realistically force Nurmagomedov to the upper tier of a list like this. As mentioned earlier, the meeting with Ferguson is pivotal in terms of the all-time lightweight best complexion.