Khabib Nurmagomedov: Combat’s Most Dominant
By James Lee
As the most consequential combat event of the year is set for pay-per-view on Saturday, the fighting community find themselves in an uncommon period at the moment.
Frankly, Khabib Nurmagomedov is the most assertive, active fighter in the world. As names such as Canelo Alvarez, Teofimo Lopez and Israel Adesanya cut him close for the coveted prize, nobody can dispute Nurmagemedov’s dominance, and it is difficult to dispute his claim to complete power.
As most those considered amongst the greatest of all time like Jon Jones, Anderson Silva and Georges St-Pierre have all suffered either defeat or daunting moments, it cannot be said Nurmagemedov has.
Perhaps some exaggerated flashes against Michael Johnson and Dustin Poirier can be recorded. However, if those individual and largely irrelevant moments from twenty-six professional contests are the only two that stand out, his dominance is maybe underappreciated.
Needless to say, he has not spent as long at the top of the UFC as those in question, but his path thus far is certainly abnormal to those noted above.
Most impressively, Nurmagomedov has been successful at a time in which the lightweight division is thriving and is looked at as mixed martial arts’ most fulfilled asset. As greater consequences were awarded to the heavier weight classes for the longest time, fighters at 155 lbs are now the most-watched and talented.
Nurmagomedov standing at the top of the division is impressive, but the fact he is cruising at the top is almost unfathomable.
It is commonly maintained that sportspeople, in particular, are only genuinely appreciated once they are retired, and that will likely be true in Nurmagomedov’s case. Maybe the gigantic support for rival Conor McGregor has damaged his eminence, but all that will be forgotten upon the conclusion of his career.
It cannot be anything but overlooked. One controversial rivalry cannot override a career ordinarily pictured as a falsehood.
When combat athletes are pictured cinematically, it is done so in a manner of how Khabib has acquired his combat skill. The portraits of Ivan Drago alike are deemed unrealistic, as it is considered that the best sportspeople in the world are surrounded by the best coaching staff and facilities from an early age to ensure they thrive.
Nurmagomedov instead spent most of his training in Dagestan with little to do but train. Not the best facilities, yet the most desirable outcome.
Though as his sole achievements are exemplary, acquiring a prolonged aura of greatness goes far beyond competition. A sustained legacy is about change. That is what becomes memorable, and for Nurmagomedov, his figurehead status at the top of the ever-emerging landscape of Russian martial arts is proving more than rare.
Since his ascension to the top of the UFC, a torrent of talent from the equivalent nation has followed. Russia topping overall medal tables at the amateur world level best represents that. If that amateur success, largely influenced by Nurmagomedov, translates to the professional realm, his praise will increase ten-fold.
American dominance has rang clear in licensed combat thus far, as fifty-four UFC champions have represented the United States, with other regions being bound to individual success. Yet, his influence on Russia makes a fighting revolution most possible.
As names like Bruce Lee, Royce Gracie and Anderson Silva have transformed martial arts perception, the Nurmagomedov name is on course to do the same. His reinvigoration of elite grappling dominance, even against those who have similarly honed in on that their entire professional career, is another indicator of a rare legacy-defining influence.
However, his potential competition successes must not be cast to the side as he arrives into the recurring championship theme by which the next challenger is deemed the toughest. That cannot happen, especially not as he approaches his hardest career test yet this Saturday.
For years, and even before Justin Gaethje’s most recent win streak, it has been said he is the most dangerous matchup at lightweight for Nurmagomedov, and a challenge that genuinely is deserving of all anticipation surrounding the contest.
Without question, the entire fighting world knows what Justin Gaethje brings, and despite that, few will ever equal it. Watching Gaethje is combat at its purest form. An ultra-aggressive fighter at the highest level that guarantees excitement. Unconventional and as most perform for promised, overarching purposes, Gaethje is different. His purpose is war. It just so happens that he has recognised championship capability alongside that.
That complete contradiction to caution is dangerous, especially to those who attempt to match it. Most likely, Khabib shall try to implement his strong grappling game, but if he finds himself in a fight in which he was not expecting or wanted, that is where danger is most prevalent. Escaping from Gaethje’s pressure is uniquely dangerous and something no fellow fighter can ever prepare for.
Since his arrival to the UFC, Gaethje has quickly established himself as the most electrifying fighter in the sport. He never has and will never be a part of a dull fight. His style would not allow it. Even the entire 150 seconds of his fight with Edson Barboza was edge-of-the-seat action, and the battle with Tony Ferguson will surely earn deserved recognition in the year-end awards as two ‘kill or be killed’ styles met in a rare circumstance.
Moreover, the Colorado fighter does not warm into a fight. His knockouts over James Vick and Edson Barboza in a combined four minutes note his immediate danger, and he has looked as devastating as ever since his first two career losses. He has turned from a vicious power puncher, with unmatched grit to a highly-skilled striker capable of beating the best in the world.
But for all the praise Gaethje shall receive, there is a reason Nurmagomedov is the betting favourite and ascending onto a different path than anybody else in the sport.
Nevertheless, all the fighting community can do is wait in anticipation as a potential twenty-five minutes between two of the sport’s most inspiring will transpire on Saturday. Usually, the hyping of a fight in terms of promised activity leads to disappointment, but as the pair have exemplified numerous times, that will not be the case in this contest.
But as the prospective paths of Khabib Nurmagomedov and Justin Gaethje have been laid out, the process must be appreciated in the moment, and UFC 254 is the peak of that enjoyment.