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Khabib Nurmagomedov: The Grappling Mike Tyson

Khabib Nurmagomedov: The Grappling Mike Tyson

Conor McGregor of Ireland tackles Khabib Nurmagomedov of Russia in their UFC lightweight championship bout during the UFC 229 event

Khabib Nurmagomedov is the wrestler’s equivalent of a knockout puncher.

Even newcomers to the sport understand the knockout. Humans have been hitting each other in the heads the moment they developed the capacity to dislike each other. Somewhere along the way, we decided to spend time and money watching people do it. Dominance on the ground is much harder to quantify because of the steep learning curve. A technically dominant grappler can appear very boring to casual fans.

Khabib solves this be putting people on the ground and then punching them to death. Watching his opponents after a round is reminiscent of the effect Mike Tyson had on people.

Hit the ground, say goodnight

There have been a handful of grapplers who were guaranteed takedowns if they got their hands on you. There have been an even smaller number of grapplers who could finish the opponent a good percentage of the time.

But the fighters that could do both and stay undefeated? That’s just Ben Askren and Khabib. And if Mr. Askren would forgive me for saying so, Khabib brings a bit more pizzazz to the table.

Khabib can claim to have the greatest ground and pound in MMA today. Not since Fedor Emelianenko has ground and pound been so surgical. The ferocity with which Khabib throws his punches belies their accuracy and purpose. Many fighters will reach back and wing their punches, whiffing or clattering off the forearms.

Not Khabib.

He’ll draw his fist halfway, find a gap in the defense and still generate enough force to draw blood. It’s part of the reason he can work at a high pace; he lands so damn often. Khabib can afford to be liberal with his gas tank when he knows his opponent is paying a steeper price.

What plan B?

There’s a reason the sport is called “mixed” martial arts; you gotta do a bit of everything. The era of one-trick ponies is about 15 years passed,and even Demian Maia is on a two fight skid. No fighter can implement the same game plan through their entire career and hope to win a championship.

Except for Khabib.

He walks forward, swings a few cursory haymakers, grabs his opponent and unleashes hell. He’s implemented it in 25 fights and produced 25 victories . . . in the lightweight division. He’s beaten Rafael Dos Anjos, Michael Johnson and Edson Barboza. Respectively, that is a dark horse lightweight GoaT and two dynamite strikers. You’d think even one of them could force him to alter his game plan. But body kicks thud uselessly against his ribs and all but the heaviest punches are completely ignored. Small glimpses of hope are extinguished by yet another effortless takedown and destructive punches.

There’s more than enough theory on what it takes to beat an advancing grappler. The fact that the most talented division in MMA history can’t apply them in practice is downright terrifying.

The body of a freak

Khabib fought only 4 times in the past 3 years due to knee surgery and a borderline life-threatening weight cut. For a fighter relying on his athleticism, that would normally slow them down. But I’ll bet newer fans are shocked by the aforementioned information because you couldn’t tell by watching him fight.

Whether it’s his tolerance for pain or his ability to recover, Khabib is a machine.

It makes sense that such a beast would be immune to leg kicks and body kicks. His opponents attempt to inflict a sensation that his mind cannot comprehend. One does not reason with a ballistic missile.

Tony Ferguson is an absolute monster, and he may be the only man who can reasonably stand against Khabib. He too has tamed and crushed the best lightweights in the business. 25 men have attempted to dissuade the Eagle and every single one of them have tasted the canvas.

Ferguson is more than welcome to try his luck.



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