Elizeu Zaleski dos Santos records a stoppage win in the UFC (Zuffa LLC)

Elizeu Zaleski dos Santos was on the cusp of a UFC title run in 2019, going into the summer on a seven-fight win streak including a spinning wheel kick knockout of future middleweight contender Sean Strickland. A couple of losses in his four fights since have sent dos Santos back to the unranked section of the welterweight division. However, the Capoeira fighter still maintains championship aspirations and a win over his next opponent would be a big step in the right direction.

Abubakar Nurmagomedov is often overshadowed by his legendary cousin Khabib Nurmagomedov but make no mistake, Abubakar more than holds his own among the best of the American Top Team super gym. The elder Nurmagomedov is a three-time world bronze medalist in Russian Sambo and has earned himself a 2-1 UFC record on top of his experience in the PFL and formerly World Series of Fighting.

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Betting Odds

Dos Santos is currently favored slightly at -120 over the fighter from Dagestan.

  • Elizeu Zaleski dos Santos: -120 (BetUS)
  • Abubakar Nurmagomedov: +100 (BetUS)

Note that betting odds may change throughout the week as we get closer to the event.

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Fight Breakdown

Both dos Santos and Nurmagomedov are supremely well-rounded fighters. The Brazilian comes from a background of Capoeira as his namesake and holds a black belt in Brazilian Jiu-jitsu. On the feet, for the most part, one would not guess he comes from the flashy acrobatic Capoeira style, but it’s how he blends in the unexpected spinning attacks and tricky sweeps inside the powerful fundamental kickboxing that makes him so dangerous. Dos Santos throws power into everything he brings, with an especially heavy overhand right, which he likes to counter with after a shell and roll to that side. He also has crushing body kicks, both the rear right and the switch left, and he will also adjust to southpaws by throwing the same kick from his own southpaw stance. He likes to counter the head kick by throwing his own low kick to the standing leg and will hit the switch to a sly leg sweep at the same time.

These small creative adjustments will be important against the strong basics-driven Nurmagomedov. That being said, dos Santos has to take care not to get too wild. He has been caught over-extending on his punches when he gets overly excited or sees a finish. While good timing and rhythm have kept him relatively safe, he would likely have had more success and even finished fights had he tightened up his technique at times when he elected to brawl.

Nurmagomedov strikes in a style familiar to anyone who has watched his Dagestani AKA teammates. This largely Sambo-based crowd has developed a style of striking which includes a light lead leg, fencing-like jab work, and an ability to always be in a position to lean away from counters. Educated head movement allows him to move in and out while touching his opponent and largely controlling the pace and range of striking exchanges, and then finally set up his takedown. The one caveat to this style is because he tends to lean back away from counters so often, someone like dos Santos could time one of those Capoeira explosions like a spinning wheel kick at the end of an exchange and catch him throwing his head away and neglecting the guard. However, his ability to stick and move with his right jab, and cut off the other side with a sharp left body kick puts him in a good position to strike in between the loopier extended shots that could come from dos Santos.

It would be smart of dos Santos to mix in the threat of the takedown. Nurmagomedov loves to both lean away from punches and follow counters back to the hips and level change. If dos Santos feints and fakes between striking and grappling, it gives Nurmagomedov less confidence in his reactions, but of the two men, it’s more likely Nurmagomedov would benefit from a prolonged grappling bout. Dos Santos, again, is a black belt. He is excellent at finding himself in the top position at the end of scrambles, and he has slick transitions from his guard and good passing to side control from inside his opponent’s guard. Nurmagomedov is also the least submission aware of that wave of AKA Dagestani fighters, but that doesn’t mean he is easy to submit.

What makes him so difficult is, if his opponent is unable to hit that initial submission attempt on the takedown or the immediate scramble, once settled into position, Nurmagomedov is suffocating. Many times opponents will latch onto guillotines and pose a real threat, but if he pops his head out, he will immediately go to body lock passing or half-body lock passing. He does the latter by maintaining a far undertook to protect his back while committing his hips to the passing side. He uses body punches and pressure to break down the leg and often allows his opponents to turn to their knees in order to ride the back. This style is grueling for the defending fighter, which is why someone like dos Santos who could very much catch a quick submission or scramble to the top position by exploding, could also very much fade the longer he is forced to carry Nurmagomedov’s weight and become a less effective grappler as the fight progresses.


This fight could go many ways. Both men are dangerous in every area of the fight be it at range, in the clinch, or on the mat. Dos Santos has the advantage outside at kicking range with his ability to switch stances and land body kicks from the outside while always maintaining the threat of a wild spinning or jumping attack.

At boxing range the gap narrows and dos Santos is still dangerous with good kickboxing and power, but Nurmagomedov is probably the slicker boxer with a jab and head movement.

On the inside, I give the edge to Nurmagomedov barring a quick submission from dos Santos, but as the fight goes on, especially if the two elect to strike early and wear each other down, I think Nurmagomedov’s sambo skills are a major factor in securing the later moments in the fight.

This fight could very easily be a pick’ em fight in my opinion, and because of this, I think there is more value in the underdog fighter Nurmagomedov at +100.

pick: Abubakar Nurmagomedov to win (+100 at BetUS)

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