Elite lightweight prospects are set to fight in the co-main event spot when number 9 ranked, Arman Tsarukyan (18-3; 5-2 in the UFC), takes on the number 12 ranked, Damir Ismagulov (24-1; 5-0 in the UFC).
Arman Tsarukyan came into the UFC with the hope of having the youthful high-end talent to work his way up to ranked contention. To his unfavorable reality, his first fight was against the now lightweight champion, Islam Makhachev. While he lost the fight, many believe that it was the toughest win of Islam’s career, which is quite an admirable accomplishment for Arman and more than enough fuel to motivate him to re-begin his climb up the division to re-match the now-feared champion.
Where Arman has tasted defeat at the hands of the now champion and had one of the most technical five-round affairs you will see against Gamrot, Damir Ismagulov has not known defeat inside the UFC. With that said, he was in a grueling fight his last time around, so the necessary knowledge of battling through adversity is a demonstrable test he has overcome.
Come Saturday night, we will find out if Damir can surpass his greatest test to date. If so, he will likely earn a top 5 opponent. If, however, Arman wins, he will likely be only a few fights away from getting his long-awaited rematch with Islam. Knowing both have a lot to fight for coupled with each having high-end aspirations and skills makes this fight extremely important and interesting with regard to the future of the lightweight division.
Arman Tsarukyan is a -195 favorite over Damir Ismagulov.
- Tsarukyan: -195
- Ismagulov: +165
Arman Tsarukyan is one of the best fighters in the lightweight division. This may seem odd given his 5-2 record in the UFC, but, when you look at who he lost to – Islam and Gramrot – and the notion that many scored the Gamrot fight in Arman’s favor, you are left with seeing the man can compete on an equal field against any lightweight on the roster. His ability to do so is due to a culmination of elite skills, and these skills are seemingly the most valuable in today’s MMA. In particular, Arman combines lightning-quick striking with extremely talented wrestling that allows him a multitude of ways to win fights. While many fighters combine striking with wrestling, very few do it to the high degree as Arman does, and this is the reason why many, including myself, fully trust that he will be fighting for a belt by the time his career is over.
The combination of quickness on the feet with impressive wrestling is perhaps all that is needed to describe Arman. But, the specifics of his striking game are so advanced that it deserves a deeper dive. When done, you quickly ascertain that he uses strong movement with well-timed kicks to all levels of his opponent to control the distance and the direction of the fight. Once the opponent seeks to crash said distance, Arman will throw a tight lead hook that lands with snap and efficiency, given accuracy is a valuable strength of his. The style of fighting on the feet would make him an exciting prospect in his own right, but when you add the fact that he was able to go toe-to-toe with Gamrot in the wrestling department and you are left with having to see him as a top 5 talent currently in the division.
Similarly to Arman, Damir is a technical striker with good wrestling. The key differences between the two lies in movement and intent. For movement, Damir stands more upright in stance when compared to Arman and looks to march down his opponent by way of establishing his sound, technical boxing. Doing so successfully allows him to control, similarly to Arman, the pace, distance, and direction of the fight that bests suits him. Moreover, marching down his opponent open’s up the opportunity for Damir to wrestle if he so chooses, but the intent of winning is primarily with boxing albeit his wrestling is quite strong. This intent differential between him and Arman will be quite interesting to see how it plays out come Saturday, as strict boxing will likely not be enough to win given Damir favors technique over power. Because of this, the intent with how he seeks to fight will likely need to be altered, by way of either mixing in his strong wrestling and/or finishing off his tight, crisp boxing combinations with kicks to all three levels of his opponent. Luckily, for Damir, is that he has the skills in his fight tool chest to do so, but, the intent and path the victory he sees will need to be altered if he wishes to maximize his capabilities, a wish that will need to come to fruition if he desires to beat the hyper-talented opponent he is set to face.
Damir Ismagulov is a talented fighter and a dangerous opponent for nearly any lightweight to contend with. While true, I am confidently backing Arman Tsarukyan in this fight as I not only see more paths to victory but also, fully believe he is just that notch better in every major category of the fight. Because of this, I am predicting a decisive, but tough victory for him given Damir is by no means an easy task.
Bet: Arman Tsarukyan