Finally, the time is upon us.
Barring any stupid injuries or weight-cutting mishaps (please don’t let us down Khabib), the battle between the current UFC interim lightweight champion Tony Ferguson and Khabib Nurmagomedov is set to go off without a hitch. Both men have hurtled their fair share of scathing vitriolic banter to each other for what seems like an eternity now, but they finally get to back up all the tough talk at UFC 223 on April 7.
One of the more eccentric figures in the sport today, Tony Ferguson isn’t your run of the mill lightweight. His combinations can be both controlled and wild all at once with unorthodox footwork and pressure that leaves opponents scratching their heads as well as getting punched in the face. Ferguson has a tendency to draw opponents into a brawl whether they want to or not and in that chaos the interim lightweight champion thrives.
As far as a game plan is concerned, Tony Ferguson is going to have to be wary of a kick heavy strategy. That said, he should utilize front kicks to keep the Russian grappler at bay. Round kicks will only give Nurmagomedov an opening to take the fight to the ground. Front snap kicks will be harder to catch and keep Nurmagomedov from rushing in with a takedown. Ferguson’s jab from both stances will also be key to success. Once again, keeping Nurmagomedov at bay is paramount and the jab will both measure distance as well as set up his power shots beautifully. His uppercut and body punches will play a major role in this fight, and making a Nurmagomedov taste his power will also be key. Nurmagomedov is fearless coming forward, so Ferguson will have to offer offense with some legit stopping power to slow the Russian’s momentum.
Another x-factor to keep in mind is the battle in the clinch. Nurmagomedov is strong in the clinch, but with his own wrestling chops as well as a propensity to throw unpredictable strikes, Ferguson can use tie-ups to launch unorthodox offense from a spinning elbow to dropping down for a kneebar.
Inside the Corner
If I was apart of the corner team, a primary focus would be reminding Ferguson that a brawl will lead to grappling exchanges. While he may have confidence in his ground game, there’s no reason to give Nurmagomedov his only window to win by obliging to take part in a grappling match. Lateral movement and that funky footwork Ferguson is known for will likely be the deciding factor and I’d be screaming for that from the corner until I was hoarse.
If his 25-0 undefeated professional record didn’t spell it out clearly enough, Khabib Nurmagomedov is good at what he does for a living. No one goes undefeated in MMA, especially in the lightweight division, but here we are. Nurmagomedov is a man who has been groomed since childhood to be a warrior and his record is proof of that. But despite that impressive record, he’ll get all he can handle when he faces off against interim lightweight champion Tony Ferguson.
With a grappling centered approach, Nurmagomedov likes to take his opponents to the ground and smash them into submission. There’s no denying his takedowns once he’s in on an opponent’s hips. Once he has that body lock, expect his foes to be whipped through the air and slammed into the canvas. Much like most of his other matches, the fight for Nurmagomedov will likely be won on the ground. Ferguson has a decent jab, so forward pressure and head movement to get on the inside will be key for Nurmagomedov to get into wrestling range. A jab to leg kicks to power punches and immediate head movement would be a great method to close the gap on Ferguson and force tie-ups.
Traditional takedowns from the outside should be mixed in with his striking offense as a means of entering the clinch. Nurmagomedov should look for these tie-ups after pressuring Ferguson into the cage. If unsuccessful, Nurmagomedov can get to work in the clinch with dirty boxing, elbows, and knees. A grinding affair benefits Nurmagomedov, though Ferguson won’t shy away from a rough and tumble approach either.
Inside the Corner
If I’m Nurmagomedov’s corner I’d be calling for feints, overhand rights, and hooks to the body. Long range weapons should be kept in the back pocket to add variety in the striking realm, but make no mistake, closing the distance needs to be Nurmagomedov’s primary objective. Controlled pressure, a step back to avoid offense then immediate hard counters is what I’d be calling for all day.
Who do you think wins at UFC 223?