Two top-level wrestlers within the flyweight division are set to fight one another when 14-1 Tagir Ulanbekov takes on 17-12 Tim Elliott at UFC 272 this Saturday.
Tagir, fighting under Khabib Nurmagomedov, has been touted as an elite prospect since coming into the UFC. Interestingly, although 2-0 in the UFC, he has faced adversity in each of his fights, with his most recent being a split decision victory. For this upcoming fight, Tagir will look to break away from the close decision wins and leap into top 10 contention.
Meanwhile, the ever-tough Tim Elliott, who has fought just about every elite flyweight of note, will look to showcase that his background as a two-time All-American wrestler can combat the Sambo-style wrestling that has run rampant across the UFC.
Tagir’s price is the shortest it has been since fighting in the UFC, yet, the totality of price is still quite sizable – a -280 over Tim Elliott. This price point has an implied win rate of 72%.
- Elliott: +205
- Ulanbekov: -255
Tagir, as with many fighters fighting under Khabib, employs a pressure-heavy, wrestle-approach. Although many of the modern Russian fighters have begun to implement fluid and somewhat creative striking off of their elite wrestling, Tagir employs a high-similar approach as Khabib that is built on fundamentals, beginning with having a quick and effective jab that opens up opportunities to hand a right hand and/or a calf kick. Throwing a repeatable jab while stalking down the opponent on the feet puts on a pace and pressure that lends itself to using his elite cardio as a weapon. Moreover, Tagir’s grappling is a cardio attack of his opponent given he will shoot takedown after takedown which proves to negate his opponent’s gas tank. Once the gas tank is depleted, Tagir is able to control the ground game with ground and pound that is thrown with the intent to have his opponent give up his back, ultimately, allowing Tagir to snag the neck and finish the fight – he has finished 6 of his 14 wins via submission. This style of using cardio as a weapon, both on the feet and ground, to then, finish the fight once the opponent is depleted, is causally related to so many believing Tagir has top 10 potential in the near future. The issue for him, and why there are others in the MMA community believing he has a lot of room for improvement, is that he has allowed his recent opponents to land cleanly on the feet, notably to his lead leg and head. Tagir will need to clean up his striking defense if he wishes to climb the deepening flyweight division, especially when fighting the power threats of the top-ranked fighters.
Tim Elliott employs a highly-similar approach to Tagir, whereby he uses cardio as his primary weapon. The deviation in approach begins to be seen when analyzing the style of striking of Elliott compared to Tagir. Here, rather than using the fundamental jab to stay in the opponent’s face as Tagir does, Elliott favors lateral movement with constant stance switches. This non-stop movement is similar to the future HOF bantamweight, Dominick Cruz, given both Cruz and Elliott have an affinity to throw irregular, almost “weird” strikes at an incredibly high rate. This high rate of strikes thrown from irregular positions enables the strikes to land at an impressive rate, albeit with little power behind it. The lack of power is not a concern for Elliott given he understands that each strike landed depletes the gas tank of his opponent, which, similarly to Tagir, allows him to effectively employ his most dangerous attribute as a fighter, his ground game – 6 of his 17 professional wins are by submission. The main issue for Elliott is that his skillsets lack the ability to finish his opponents when fighting the top echelon of fighters, so, he will need to ensure the main fight stats – striking differential, takedown percentage, and control time – are in his favor if he wishes to beat his opponent.
As with many ranked flyweight fights, the disparity in talent is razor-thin. In this particular fight, each fighter employs a highly similar style which will likely create a fight that is quite close. Although I believe this to be the case, when breaking down the fight from cardio, striking, and grappling realm, I favor Tagir in each area. For cardio, each fighter can fight at an incredible pace for 15 minutes without any issue; and because Elliott needs a cardio disparity more so than Tagir, I give the cardio variable to Tagir due to both fighters not having an issue and he does not need the edge in cardio to win the fight. For striking, Elliott will likely have success early as Tagir figures out the odd movements, but once understood, the fundamental striking will be more effective in output and damage. Lastly, although each man has very good grappling, I am giving the edge to the style that has been evidently most effective in MMA – Dagestan, Sambo-style. For these reasons, I believe Tagir gets the victory via unanimous, 30-27 decision.
Bet: Tagir by decision