Well, we probably all should have seen that coming, especially considering the number of times Tony Ferguson and Khabib Nurmagomedov have been set to fight in the past.
Each and every time the fight has been canceled leads me to believe these two are simply not destined to fight. Yes, that’s a ridiculous notion, and yes you’re right if you think I’m taking things a bit over the top. Nevertheless, the proof is in the pudding and once again Ferguson and Nurmagomedov won’t be facing each other.
Instead, MMA fans, casual and hardcore alike, will be treated to a fight we didn’t know we wanted until it was announced as featherweight champion Max Holloway steps up on short-notice to battle Nurmagomedov for the lightweight championship.
How can Max Holloway win?
There’s no questioning that Max Holloway is one of the greatest fighters the sport has ever known. By demolishing Jose Aldo not once but twice, Holloway has proven himself to be a striking wizard to never be slept on. Moving in and out of danger, Holloway is always looking to set up his offense by establishing his jab before landing power shots. Holloway can fight from both stances, shifting from southpaw to orthodox and back again mid-combination. Holloway attacks the entire body refusing to simply headhunt. He’ll need that variety in this matchup against Khabib Nurmagomedov.
Holloway will need to fight long to keep Nurmagomedov on the outside. His jab and body work is going to pay dividends in this match, preventing Nurmagomedov from rushing forward. The low line side kick he likes to throw to his opponent’s front leg from the southpaw position will be a great way to keep the orthodox Nurmagomedov at bay, but it’s not without its dangers. One failed side kick could potentially leave him open for a bodylock takedown which Nurmagomedov is so proficient at. When Nurmagomedov pressures forward a straight cross or left uppercut to either the head or body will slow the Russian’s forward pursuit.
The Hawaiian’s takedown defense will be put to the rest in this fight. Relying on the guillotine to counter a Nurmagomedov shot or simply holding the Russian grappler off with a strong whizzer simply won’t be enough. Nurmagomedov will chain his wrestling together so Holloway will need several options to ensure he escapes danger. Primarily Holloway should use his in and out movement to keep Nurmagomedov guessing as well as endure his back is always facing the center of the octagon.
Inside the corner
Lateral movement will always be key against a pressure fighter like a Nurmagomedov. I’d tell Holloway to stick to his boxing, stick and move, and land to the body with combinations no longer than three punches. I’d call for Holloway to reset after combos, get back to center and get to work with a variety of jabs. The up jab and uppercut from the rear hand will keep his hands in position to dig for underhooks if necessary. If he throws round kicks of any kind they should all be high and at full power while at the center of the octagon.
How can Khabib Nurmagomedov win?
It’s a tough break for Nurmagomedov as he has to slightly readjust his style for this fight, but the name of the game remains the same. Khabib is going to come forward, he’s going to pressure and he’s going to look to smother his opponent’s offense, crushing them into the cage or on the mat.
What Nurmagomedov is going to have to adjust to in this bout is the in and out footwork of Holloway. While Ferguson was unpredictable in terms of switching from striking to grappling to all different manners of diving submissions, Holloway has his own kinds of surprises up his sleeve. Fortunately for Nurmagomedov, most of those surprises come from the striking realm. The straight right to left hook finishing off with an inside leg kick when Holloway is in the southpaw position will be money for Khabib. The in and out movement of the featherweight champ could pose a bit of an issue, so front kicks up the middle is a good option to push Holloway back. Bobbing, weaving, throwing the jab to rear leg front, low, or high kick should definitely pay dividends for Nurmagomedov.
Getting Holloway to move backward isn’t the end all be all as the Hawaiian can fight backing up as well as he does going forward. For this reason, getting Holloway to pressure forward would be a great strategy for Nurmagomedov. Should Holloway get overzealous, a reactive takedown by the Russian will ensure a tie up and from there dirty boxing, bodylocks, inside and outside trips will work wonders.
Inside the corner
The reality is that Nurmagomedov is going to pressure forward from the onset and as such the right hand needs to be on full display. That said, I’d be screaming for Khabib to attack with leg kicks every time Holloway chooses to move laterally. Chewing up the legs will take away Holloway’s movement and keep him corralled along the fence if Nurmagomedov can pressure him there. Right hand, low kicks, single or double leg shot, rinse and repeat. Once the fight hits the mat it’s all about throwing small shots until Holloway opens up his defense where Nurmagomedov can unleash his hellish ground and pound.