UFC 219’s Khabib Nurmagomedov: The Most Dominant Man in MMA

Knock on wood folks because as the time of this publishing, Khabib “The Eagle” Nurmagomedov is fighting Edson Barboza at UFC 219. But If we know anything about Nurmagomedov, there is still plenty of time for him or his opponent to experience an unfortunate event. The Dagestani wrestler is an MMA journalist’s worst nightmare as countless pieces have been rendered useless when Nurmagomedov has pulled out and had his fight scrapped the week of. Hopefully this time is different.

Nurmagomedov began training in wrestling at five under his father and legendary Combat Sambo athlete, Abdulmanap Nurmagomedov. At 15, Nurmagomedov began training Judo as his father wanting him to get comfortable fighting in a gi. Two years later, he finally started training in Combat Sambo under his father, who is the coach of the Dagestan National Sambo team.  In 2008, Nurmagomedov commenced his professional MMA career while simultaneously competing in Sambo and grappling events. From 2008-2012 he won the World Combat Sambo Championship twice and the 2012 NAGA No-gi Championship, all while going an undefeated 18-0 in MMA and being signed by the UFC in early 2012. After seeing Nurmagomedov’s UFC debut in 2012 the masses began speculating that they were witnessing something special and one of the best grapplers in UFC history.

Fly Like an Eagle

We have seen many one-dimensional grapplers  touted as complete. Demian Maia has dominated with jiu-jitsu, but lacks from a wrestling standpoint. Brock Lesnar was regarded as a dominant grappler but his lack of jiu-jitsu was easily exploited in his first UFC fight. What makes Nurmagomedov such an interesting and dominating grappler is his exceptional skills everywhere. Whether it’s trips, throws, double-leg takedowns, or simply dragging his opponent to the mat, he can take anybody down in variety of ways. Once the fight hits the mat, he can control his opponent, pass their guard with ease and either open up with ground-and-pound or look for a submission.

In one of the rare moments where Nurmagomedov found himself on his back, he switches from a deep armbar attempt to a triangle-choke and gets the finish.

Early in his career, before anybody knew how good his grappling was, many of his opponents would try to take him down. What resulted was a love story with this armbar-to-triangle transition. He won three fights in a row with this exact technique.

It was his fight with Abel Trujillo where we really first saw how dominant Nurmagomedov can be. He slammed and dragged the NAIA All-American wrestler Trujillo down a record 21 times, shattering the previous record of 16.

From a back body lock, Nurmagomedov attempts a trip, switches to a front body lock and slams a disgruntled Trujillo.

The most used word you will hear in wrestling gyms is “drive.” Drive simply means to not give up. If you shoot for a double-leg takedown and your opponent breaks the grip, try for a single-leg or an ankle pick. Nurmagomedov knows all about drive. Here he shoots for a double-leg that is stuffed, transitions to a front head lock and drags his opponent to the mat. This might not be as pretty as a clean double-leg but it serves the same purposes, get the opponent to the ground.

And he has his fair share of throws and trips from his Judo days. Here Rafael Dos Anjos foolishly shoots for a takedown and Nurmagomedov  makes him pay with a Harai-Goshi throw.

Here Nurmagomedov switches from a simple foot sweet into an Ura Nage.

Sure the takedowns are fun, but once the fight hits the mat is when Nurmagomedov shines. Here he easily passes from half guard to side control to mount. Then he gets the rear-naked-choke finish from an odd position. Being able to finish this choke from a half-guard type position shows the strength of Nurmagomedov.

When striking on the ground, he almost always looks to trap an arm, leaving his opponent helpless. Here he uses his favorite mounted crucifix to land some elbows.

In perhaps one of the scariest moments in all of MMA, Nurmagomedov traps Michael Johnson’s right arm under his own belly and tees off with strikes from half-guard.

At one point, Nurmagomedov had both of Johnson’s legs and his left hand trapped between his legs. It’s rare to see a high-level professional fighter look so helpless.

And lets not forget Nurmagomedov wrestled with bears as a child. Not only is he wrestling with a bear, in certain moments he is getting the better of a live bear. .


Nobody’s Perfect

Although Nurmagomedov was a highly -outed prospect and has dominated in the UFC, he has some glaring holes in his striking. Often running in wildly just to get close enough for a takedown, or swinging loopy hooks, Nurmagomedov has a lot of work to do with his striking.

When pressured, Khabib often backs himself to the cage and looks visibly flustered.

Here he throws a sloppy double knee to a chopping right hand that whiffs.

The first and only time he fought an elite striker, he was caught with a right hook early on that stumbled him.

While he will never be an elite striker, he has consistently improved with every fight. Here he shoots for a takedown and comes back up with a shovel punch or “hookercut” that drops Kamal Shalorus. The “hookercut” is an odd punch. The “hookercut” name is because it’s halfway between a hook and an uppercut. Despite looking awkward, this punch comes from a blind angle that your opponent doesn’t see coming.

Not only is this effective because of the angle it;s coming at, but this is the perfect punch along with the regular uppercut for a wrestler to use. When defending uppercuts you want to straighten your stance and keep your hands high, opening yourself up for the takedown or body shots.

Using a series of hooks and uppercuts to get Dos Anjos standing upright and shooting for the easy takedown.



If you didn’t know much about Nurmagomedov before reading this, you’re probably not alone. He has only fought eight times in almost six years and has a terrible case of the tiramisu blues. At only 29, he still has plenty of time left in the sport, but if the injury bug and weight-cutting issues continue, we might have the greatest “what if?” story in all of MMA. When healthy and fighting, Nurmagomedov is  one of the most dominant fighters to ever grace the octagon. All of his wins look like a walk in the park because they are. No one is even close in terms of grappling and if he can get his opponent down, the fight is all but over.

We have yet to see someone able to defend his takedowns or have success on the feet.  Oddsmakers don’t believe Barboza to be the first to do so as Nurmagomedov is a near three-to-one favorite. Many don’t view any current UFC lightweights as threats to hand Nurmagomedov his first loss.  This includes Interim Champion Tony Ferguson and Champion Conor McGregor. Although not the most well-rounded fighter, his grappling is unrivaled and if he can become even an average striker, he has potential to become one of the greatest mixed marital artist of all time.


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