The fourth and final bout to be broadcast on FX before the pay-per-view at UFC 148 on Saturday is another lightweight match, this one between undefeated Khabib “The Eagle” Nurmagomedov and UFC veteran Gleison Tibau. Nurmagomedov enters at 17-0 overall, and 1-0 in the UFC, and Tibau is 25-7 overall, and 10-5 in the UFC. Nurmagomedov’s last fight, his UFC debut, was a submission win against Kamal Shalorus, while Tibau won a split decision against Rafael dos Anjos at UFC 139.
Nurmagomedov is a perfect example of why I started this whole SILVA project in the first place. It’s easy to look at his 17-0 record and conclude that he’s a phenom and rising star in the sport. SILVA, which is essentially an interpretation of a fighter’s record, is not a huge fan, giving Nurmagomedov a lackluster SILVA score of 42.79. The reason is simple: Nurmagomedov’s record features a distinct lack of quality opponents. The only fighter he’s faced who could be considered UFC quality is Kamal Shalorus, and anybody who’s watched Shalorus recently knows he isn’t a very good flavor of “UFC quality.”
Now, just because a fighter hasn’t faced tough opponents doesn’t mean he’s not talented, and Nurmagomedov does have some talent. He’s very good on the ground, and is very good at systematically passing his opponent’s guard, landing strikes on the ground, opening up an opportunity for a submission, and then taking advantage of it. However, there are some holes in Nurmagomedov’s game, holes that are likely to cost him against Gleison Tibau. His striking leaves a lot to be desired; he did well enough against Shalorus, but his technique is very sloppy, he loops his punches, and appears to “slap” more than “punch.”
And while Nurmagomedov is quite capable of taking fights to the ground, good luck doing it against Gleison Tibau. Tibau isn’t impossible to take down by any means, but as an enormous lightweight with a strong base, his takedown defense is among the best at 155 pounds. And even if Nurmagomedov gets him to the ground, Tibau is no slouch there, having been submitted only once in a 32-fight career.
SILVA PREDICTION: GLEISON TIBAU (73.13) OVER KHABIB NURMAGOMEDOV (42.79)
Khabib’s best hope is to keep the fight standing, in which case Tibau’s very slow pace might result in Nurmagomedov out-pointing him and winning a decision. Unfortunately, Tibau almost always looks for takedowns, and is typically very successful in landing them. Tibau isn’t quite good enough to be elite in the ranks of the UFC lightweight division, but he’s very tough to beat, and I just don’t think Nurmagomedov has the skill set needed to do it.