I have been guilty in the past of underrating Khabib Nurmagomedov. For a while, I thought of Nurmagomedov as a fighter who was undefeated, but against a bunch of cans, and had sloppy striking he would be punished for in the UFC. But now I’ve put together FPR ratings, and they scream that not only is Nurmagomedov not a fraud… he’s the best fighter in the UFC lightweight division, with a high potential to become the champion.
At the same time, his FPR of +7.62 is obviously skewed. In his last fight, Nurmagomedov landed a whopping 21 takedowns against Abel Trujillo, but at some point, it defeats the purpose of landing a takedown in the first place. The whole reason takedowns are significant is because they lead to top position on the ground. The idea is that a takedown puts a fighter in an advantageous position. Nurmagomedov obviously didn’t use takedowns for that purpose against Trujillo; instead, he wanted to prove a point by simply throwing Trujillo to the ground repeatedly. I don’t believe Nurmagomedov should get full credit for each takedown… but he does in the FPR formula.
Here’s the thing. If I credit Nurmagomedov with, say, eight takedowns in that fight instead of 21, his FPR only goes down to +5.46, which is still second best in the UFC lightweight division. The reality is that while I’ve been dismissing Nurmagomedov for having awkward striking, he might be the real deal as a potential UFC champion.
As awkward as his striking is, Nurmagomedov has earned a significant strike ratio of 105:54 with two knockdowns. Thanks to his Sambo background he’s only been taken down twice, one of which was by Gleison Tibau, who is the most dominant wrestler in the weight class. Nurmagomedov’s striking might not look pretty… but all his opponents have been able to do to him is hit him with 1.2 significant strikes per minute. (That comes with the caveat that Nurmagomedov has not yet faced a good striker in the UFC.)
This fight against Pat Healy is going to be very interesting, and perhaps reveal whether or not Nurmagomedov is as good as FPR thinks he might be. Healy is an excellent grinder type who surprised a lot of people in his last fight against Jim Miller – but not me. I knew Healy was underrated going into that fight and even though I picked Miller to win, I identified Healy as a good betting value as a +230 underdog.
Where people get hung up with Healy is his overall record of 29-16. That’s a lot of losses for an aspiring title contender to have, and I agree that it probably precludes Healy from going all the way and becoming UFC champion. Healy is far from a complete fighter and in particular isn’t a very damaging striker. However, the biggest reason Healy has improved so much in recent years is his move from 170 to 155 pounds. His grinding style is much more effective at lightweight, where he can dominate the clinch.
The burning question is: can Healy dominate the clinch against an opponent like Nurmagomedov? Well, Nurmagomedov was only taken down once in six tries by Tibau… and Tibau is not a fighter whose takedowns are easily rejected. Given that clinch wrestling is highly emphasized in Sambo, it would seem that Healy’s style plays right into Nurmagomedov’s strength.
And that’s the thing about Healy: the clinch/grinding style is his whole game. It works most of the time because most fighters aren’t able to hold up under the pressure. Not only should Nurmagomedov be able to hold up, he should thrive in the clinch battle. Since Healy is also not a major threat to win by knockout, Nurmagomedov has to be considered the favorite to win this one… and perhaps go on to greater things in the not too distant future.
Pick: Khabib Nurmagomedov by decision