The new year began a day after Khabib Nurmagomedov straight-up tortured Edson Barboza for fifteen minutes at UFC 219. Many had predicted Nurmagomedov to edge Barboza despite prolonged inactivity. He did not edge the Brazilian, however; he obliterated him. Khabib’s relentless pressure during stand-ups, in fact, had Barboza on the edge, and when Khabib took him down onto the mat – by the end of round 1 – it was already a lost cause for Edson.
Khabib is a Russian, from Dagestan. He’s renowned for his ice cold Russian accent and unprecedented grappling, and he goes by the nickname The Eagle. Moreover, he’s 25-0 in Mixed Martial Arts, in his prime and currently signed with MMA’s premier promotion, the Ultimate Fighting Championship. He’s also a direct threat to arguably the most popular athlete in MMA and possibly, all of the contemporary combat sports, Conor McGregor.
During one of his post-fight conferences, the Eagle said that 2018 is going to be the Russian’s year. It’s going to be 2Khabib18 instead of 2K18. He confirmed that he would fight at least thrice, and if the MMA community is fortunate enough, he would fight a record four times. His first bout is already scheduled against current Interim/True/Whatever Lightweight Champion Tony Ferguson in April and it would be the Eagle’s debut at the company’s main event category.
Tony has said that the fight would be a bloodbath and that he would leave Khabib ‘wincing on the floor in pain’, but Khabib, who possibly has never even suffered a scratch in any of his dance performances inside the octagon, has stated loud and clear that ‘he is going to break Tony’s arm and no referee can stop this’. For a humble young man from the Caucasus, a statement as such in Khabib’s brutal accent and broken English sounds like a legitimate threat.
Given that Khabib bags his 26th straight win, and wraps the gold around his waist, chances are that he and McGregor would go against one another in a classic grappler vs striker showdown for the ages. Subsequent to Khabib’s glorious beat-down of Barboza, the Notorious McGregor slammed the Eagle calling his performance ‘dog expletive’. Of course, Khabib responded befittingly and the back and forth twitter banter continued for a while until the Irishman diverted his attention elsewhere.
The good thing is, Khabib’s already booked against Ferguson and if he wins, he will come up against McGregor and with two of the biggest fights of his career coming in 2018, this definitely is a career defining year for the Eagle.
Does he have the tools to climb up top?
Certainly. He’s not only the most scariest grappler in all of MMA, he has a never ending stamina and strength of a Russian grizzly – a creature he’s oft compared to because of videos of him wrestling a bear cub at 7-years of age.
Khabib does not have a world class striking stand-up, but he does possess a whole lot more than that. His anticipation is exceptional. He often slips through punches like he’s already read the script pre-fight, he is relentless and provides his opponents with no space to breathe whatsoever and when he takes his dance partners to the floor – his zone – it’s 25/25 times a nightmare for Nurmagomedov’s opponents.
The Eagle has his grappling techniques well sorted out. They aren’t conventional wrestling/grappling moves that he does. It’s a mixture of Russian Sambo, Judo and Freestyle wrestling. In simpler words, he’s strangles his opponents’ limbs and leaves them gasping for air while he paints their face in red – pretty much like an anaconda.
He has attributes of an Eagle, a bear and an anaconda and he’s an absolute animal, which I tell you is not an insult in this particular sport, rather an appreciation of one’s skill and superiority.
Does he have what it takes to beat Ferguson though? One hundred percent. Although, Tony is no piece of cake, exhales fire, and is an animal in his own right, he’s totally beatable. Khabib has all it takes to shrink ‘El Cucuy’ or the Devil.
McGregor vs Khabib would be bigger. McGregor, who has a knock-out power parallel to his popularity, Khabib will have to watch out. The Irishman, however, has his stardum seep out of him when he’s on the ground tangled in a grappling exchange and Khabib is a master of the art. It could either be a quick knockout by McGregor or the Irishman would suffer at the hands of Russia’s biggest combat star.
Daniel Cormier, Khabib’s team-mate and UFC Light heavyweight champion, said: ‘There are levels in this game and some fighters are just above everyone else.’
Nurmagomedov, Ferguson and McGregor are levels above the rest, and if Khabib beats the two, he would not only cement his legacy as the greatest Lightweight fighter ever and win UFC gold, he’d also become the first Muslim and Russian to do so inside the octagon.