Love him or hate him there is no denying that Greg Jackson knows a good fighter when he sees one and he is extremely excited about the potential of Rustam Khabilov. The Russian is a Combat Sambo World Champion with an outstanding professional record of 12-1 and has been training in Albuquerque for over a year.
New Mexico is a long way from Dagestan but, according to Jackson, the 25 year old has settled in quickly and instantly won the respect of his team mates and trainers,
"A friend of mine contacted me about working with him and when he flew down to Albuquerque we started working together, we clicked right away and hes been there ever since. The first time I saw him training I was really impressed. He sparred and did really well with all the top level fighters that we have."
Khabilov still speaks only rudimentary English and moving to the United States would have been a traumatic transition for most young men but according to his coach he hit the ground running,
"He's smart and he's brave, those are the two things you need when you are in a new place and nobody speaks his language. I don't know how similar it was to what he was doing back home but he picked up on our training methods right away."
Both Jackson and Khabilov are in Jakarta as the Russian prepares for the most important fight of his career to date at ONE Fighting Championship 'Battle of Heroes'. It is taking place at the biggest indoor arena in Indonesia and is being broadcast all over Asia be ESPN Star Sports.
His opponent Rodrigo Ribeiro is a highly experienced BJJ black belt and has a skill set which is a little different from what Khabilov will have been used to dealing with in Russia but Jackson feels the time has come for him to test himself against this sort of level of opposition,
"He has never fought an opponent with as strong a BJJ game as Rodrigo, he has got good leg locks and good Jiu Jitsu so it will be a challenge. If we were looking to bring him into bigger show he has to be comfortable being offensive with people's guards even if they have a good guard like Rodrigo."
Although he feels Khabilov, whose only career loss was a split decision, is well rounded Jackson had no hesitation in naming his greatest asset,
"His wrestling is top notch, the best wrestlers in the world come from Dagestan and he's definitely one of them. He compares pretty well with the NCAA Division One Guys we have, Americans have a more jerky, pace based style and the Russian style is the style I prefer because it is a little smoother and more calm."
Rustam Khabilov vs Akin Duran (via JpZa420)
However Jackson says that Khabilov is far from one dimensional and has much more to his game then merely wrestling,
"He had a lot of fights already so he had a good mix of styles, not just wrestling. He has trained with me full time for over a year and he has improved a lot during that time technically. Dealing with the calibre of training partner here has has brought him to a new level."
Rubbing shoulders with the likes of Jon Jones, Carlos Condit and Brian Stann will not do Khabilov's development any harm at all and in his first fight since joining Jackson's Submission Fighting he secured the first stoppage due to strikes of his career.
Khabilov's only previous TKO or KO win was the brutal slam of Akin Duran (see video above) and according to Jackson he has been working on finding ways for the Russian to finish more fights,
"We try to always work for finishes so hopefully we have improved his striking game and his ground and pound and Jiu Jitsu. It's unlikely he will finish a guy of Rodrigo Ribeiro's stature with a submission but after damage anything is possible."
Khabilov will be taking on an opponent who has won numerous BJJ competitions, both at a regional and national level ans is moving down from middleweight. Jackson says that long term his future is at lightweight but that he is confident his student has the skills to win this fight,
"He's a 155 lber but because we don't have any rehydration materials out here so we are going 170, in future he will be dropping down to 155 lbs. For this fight we want to mix it up on the feet and on the ground, we have a lot of Brazilian fighters and very good Jiu Jitsu people who can emulate Ribeiro's style, he has definitely done his homework and he will be looking to defend the angle locks."
Khabib Nurmagomedov, a Combat Sambo champion and close friend of Khabilov's recently dominated Kamal Shalorus on his UFC debut. Apparently that win gave Khabilov a great deal of confidence that he could compete at a UFC level but Jackson feels there is no rush,
"We would like to get him in the UFC one day but ONE FC is a great organization, I heard very good things about the first show and I am excited about the second one. There are some great fighters that the Americans don't know about and it will be nice to see some of the best fighters from all over the world and not just from Brazil and the US."
I had hoped to interview Khabilov himself, who was sitting next to Jackson throughout the interview, but his English is minimal, so I decided an interview with Jackson would be the next best thing. Seeing as I had the attention of the world renowned coach it seemed a waste not to ask him about the controversy surrounding Carlos Condit's fight with Nick Diaz.
Condit clearly executed the strategy Jackson devised for him perfectly in that fight and the man behind the gameplan says he is a little confused by the negativity surrounding his tactics as well as the question marks over the actual decision,
"It's a little weird to deal with that I'll be honest but what you have to remember is a lot of people don't know martial arts, they only know fighting. It's about expectations, when you have an expectation that two guys are going to stand in front of each other and bang it out and that doesn't happen everybody gets mad and disappointed."
He can understand why some people felt Diaz had done enough to win but feels that they might be letting their hearts rule their heads,
"I think it's more of an emotional argument, it's not a logical argument because if you talk about cage control then Carlos completely dominated where the exchanges happened and what time they happened , the numbers have him outstriking Diaz by 50 more significant shots. You don't really have a logical argument but I think sometimes people make emotional arguments and try and disguise them logically."
Jackson was delighted by how well Condit stuck to the game plan but will have a new puzzle on his hands at ONE FC this weekend. Khabilov's opponent trains at Evolve MMA, a camp widely regarded as being the best in Asia which is renowned for meticulous attention to detail when it comes to fight preparation, and it is exactly this sort of challenge which motivates the 2010 trainer of the year,
"That's why I coach, it's why I do what I do. It's a lot of fun to play the game of chess and see how it comes out but I don't think this fight will really come down to gameplans because I am just learning about Rustam. It's only my second fight with him and I'm just learning about what he does well, what he doesn't do well. You can watch tape on that but you really need to see it in person so I'm getting to know more and I'm just giving him ideas of what I want him to do and what I don't want him to do."
ONE Fighting Championship ‘Battle of Heroes’ is scheduled to get underway at 7:30pm local time (GMT + 7:00). MMA fans can catch the action online via live streaming on the following websites;
Under card is available for viewing free of charge.
Main card is available for pay-per-view at just US$9.99
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Victorio Senduk vs. Raymond Tiew
Alex Silva vs. Geje Eustaquio
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