Photo by Esther Lin via MMA Fighting
MMAmania.com has a complete preview of Saturday night's UFC on FX 7 main card bout between lightweights Thiago Tavares and Khabib Nurmagomedov. What's the key to victory for both men? Find out below.
Tavares has been on a roll as of late, having gone 4-1-1 in his last six bouts dating all the way to 2009 and is currently riding a two fight win streak. Despite the good run, the well-rounded Brazilian has not fought in over a year, last squeaking by Sam Stout in January of 2012.
Khabib Nurmagomedov is one of the few fighters to start their career out with 18 straight victories. He had a fantastic debut against Kamal Shalorus and then eeked out a decision against Gleison Tibau in his last bout in July. Now, after switching fight teams to the American Kickboxing Academy, he's looking to take his game to the next level.
Will Tavares finally secure his first three fight win streak in the UFC? Can Nurmagomedov remain unbeaten? What's the key to victory for both men?
Record: 17-4-1 overall, 7-4-1 in the UFC
How he got here: Thiago Tavares has been fighting professionally for nearly 10 years now. After starting his career off with 10 straight wins, he earned a UFC invite, winning his first two bouts before suffering his first defeat in a "Fight of the Night" winning performance against Tyson Griffin.
Despite being undersized, Tavares has found a home in the UFC, but has never been able to take it to that next level. He got back on track against Michihiro Omigawa but would drop consecutive decisions while again winning "Fight of the Night" in both bouts.
Since then, Tavares has looked solid and would have been unbeaten in the past three years if not for a miracle comeback knockout by Shane Roller. After winning his last two bouts, he's been sidelined by injuries and an issue with opponent Dennis Hallman. He'll be hoping to finally get it together this weekend.
How he gets it done: Tavares has improved his stand-up, but his bread and butter is his ground game and particularly his top control. Look for him to feed off the crowd energy and go after Nurmagomedov. If he can put him somewhere he's never been thus far in the UFC which is on his back.
Tavares did a great job of grinding out Spencer Fisher before finishing him with ground and pound and he did just enough to win a decision against Stout. He'll be undersized against his unbeaten foe so he's got to pick up the pace on the feet and try to outwork him. Speed kills and if he can force Nurmagomedov to have to chase him around the cage a bit, he'll potentially wear him down.
Nurmagomedov can be a bit sloppy at times, so there's potential that he'll leave an opening for a submission as well, so keep an eye out for that. Tavares has been known to jump for guillotines if he sees an opportunity.
Record: 18-0 overall, 2-0 in the UFC
Key Wins: Gleison Tibau (UFC 148), Kamal Shalorus (UFC on FX), Shahbulat Shahmulaev (M-1 Challenge '09)
Key Losses: none
How he got here: Khabib Nurmagomedov got his start in MMA at 19 years old, powering through the local Russian circuit and winning the first four fights of his career in a matter of one month. He eventually found himself in M-1, where he defeated current Bellator tournament finalist Shahbulat Shahmulaev via armbar.
After working himself all the way to a 16-0 record, Nurmagomedov found himself in a management dispute and ended up moving to America to branch out and develop his skills. He made his UFC debut in 2012, defeating Iranian wrestler Kamal Shalorus via third round submission.
In his last bout, the Russian refused to give up his pursuit of takedowns against Gleison Tibau and was rewarded for his aggression, eventually winning a unanimous decision. After the win, he moved to American Kickboxing Academy and will debuting the new and improved version of himself this weekend.
How he gets it done: Unlike most fighters from Russia or eastern Europe, Nurmagomedov is a pretty big-sized 155-pounder who cuts a decent amount of weight. While he's not the most technically skilled combatant, he's extremely relentless. He wasn't able to drag Gleison Tibau to the ground, but he never gave up and kept at it, keeping the Brazilian on the defensive for the entire fight.
That's exactly what he has to do against Tavares. If he stays aggressive for potentially 15 straight minutes, he won't give Tavares much of an opportunity to counter with any offense of his own. Look for Nurmagomedov to be relentless, pushing forward for the entire fight.
His work since moving to American Kickboxing Academy had head trainer Javier Mendez raving so there's potential that he's really taken his game to the next level. If he has, he's got a very good shot of taking out the veteran Brazilian on his home turf.
Fight X-Factor: The biggest X-Factor for this fight has to be injuries and the long layoffs for each individual. Both Gonzaga and Rothwell are coming off injuries and bad luck which have kept them sidelined for a combined 20 months as we enter this fight. Gonzaga had fights fall apart and pulled out of a fight last May due to injury while Rothwell had to back out of a fight against Travis Browne after suffering a pretty extensive ankle injury before the UFC on Fox 4 event.
Both men will be rusty, but whoever is able to make the proper adjustments and stay fresh in the Octagon the best will likely be able to come out on top. Also, a home field advantage could actually help Gonzaga significantly if he needs that extra boost to get him fired up and ready against Rothwell.
Bottom Line: Both Rothwell and Gozaga are capable of putting on very entertaining fights. Both men have knockout power while Gonzaga can also finish fights on the ground. This fight should be entertaining wherever it goes unless Rothwell tries to use his wrestling to stifle Gonzaga, although that doesn't seem very likely. Expect some intense stand-up altercations followed by either a knockout or some ground work. This fight will be very fun as long as it ends in the first two rounds. If we go to a third, it could get a bit ugly.
Who will come out on top at UFC on FX 7? Tell us your predictions in the comments below!