Former Strikeforce title challenger Masvidal is on a three-fight win streak, including two victories in Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC). He most recently finished off The Ultimate Fighter (TUF) 15 winner Michael Chiesa with a second round submission at UFC on Fox 8. Masvidal is a highly experienced fighter who has a ton of knockout power. He'll look to further his momentum against a tough opponent in Khabilov.
Russian-born Khabilov is a dangerous prospect with only one loss on his mixed martial arts (MMA) record. He won his only two bouts in the Octagon and received a noted step up in competition in Masvidal. The Sambo expert remains under the radar in the UFC lightweight landscape, but a win over a name like Masvidal will instantly announce his presence.
These are two gritty, hard-nosed fighters who show up to fight every time. Let's take a look at the keys to victory for Jorge Masvidal vs. Rustam Khabilov:
Record: 25-7 overall, 2-0 UFC
Key Wins: Michael Chiesa (UFC on Fox 8), K.J. Noons (Strikeforce: Overeem vs. Werdum)
Key Losses: Gilbert Melendez (Strikeforce: Melendez vs. Masvidal)
Keys to Victory: Despite an extensive background in submission grappling, Masvidal has preferred to dispatch his MMA foes with his hands. He has 10 knockouts to his name, but they haven't been in his recent bouts.
Before his submission of Chiesa, Masvidal's prior eight bouts had gone to the judges' scorecards. If he wants to make a big statement at UFN 31, Masvidal will have to do more than eek out a decision.
And that's going to be tough against a resilient fighter like Khabilov who's never been finished.
Khabilov has an extensive background in Sambo and wrestling, so looking to take this fight to the ground probably isn't in Masvidal's best interest. He should look to pick Khabilov apart on the feet by utilizing a stiff jab followed by some power hooks. If the opportunity for a finish presents itself, obviously Masvidal will take it - but he'll be content to maintain a striking advantage throughout if he can.
Khabilov is no slouch on the feet - he has four knockouts of his own - but his main strength lies in grappling. Masvidal's experience will allow him to enter this fight with a good gameplan in place; it's up to him to follow through on it.
If Masvidal can pick up an impressive win over Khabilov, he'll earn a bigger fight. It could possibly be against a top ten lightweight, so this bout is absolutely crucial for Masvidal.
Record: 16-1 overall, 2-0 UFC
Key Wins: Vinc Pichel (TUF 16 Finale)
Key Losses: None
Keys to Victory: "Tiger" has a golden opportunity to make a name for himself at UFN 31. This bout with Masvidal is undoubtedly the biggest fight of his life.
To take home the win, the Greg Jackson-trained product will have to be in the best fighting shape of his life. Masvidal will most likely be looking to box, so Khabilov may want to take this fight to the ground.
While "Gamebred" is dangerous on the ground, Khabilov's many years of Sambo training should keep him out of too much trouble when the fight hits the mat. It won't be easy to submit a veteran like Masvidal -- he's only tapped out twice.
But that shouldn't stop Khabilov from looking for a fight-ending hold. It would send a huge message to UFC matchmakers if he could earn his third straight UFC win by submitting Masvidal.
Looking for submission will also be a way to control the fight and score points for Khabilov. With two high-level fighters like this going to war, the bout could easily turn into a chess match that comes down to a decision. Every point will become paramount to winning.
When the fight starts out on the feet, Khabilov will need to have his focus intact. With a striker as dangerous as Masvidal, a temporary lapse could get Khabilov into serious trouble. Although Masvidal hasn't shown too much of his striking prowess in recent years, you can bet he'll be looking to showcase his skills at Fort Campbell.
If Khabilov can avoid too many striking exchanges it'll be to his benefit. Grappling is where he holds a better chance of making this his fight. If he can gain top position and do some damage via ground and pound, Khabilov will be well on his way towards notching the biggest victory of his career.
Bottom Line From Fort Campbell: This fight features two talented 155-pound talents who have momentum in the stacked weight class. Only one can move on and establish himself as a real player. Masvidal may be looking to outpoint Khabilov on the feet and earn a decision, while Khabilov should be more apt to look for the finish. "Tiger" has more ways to end the fight -- he could put Masvidal away with ground strikes or a submission.
Khabilov undoubtedly has his hands full in Kentucky. His best way to win is to close the distance and lock up Masvidal. That will prevent "Gamebred" from opening up his striking too much. If he's allowed to find his timing and unleash his hands, Masvidal could add another knockout to his record.
This fight should be a war. It holds dire implications for the career path of both fighters. A win will gain the recognition of a three-fight UFC win streak, while a loss will be cause for a fall down the ladder. With so many top challengers competing in the UFC lightweight division, fighters simply can't afford to let any opportunities slip through their grasp.
Masvidal and Khabilov have the talent to fight some of the best lightweights the world has to offer. We'll see which one actually will on Wednesday.
Jorge Masvidal and Rustam Khabilov will lock horns in Fort Campbell. Who is your pick to score a big win at lightweight?