Former Strikeforce lightweight title challenger Masvidal had his hands full with Greg Jackson-trained product Khabilov, who came into the bout on a five-fight mixed martial arts (MMA) win streak. Known for his excellent grappling, Khabilov used his striking to defeat Masvidal and earn his third straight win in Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC).
He mixed up his game to keep Masvidal guessing, defeating his toughest challenge yet. Let's take a look back at how Khabilov got the job done in Fort Campbell:
Both fighters came out looking to strike, with Khabilov landing a huge overhand right. "Tiger" continued to land some good strikes on the less active Masvidal. Khabilov looked for a takedown but couldn't capitalize and Masvidal appeared to gain confidence as the round came to a close. He stalked Khabilov down with two flying knees.
In the second round, Masvidal continued to put out a low volume of strikes. Khabilov was in and out with strikes, landing a few good punches. Masvidal eventually scored a bodylock takedown and some subsequent ground and pound. Khabilov turned the tables by dragging Masvidal down at the end of the round. Neither fighter could keep the other one on the mat in a close round.
The final frame saw Masvidal control the Octagon until Khabilov unleashed a vicious spinning headkick that rocked "Gamebred." Khabilov swarmed to look for a takedown. Masvidal reversed position to get back up and push Khabilov against the cage. Khabilov appeared to tire in the later stages but still closed out strong.
After it was said and done, "Tiger" took home the unanimous decision win and announced himself as strong up-and-coming prospect in one of the toughest divisions in UFC. Masvidal is an excellent gauge of skill for any lightweight and Khabilov passed that test. Many knew about his grappling skill; it appears he now has the stand-up game to match.
"Tiger's" striking is progressing at an accelerated pace thanks to his time spent with coach Mike Winkeljohn. The spinning kick that seemingly nailed Masvidal in the neck was a thing of beauty. It was also a big surprise that was a testament to Khabilov's evolution as a fighter.
Masvidal was no easy walkover. Despite not having a ton of heat behind him, "Gamebred" is a seasoned veteran who has fought some of the best lightweights in the world. That speaks volumes about Khabilov's current skill level.
Masvidal most likely cemented himself as a UFC gatekeeper with his loss last night. Lightweight is a stacked division full of worthy contenders. There is simply no room for error. Despite fighting valiantly, Masvidal will fall down the rankings and be faced with mid-level opponents until he racks up a win streak.
If he fails to do so, he may fade off into irrelevancy. Masvidal has the skills to rise up again. In the future, he'll need to put forth a bigger volume of strikes to do so.
Rustam Khabilov proved that he is a legitimate contender at lightweight. His striking is improving to match his dangerous grappling. Will "Tiger" rush into the top 10 at 155 pounds?
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