This Saturday (Sept. 21, 2013), two tough Lightweight talents will collide when Pat Healy and Khabib Nurmagomedov go to war on the pay-per-view (PPV) main card of UFC 165 from Air Canada Centre in Toronto, Ontario.
Although each fighter has a wealth of mixed martial arts (MMA) experience, they are both relatively new to Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC). Nurmagomedov will enjoy the momentum of a four-fight win streak within the Octagon, while Healy looks to erase the bad memories of his unfortunate "No Contest" against Jim Miller at UFC 159 last April.
In that bout, Healy showed a ton of grit to earn an impressive submission win over the always tough Miller, winning both "Fight of the Night" and "Submission of the Night" bonuses for his efforts. It was all for naught, however, as Healy was found to have failed the drug screen for marijuana, which negated the win and sent his bonus money elsewhere.
It was an embarrassing time for Healy, but he'll have a chance to redeem himself in Toronto.
Nurmagomedov, on the other hand, has experienced no such hiccups during his Octagon tenure. He's gone 4-0 in the promotion to sit with a flashy 20-0 overall record in mixed martial arts (MMA). The Combat Sambo and Judo practitioner has been tossing opponents about like ragdolls, none more so than when he set a UFC record for most takedowns with 21 against Abel Trujillo at UFC 160.
There's not much of a better test for Nurmagomedov's grappling skills than the hard-nosed Healy, so it should be a hotly contested battle.
Let's take a look at the keys to victory for Pat Healy vs. Khabib Nurmagomedov below:
Record: 29-16(1) overall, 0-1(1) UFC
Key Wins: Carlos Condit (Extreme Wars 3), Dan Hardy (Absolute Fighting Championships 10)
Key Losses: Jake Ellenberger (IFL: Las Vegas), Josh Thomson (Strikeforce: Fedor vs. Werdum)
Keys to Victory: Healy is an extremely well traveled fighter who's fought in a long list of promotions. The fact that he's fought UFC Welterweight contenders Carlos Condit and Jake Ellenberger is a big testament to his overall toughness. He's also extremely talented on the ground, possessing 16 submission victories.
But this time around, it's going to be extremely tough to earn a tapout from a highly accomplished grappler like Nurmagomedov. While Healy is definitely no slouch on the mat thanks to his time as a collegiate wrestler, it's most likely not in his best interest to turn this into a grinding grappling match.
Healy has found a lot of success throughout his career doing just that, evident by his hard-fought performance against Miller last May. This just isn't the spot to do it, and Healy will feel amplified pressure to perform and right the wrongs of his prior indiscretion.
To do so, he should look to keep the fight standing.
While Healy has never been known for his striking skills, he's solid in the department. His experience should lend to him being able to get a good feel for what Nurmagomedov is looking to do, so if he can defend some of the inevitable takedown attempts, he can score some subsequent points with strikes.
Healy's ability to absorb massive amounts of punishment and keep moving forward will serve him well during this bout. If "Bam Bam" can avoid getting thrown in the clinch, victory could be on the horizon for him. He'll need to show up mentally sharp, with all bad thoughts of the Miller bout gone from his mind.
Healy's in for a fight, and this bout is going to tell us a lot about his readiness to take on the top level of UFC Lightweights.
Record: 20-0 overall, 4-0 UFC
Key Wins: Kamal Shalorus (UFC on FX 1), Gleison Tibau (UFC 148), Shahbulat Shamhalaev (M-1 Challenge 2009: Selections 9)
Key Losses: None
Keys to Victory: Nurmagomedov has been quietly making a name for himself since making his way to the UFC in January 2012. The Russian-born prospect enjoys the wealth of knowledge obtained by training at American Kickboxing Academy, which adds to his already very substantial base of knowledge.
Nurmagomedov has a laundry list of grappling accomplishments and championships to his name, having competed extensively in Combat Sambo, Judo, and Pankration. It's no secret that he'll look to use these skills to put Healy out of commission at UFC 165. If he can repeatedly drag Healy to the ground and take his back, there'll be no doubt that he's one of the finest 155-pound grapplers competing in MMA.
Despite his prowess on the mat, Nurmagomedov actually has a rather well balanced strategy of dispatching his opponents, having seven knockouts and seven submissions to his name. So while it might be in Healy's best interest to keep the fight standing, that doesn't mean it's going to be easy. Nurmagomedov's best avenue in the striking department might be to get an early takedown and then transition to ground and pound, where he's shown a lethal arsenal of elbows.
But his bread and butter will always be his highlight reel-worthy grappling skills, so he'll look to slam Healy to the canvas early and often. He's most effective in the clinch, where he has exhibited an uncanny ability to immediately take his opponent's back. From there, a wealth of throws and slams arise, and it's tough to pop back up from the unrelenting pressure that Nurmagomedov employs.
The young grappler has a wealth of confidence and momentum on his side, and he'll feel none of the pressure that Healy will this Saturday. Yes, it's a huge step up in competition for Nurmagomedov, and a loss to his vastly experienced opponent could be a hard yet valuable lesson.
A victory, however, could vault Nurmagomedov right into the mix at Lightweight and get him a big name bout for his next trip to the Octagon. He's in a great position at UFC 165, and he really can't lose no matter what transpires.
Bottom Line From Toronto: The bottom line of this bout is going to center around who can effectively implement their gameplan first. Although Nurmagomedov sports a gaudy grappling resume, it's tough to count out the intangible toughness of a fighter like Healy. His cage experience should allow him to keep his cool against Nurmagomedov, and that's going to be paramount if he plans to get rid of the bad taste left by the Miller fight.
The pressure is all on Healy, as he's the better-known fighter. Nurmagomedov has never lost, and he probably doesn't think that this is going to be his first. That confidence could help him or hurt him against Healy.
We'll have to see how far Nurmagomedov's striking has progressed. Although tough, Healy has been knocked out four times. If Healy stuffs some early takedowns and frustrates Nurmagomedov, the Russian will need to stay calm when his main skillset doesn't pay dividends. The ground prowess of these fighters could lead to a bout that's mostly contested on the feet, but both will go for the kill with a submission the moment an opportunity presents itself.
It's going to be a war, and the winner will receive a much-deserved boost up the rankings in the ultra-competitive UFC Lightweight division.
This bout should be a brawl that's tough to predict. Let us know your thoughts on the opening bout of UFC 165 below!