Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) lightweights Rustam Khabilov and Adriano Martins collide this Sunday (Feb. 22, 2015) at UFC Fight Night 61 on FOX Sports 1 inside the Ginasio Gigantinho in Porto Alegre, Brazil.
After three straight victories inside the Octagon, Khabilov was handed the second loss of his professional career by Benson Henderson. Since then, visa issues kept him out of a bout with Danny Castillo, which may explain his appearance on this card in Brazil.
Outside of his head kick loss to Donald Cerrone, Martins has looked very much the part of a top contender. In addition to brutalizing Juan Puig inside a round, Martins absolutely dominated Daron Cruickshank en route to a submission win.
Let's take a look at the keys to victory for each fighter.
Key Wins: Jorge Masvidal (UFC Fight Night 31), Yancy Medeiros (UFC 159), Vinc Pichel (TUF 16 Finale)
Key Losses: Benson Henderson (UFC Fight Night 42)
Keys to Victory: Khabilov is a combat Sambo champion, which means he's a very strong takedown specialist. In particular, Khabilov is a master of the suplex, which directly led to his first two UFC victories.
Additionally, Khabilov's punches pack some power, which greatly aids him in disguising his attempts to grapple.
Though his opponent is a dangerous grappler, Khabilov's game plan should definitely revolve around throwing his foe through the air and into the canvas. However, Martins is a veteran and will certainly be expecting this, so Khabilov definitely needs to set up his shots very well.
In Khabilov's fight with Masvidal, he showed a fair bit of combination work, rather than just single punches into takedowns. He should return to that in this bout, as it could allow him to land some surprise strikes. If Martin avoids the first overhand and prepares for a takedown, he's not in position to absorb any follow up strikes from the Dagestani fighter.
To take his opponent to the mat, Khabilov most likely needs to get to his best position: the back clinch. From there, he's able to attack with his dynamic suplexes or trip his opponent to the mat. Against Martins, a basic double leg won't cut it; Khabilov has to get to his bread and butter.
That's not to say Khabilov can't shoot for a double leg. But instead of trying to push his opponent into the fence and finish the shot, he should transition to Martins' back and work from there.
Key Wins: Daron Cruickshank (UFC Fight Night 32), Juan Puig (TUF 19 Finale)
Key Losses: Donald Cerrone (UFC on FOX 10)
Keys to Victory: Martins is a jiu-jitsu black belt and Judo brown belt, but his true strength is his stand up. From the Southpaw stance, Martins is an excellent boxer and excels at pressuring his opponent.
Khabilov fights with his back to the fence pretty often. From there, he enforces a distance slightly longer than a usual boxing range, from which he can either explode into an overhand or takedown.
To make Khabilov suffer for his cage position, Martins really needs to cut off the Dagestani "Tiger." If Martins can step outside Khabilov's lead leg, he can force Khabilov to circle into his power or trade strikes at a disadvantage.
Alternatively, Khabilov could shoot for a takedown against his pressuring foe, which is a common reaction for him. If Martins expects this, however, he could use it to his advantage.
Martins is a big lightweight who has the ability to grapple with Martins, so he could counter an anticipated takedown by scrambling to the back or snapping his opponent down with a headlock. At this point, it doesn't seem like Khabilov has much of a bottom game, so looking to counter takedowns with top position -- or even pursuing occasional takedowns of his own -- could work very well for the Brazilian.
Bottom Line: Both of these men are experienced and talented lightweights who should be in the primes of their careers. While neither is in immediate title contention, a win streak could quickly change that.
Khabilov is one of the more exciting grapplers in the division, and his slams are in a class of their own. He's already ranked in the top 15, so if he can get back in the win column here, there's nothing preventing him from getting a high-profile match up in his next bout.
Except perhaps visa issues.
Martins is now 32 years old and has looked very good. Still, if he's going to break into the top of the division, his opportunity is now. If Martins continues his streak of UFC finishes here, then he's in great position to potentially get a fight with a top 10 opponent.
Both of these men stepped into the cage with a top-five fighter and were decisively finished. Working back up to that level is certainly possible, but the lightweight division does not give many chances. For the loser of this bout, that second opportunity against the elite will suddenly be a very long, arduous journey rather than a fight or two away.
At UFC Fight Night 61, Rustam Khabilov and Adriano Martins will go to war. Which lightweight will leave the cage with a victory?