Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) Lightweight elites Khabib Nurmagomedov and Edson Barboza will collide this Saturday (Dec. 30, 2017) at UFC 219 inside T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas, Nevada.
This is an apprehensive moment for me from the second I begin typing. The match up is nearly too good to be true, and there’s definitely a black cloud following “The Eagle.” Whether it’s weight issues or injuries, the Dagestani fighter or his opponent, problems arise far too often that prevent Nurmagomedov from walking into the Octagon.
I just hope this article publishes before that happens.
Ignoring those circumstances, this is an amazing fight between perhaps the deepest division’s best wrestler and striker. There are no doubts where each man can dominate, and both athletes will have use all their wits to avoid the other’s strength.
Let’s take a look at the keys to victory for each man:
Key Wins: Rafael dos Anjos (UFC on FOX 11), Michael Johnson (UFC 205), Pat Healy (UFC 165), Gleison Tibau (UFC 148)
Key Losses: None
Keys to Victory: Nurmagomedov’s Sambo is an incredible force. The Russian fighter is both incredibly strong and technically brilliant, which allows him to utterly dominate the wrestling and grappling once Nurmagomedov maneuvers his foe into his chain of positions. Fans love to criticize Nurmagomedov’s admittedly loopy punches, but “The Eagle” throws with power and sets up his takedowns well with those shots.
This is definitely a complicated match up that could leave both men hesitant. Nurmagomedov does not want to rush forward into a massive counter knee any more than Barboza wants an early low kick caught and converted into an easy takedown. Hesitation could be fatal for either man, but Nurmagomedov’s reaction has to be measured pressure. Counter strikes suck, but being too patient will result in getting chewed by kicks that deteriorate great fighters quickly.
Nurmagomedov is going to be hit early, but Barboza is not really known for his first-round knockouts. Nurmagomedov has to move forward and endure that fire without losing composure, backing up Barboza until a real chance to close the distance emerges. Once in on a shot with his hands clasped, Nurmagomedov is in his comfort zone against just about anyone.
Key Wins: Anthony Pettis (UFC 197), Gilbert Melendez (UFC on FOX 20), Beneil Dariush (UFC Fight Night 106), Bobby Green (UFC Fight Night 57), Paul Felder (UFC on FOX 16)
Key Losses: Tony Ferguson (TUF 22 Finale), Donald Cerrone (UFC on FOX 11), Michael Johnson (UFC Fight Night 61)
Keys to Victory: Barboza is perhaps the best representative of Muay Thai in UFC right now. Barboza’s boxing has come a long way under Mark Henry, but it’s still his ridiculously fast and powerful kicks that separate him from the pack. In fact, Barboza has the unique distinction of being the first fighter to finish opponents with kicks to the leg, body and head.
Plus the head kick was a spinning wheel kick, making it even cooler.
From my perspective, Nurmagomedov’s big key was to be measured and pressure consistently, whereas Barboza’s is the exact opposite. Aside from obviously wanting distance, it’s really best if Barboza shows his opponent little respect and lets his kicks rip from the beginning.
Ending up on your back against Khabib Nurmagomedov is a disaster ... and everyone knows it. You’re probably trapped for the rest of the round, wasting energy in unsuccessful attempts to stand or simply avoid being pummeled. Because of that fear, fighters tend to be hesitant — or desperate — on the feet, only making it easier for Nurmagomedov to get into his game.
Barboza has to buck that trend. The second Nurmagomedov steps toward him, Barboza should fire off the hardest kick to the head, body or leg that he feels is appropriate. Just as Nurmagomedov’s chain wrestling and top control are a unique threat, Barboza’s ability to do damage with kicks is similarly devastating. It only takes one to set the tone early, and a couple more free kicks on a surprised opponent could be what it takes to damage the leg and stop the takedowns.
Bottom Line: Man, I really hope this fight happens.
There should be no doubt that the winner of this fight is the No. 1 contender at 155 pounds. Division champion Conor McGregor is retired until a fight is actually announced, but the winner of this bout absolutely deserves a shot at the strap without going through any more obstacles. At worst, the victor can wait until after Tony Ferguson and Conor McGregor unify the titles.
If that doesn’t happen — and soon — the winner should receive a chance to steal Ferguson’s undisputed crown.
A loss stings for either man. Barboza is on the best win streak of his career, which is always an especially difficult task at 155 pounds, so losing costs him serious momentum. Meanwhile, “The Eagle” has never tasted defeat, so any first defeat will take a bit of the shine off his prospects as an imminent title contender.
At UFC 219, Khabib Nurmagomedov and Edson Barboza will go to war in the co-main event. Which fighter will have his hand raised?