Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) Lightweight rivals Khabib Nurmagomedov and Tony Ferguson will collide this Saturday (March 4, 2017) for the interim 155-pound title — and the next crack at division champion Conor McGregor — at UFC 209 inside T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas, Nevada.
Nurmagomedov’s accomplishments thus far have been pretty incredible. The Russian has smashed the vast majority of his competition and never come particularly close to losing, utilizing his dominant Sambo skills to overwhelm foes. Nurmagomedov has a strong argument as the best Lightweight in the world, but then, so does his opponent. There’s a reason that Ferguson has won his last nine bouts — finishing most of them — and it’s because Ferguson has evolved into one of the most unique and deadly forces in Lightweight history.
With an interim strap on the line, this does have a fair argument to being the most highly skilled pairing in Lightweight history, a statement made by Nurmagomedov ahead of the fight. Let’s take a closer 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 is a fantastic chain wrestler with next-level top control. While his stand up is a bit wild, he packs a punch, and Nurmagomedov simply needs to get a hand on his opponent to suck him into his drowning game.
Nurmagomedov is a difficult man to advise largely because he sticks to one gameplan. He’ll strike for a bit, but “The Eagle’s” end game is to get in on a shot or clinch, hurl his opponent through the air, and then methodically dominate position on the mat. There’s simply no one better at controlling fighters on the mat than the Dagestani athlete.
Ferguson, for all his excellent takedown defense and scrambles, does allow opponents to get close to him. He’s wild himself, and that creates openings. In short, Nurmagomedov will be able to find his entrance into the clinch/shot, and he’ll most likely finish that shot.
Once on the mat, it’s simply a battle of Nurmagomedov’s top control opposite Ferguson’s scrambling ability. If Nurmagomedov wins that battle as he has against every opponent in the past, he will own this fight.
Key Wins: Rafael dos Anjos (UFC Fight Night 98), Edson Barboza (TUF 22 Finale), Josh Thomson (UFC Fight Night 71), Gleison Tibau (UFC 184)
Key Losses: Michael Johnson (UFC on FOX 3)
Keys to Victory: Ferguson is a lanky scrapper who makes use of all his tools on the feet. While striking, he’ll snap his foe’s head back with the jab, devastate the lead leg with calf kicks, step in with elbows, and push a pace that few can match. When foes look to wrestle with Ferguson, he rolls out of bad positions and is quick to hop on the neck whenever the option opens up.
To defeat Nurmagomedov, Ferguson needs to take advantage of his range and conditioning. From the outside, Ferguson should be pumping out a hard jab constantly and follow it up with chopping kicks whenever Nurmagomedov moves away. Similarly, Ferguson’s snap kicks up the middle should be a fantastic tool opposite the wrestler.
At some point, Nurmagomedov will attempt the takedown. If Ferguson manages to defend, it’s a really great sign that shifts the odds into his favor. If not, Ferguson simply needs to create a constant scramble and never stop working to his feet, doing damage, or hunting for the submission.
Nurmagomedov cuts a good deal of weight and has fatigued in past fights. In Ferguson is able to prevent him from resting in dominant positions and does damage while on the feet, there’s a real chance that Nurmagomedov will fade and allow Ferguson to piece him up.
Bottom Line: This is an absolutely fantastic fight, and it’s very difficult to feel too confident in either man.
For either fight, a win guarantees a title shot and match with Conor McGregor. Frankly, it’s my opinion that the winner of this fight is the best Lightweight on the planet, but the Interim strap-hanger will finally receive his chance to prove it. Either way, that’s a massive money fight that could have a huge impact on the victor’s career and legacy.
On the other hand, the loser deals with the first setback in a very long time. He’s still in the immediate — neither 24 or nine straight wins will be forgotten quickly — but the man who comes up short is another step back from earning a real shot at the strap and potentially misses their chance to score a big payday opposite “The Notorious.”
At UFC 209, Khabib Nurmagomedov and Tony Ferguson have five rounds to prove who is the better man. Which fighter will remain standing when the dust settles?