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Fighter on Fighter: Breaking down UFC Fight Night 163’s Zabit Magomedsharipov

Another killer talent from Dagestan, Zabit Magomedsharipov, will square off with expert boxer, Calvin Kattar, this Saturday (Nov. 9, 2019) at UFC Fight Night 163 from inside CSKA Arena in Moscow, Russia.

It’s not at all difficult to see the reason(s) fans are excited about “ZaBeast.” Not only does Magomedsharipov share many of the dominant wrestling tactics of his countryman Khabib Nurmagomedov, but Magomedsharipov is a more flashy and entertaining kickboxer. When a fighter complements dominant wrestling with high-flying kicks and off-the-cage offense, the ceiling is pretty quickly sky high. Yet there are still questions surrounding Magomedsharipov’s overall game, and perhaps some hints at weaknesses that could derail his fast rise.

Let’s take a closer look at his skill set:

Striking

A Master of Sports in Sanda, Magomedsharipov has a fairly unique background, and his approach in the cage reflects that. It’s also important to note that Magomedsharipov is an absolutely massive Featherweight, one who holds height and reach advantages over the vast majority of the division.

If we ignore details for a moment and think about Magomedsharipov from a distance, there are similarities to be drawn between him and Jon Jones. I don’t want to spend too much time on this comparison, because it’s far from perfect, but their overall strategies are similar: dazzle and frustrate opponents with kicks at distance, throw punches when necessary, and toss the opponent to the mat from the clinch.

Excellent wrestlers who can kick well are a notoriously difficult breed of fighter. Magomedsharipov’s excellent wrestling insulates him from many of the consequences of kicking in mixed martial arts (MMA) — good luck trying to catch his kick and sweep him to the mat. Magomedsharipov has little fear of being taken down, and that allows him to release dozens of kicks.

Magomedsharipov wants a kickboxing match on the feet, where his length and reach already give him a considerable advantage. It forces his opponents to make a difficult decision, as they’re forced to either refrain from kicking — which will massively increase his range advantage — or fire kicks back, at which point Magomedsharipov is really good at catching the kick and sweeping his foe. That’s a standard tactic in Sanda, and it applies well to MMA (GIF).

“ZaBeast” can really overwhelm his opponent with variety of kicks. However, it’s often a pretty simple case of attacking the open side (GIF). Magomedsharipov will switch stances to the opposite of his foe’s stance, at which point it is pretty easy to feint and blast a power kick to the mid-section, head, or legs. In addition, Magomedsharipov will switch it up with stabbing snap kicks, which are also easier to land from the opposite stance.

At distance, Magomedsharipov actually does pretty solid work with the jab. It may not be as nuanced as Kattar’s excellent jab, but Magomedsharipov throws the strike consistently and with enough pop that it must be respected. As a result, Magomedsharipov can feint the jab and instead spin into a sudden back kick.

On the whole, Magomedsharipov does excellent work when his foe is backed into the fence. That’s when he’ll begin running off the wall into high kicks or jumping into big spins — scary techniques that are difficult to counter and often force his foe on the defense. In addition, Magomedsharipov does good work with his hands when a foe is trapped along the fence. He bounces in-and-out, looking to land quick punches, pull to avoid the desperate counter, and land once more (or drop into a takedown).

Magomedsharipov showed a lot of smarts in his recent win over Jeremy Stephens. In the first round, Magomedsharipov entirely picked his opponent apart on the feet. The Dagestani opted to fight as a Southpaw, which helped negate Stephens’ calf kick and caused Stephens to reach even more than normal to land his right hand. Meanwhile, Magomedsharipov frustrated his foe with smart movement, largely circling away from his foe’s power while still changing directions enough to keep his foe honest. Whenever Magomedsharipov did plant his feet, he stuck Stephens with a crisp left cross or hard body kick, landing almost every time.

Defensively, Magomedsharipov has shown some issues, though no one has really been able to do much with them. He’s definitely a more comfortable kicker than boxer, as Magomedsharipov’s counter punches can be a bit stiff when pressured. As the fight wears on, he’s also more likely to simply back into the fence without throwing back. In addition, opponents have found decent success in backing him up then kicking the lead leg, but no one has really committed to this strategy yet.

Wrestling

In addition the wrestling component of Sanda, Magomedsharipov trained extensively in Freestyle wrestling as a child. Thus far, Magomedsharipov has pretty much taken down all of his opponents when he really tried, making use of many of the classic Dagestani strategies.

However, there is one move that is all Magomedsharipov (at least compared to his countrymen). I’ll be fully honest, I don’t know what the accepted name for Magomedsharipov’s favorite trip is, but I do know how it works! From the kickboxing range, Magomedsharipov is active with feints, and he often looks to see when an opponent is simply covering up. Once Magomedsharipov notes that defense, he’ll feint a jab to draw the high guard. While reaching with left hand (or both) to control/turn the upper body, he simultaneously trips out his foe’s lead leg. It’s a gorgeous trip that’s only possible with an excellent understanding of timing and defensive reactions, and “ZaBeast” turns to it often (GIF). Plus, it’s really low energy, meaning there’s little at risk for Magomedsharipov if the move fails, so long as he doesn’t drastically over-extend himself.

Otherwise, Magomedsharipov follows the usual Dagestani wrestling game plan of securing the body lock. He’ll shoot and score with the double if his opponent gives it to him, but usually, Magomedsharipov is looking to work his way up the body and shuck his way into the back clinch. From there, Magomedsharipov’s arsenal is deep. He’ll lift and return often and suplex when necessary. Just as frequent, however, are quick little trips or kicks at the leg that target an opponent’s base, allowing another low-energy takedown for Magomedsharipov (GIF).

Once on the mat, Magomedsharipov again shares some similar tactics to Nurmagomedov and other Dagestani wrestlers. He’ll frequently look for the two-on-tie up — the “Dagestani handcuff” as some call it — which is a terrible position for any trapped foe. From there, Magomedsharipov can pretty easily beat up his foe without working too hard, and if his opponent does stand, he can immediately transition back to the body lock.

More than most, Magomedsharipov looks to trap arms in the crucifix. The two-on-one wrist control is a frustrating position, and it eventually leads to many fighters accepting bottom position rather than trying to stand. When opponents turn to their backs, Magomedsharipov will allow the hold to pull him into side control, where he’ll immediately begin looking to trap an arm to the mat.

Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu

Magomedsharipov has finished seven of his victories via tapout, including three of his UFC wins. Magomedsharipov’s dominance in wrestling positions translates well into finding submissions, as Magomedsharipov really forces his opponents into terrible positions before capitalizing as they attempt to escape.

For example, there are two very likely outcomes when Magomedsharipov secures the two-on-one wrist ride. His opponent will try to stand a few times, sure, but that doesn’t usually work as an effective escape. Eventually, his foe will be forced to choose between staying there or putting his back to the mat.

If his foe stays there, “ZaBeast” will eventually look to throw the hooks in. This is a different tactic from many Sambo fighters, as back control with hooks is generally not a part of Sambo training. Perhaps due to his body type, however, Magomedsharipov is quite willing to take the back in a more jiu-jitsu fashion. Once there, Magomedsharipov can finish the fight by flattening his foe out with hip pressure or slipping an arm under the neck, which is how he finished his UFC debut.

In addition, Magomedsharipov submitted Brandon Davis with the very rare Suloev stretch, another submission from back control. It’s a great counter to when an opponent tries to shake him off the back, and it’s the subject of this week’s technique highlight:

As explained in the wrestling section, Magomedsharipov’s foe can also turn to side control, which can expose the crucifix position. Whether Magomedsharipov manages to land the crucifix or just side control, the most common response from the bottom man to is to turn toward Magomedsharipov and attempt to use an underhook/single-leg takedown to stand up/recover position. Once his foe turns toward him, Magomedsharipov will immediately jump on the neck, attacking with the guillotine, d’arce, or anaconda choke depending on what’s available (GIF).

Conclusion

Magomedsharipov has a deep, dangerous skill set, and he’s already proven himself a contender at 145 pounds. While it’s still too early to pronounce him a definite future champion, he’s deserving of this unexpected main event slot, and Calvin Kattar will be an excellent opponent to determine if “ZaBeast” is ready to fight for a title in 2020.


Remember that MMAmania.com will deliver LIVE round-by-round, blow-by-blow coverage of the entire UFC Fight Night 163 fight card this weekend RIGHT HERE, starting with the ESPN+“Prelims” that are scheduled to begin at 11 a.m. ET, then the main card portion that will also stream on ESPN+ at 2 p.m. ET.

To check out the latest and greatest UFC Fight Night 163: “Zabit vs. Kattar” news and notes be sure to hit up our comprehensive event archive right here.

Andrew Richardson, a Brazilian jiu-jitsu brown belt, is a professional fighter who trains at Team Alpha Male in Sacramento, California. In addition to learning alongside world-class talent, Andrew has scouted opponents and developed winning strategies for several of the sport’s most elite fighters.

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