Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) Lightweight talents Arman Tsarukyan and Damir Ismagulov will collide this weekend (Sat., Dec. 17, 2022) at UFC Vegas 66 inside UFC Apex in Las Vegas, Nevada.
Tsarukyan’s career trajectory would be a whole lot different had the judges awarded him the decision opposite Mateusz Gamrot last time out. It was pretty clear that the Armenian standout did quite a bit more damage, but some late takedowns swayed the decision. Instead of getting propelled into the title mix, Tsarukyan finds himself facing one of the division’s most unassuming, most dangerous contenders. Ismagulov has won five straight to start his UFC career, extending his win streak to an absurd 19 in a row. He has yet to score a really high-profile win, instead going about his UFC rise the hard way: taking on all the lesser-known (but still pretty darn-skilled) contenders just outside the Top 10.
Let’s take a closer look at the keys to victory for each man:
Key Wins: Joel Alvarez (UFC Vegas 49), Christos Giagos (UFC Vegas 37), Olivier Aubin-Mercier (UFC 240), Matt Frevola (UFC 257)
Key Losses: Mateusz Gamrot (UFC Vegas 57), Islam Makhachev (UFC Fight Night 149)
Keys To Victory: Tsarukyan is such a wild physical talent. His general strength, explosiveness, and gas tank are all absolutely top-notch for 155 pounds, and Tsarukyan combines these attributes with an excellent wrestling base and really powerful kicking game.
In just about all of his fights, that physicality is such a huge factor, and that remains true against Ismagulov. The Russian is a quality technician in all areas, able to kickbox at a very high level and chain wrestle like nobody’s business. However, he cannot hope to match Tsarukyan in pure speed or power, and that makes such a massive difference in MMA.
The other big difference here is ability to do damage. Ismagulov outplays opponents, but at the UFC level, he’s been restrained to decisions and isn’t usually coming close to finishing. Tsarukyan, meanwhile, very clearly has the ability to batter opponents and hurt them on the feet or the canvas.
Between physicality and offensive potency, Tsarukyan should be able to push the pace and keep Ismagulov reacting, which goes a long, long way in securing victory.
Key Wins: Guram Kutateladze (UFC Austin), Joel Alvarez (UFC Fight Night 145), Thiago Moises (UFC Fight Night 157), Rafael Alves (UFC Vegas 27)
Key Losses: None
Keys To Victory: A Master of Sports in hand-to-hand combat, Ismagulov is a really tricky distance striker who maintains a great output. He can really shut opponents down with his counter striking, to the point that it’s easy to forget just how excellent his wrestling can be.
There are two potential paths to victory here for Ismagulov. On one hand, he could try to recreate Gamrot’s success by really committing to the chain wrestling. If he can force Tsarukyan to defensively wrestle endlessly, it does limit his athleticism and can help wear him down.
Alternatively, Ismagulov could attempt more of a sprawl-and-brawl approach. He doesn’t hit as hard as Tsarukyan, sure, but he does appear to have the technical edge. If he can stop Tsarukyan’s takedowns and make his foe hesitate to throw with a few sharp counter connections, that would also be significant in making up for the aforementioned disadvantages here.
I believe Ismagulov’s best shot is the latter. Unlike Gamrot, he doesn’t have 25 minutes for a chain wrestling strategy to take effect. Instead, he’s going to have to fully commit to his pocket work and counter punching, which could prove an antidote to Tsarukyan’s heavy kick attack ... provided he can also stop the shot.
I would pick either of these men over several Lightweights higher up in the rankings.
In Tsarukyan’s case, I’d expect the 26-year-old blue chip to be favored over almost everyone. He gave Islam Makhachev his toughest test to date, and he did it at 23 years of age on short-notice. He has all the marks of a future champion. Victory here restates that idea, proving that a close decision loss to “Gamer” hasn’t derailed his rise to the top.
Conversely, Ismagulov is 31 years of age and riding an outrageous win streak. He’s not the most exciting fighter and doesn’t speak English, which means there will be no short path to the title. The Russian is in the prime of his career and being given an opportunity to break into the Top 10 — he absolutely has to capitalize here. Otherwise, the next chance to fight up the ladder may not come around for some time.
At UFC Vegas 66, Arman Tsarukyan and Damir Ismagulov will throw down in the co-main event. Which man has his hand raised?
Remember that MMAmania.com will deliver LIVE round-by-round, blow-by-blow coverage of the entire UFC Vegas 66 fight card right here, starting with the ESPN+ “Prelims” matches, which are scheduled to begin at 4 p.m. ET, then the remaining main card balance (also on ESPN+) at 7 p.m. ET.
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