Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) Welterweight contenders Shavkat Rakhmonov and Geoff Neal will square off this weekend (Sat., March 4, 2023) at UFC 285 inside T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas, Nevada.
Rakhmonov is not as flashy as Khamzat Chimaev, the fighter he frequently draws comparison and competition. He doesn’t duck into double legs as quickly, nor did he ever fight twice in a couple weeks to garner headlines. However, “Nomad” might actually be the better fighter, a tremendously well-rounded finisher who seldom lets opponents survive to even the third round. Neal rides into this fight as a major underdog, but he rides a two-fight win streak. His performance against Vicente Luque last time out was the best of his career, a surgical dissection of a durable and dangerous knockout artist. Neal is an excellent physical talent in his own right, and he’s hitting his stride just in time for a serious challenge.
Let’s take a closer look at the keys to victory for each man:
Key Wins: Neil Magny (UFC 285), Alex Oliveira (UFC 254), Michel Prazeres (UFC Vegas 30), Carlson Harris (UFC Vegas 47)
Key Losses: None
Keys To Victory: Rakhmonov is a master of sport in both combat Sambo and MMA. In the cage, that translates to being really dang good at just about everything. He’s a nasty kickboxer with brutal knees and kicks, can overpower opponents with his wrestling, and excels at snatching up the neck in exchanges.
The great thing about being so well-rounded is that Rakhmonov can really adjust his approach. Neal is a striker first and foremost, so it makes a whole lot of sense to wrestle rather than compete in his best area.
Neal tends to strike from his back foot, a trait which can be used against him here. Rakhmonov’s kickboxing skill and size should make it even easier to herd Neal towards the fence, helping to set up the shot.
When backed up, Neal has a couple reactions. Typically, he’ll either angle off or burst forward with combinations. If he’s circling away, “Nomad” should be looking to cut him off with kicks. Should Neal get aggressive, however, that’s the perfect time to change levels and wrestle.
Key Wins: Belal Muhammad (UFC Fight Night 143), Vicente Luque (UFC Vegas 59), Santiago Ponzinibbio (UFC 269), Niko Price (UFC 240), Mike Perry (UFC 245)
Key Losses: Stephen Thompson (UFC Vegas 17), Neil Magny (UFC Vegas 26), Kevin Holland (Xtreme Knockout 34)
Keys to Victory: Neal has some of the heaviest hands at 170 lbs. A Southpaw kickboxer, Neal offensively likes to play the double threat game with his left kick and left hand, but he’s really proven himself a slick counter puncher as well.
Nine of his wins come via knockout.
In this bout, Neal has to get aggressive. Having good distance management isn’t enough against a wrestler like Rakhmonov — that skill needs to be elite for an outside striking game plan to work. Otherwise, he’s just setting himself close enough to the cage that it’s a problem.
Instead, I’d like to see Neal working behind his straight punches and trying to back Rakhmonov up. He can match Rakhmonov’s length better than most, and he has the power to force his opponent’s respect. Really, we have yet to see Rakhmonov hang around in the boxing range for long, so that’s likely Neal’s best area to land something significant and shift control of the fight to his favor.
One man breaks into the immediate title mix.
I hate talking about the Welterweight title picture — it’s the worst. Colby Covington remains indefinitely sidelined, and Jorge Masvidal remains permanently one good round away from a title shot. Khamzat Chimaev is gone (maybe), and Belal Muhammad is just hanging around trying to get people to notice.
It’s a mess!
However all that chaos shakes out, the winner of this fight should be in prime position for a title eliminator bout, potentially against Muhammad? Rakhmonov is on the fast track to the belt simply because he’s so wildly dominant, whereas Neal has history with Muhammad already. Either fight could work, potentially bringing some clarity and new blood to the title mix.
At UFC 285, Shavkat Rakhmonov will attempt to continue his rise against Geoff Neal. Which fighter remains standing when the dust settles?
Remember that MMAmania.com will deliver LIVE round-by-round, blow-by-blow coverage of the entire UFC 285 fight card right here, starting with the early ESPN+ “Prelims” matches online, which are scheduled to begin at 6:15 p.m. ET, then the remaining undercard on ESPN/ESPN+ at 8 p.m. ET, before the PPV main card start time at 10 p.m. ET on ESPN+ PPV.
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