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5 keys to victory for Khabib Nurmagomedov


How does Khabib Nurmagomedov get the win this weekend at UFC 254?

It is truly hard to overstate UFC lightweight Khabib Nurmagomedov’s greatness. Having a perfect 28-0 record, Nurmagomedov has produced phenomenal fights over some of the most respected names in MMA.  Nurmagomedov, the Dagestani grappling specialist, has dominant wins over lightweight fighters such as Raphael dos Anjos, Dustin Poirier, and Conor McGregor on his record. Nurmagomedov’s savage wrestling style and his unbelievable gas tank have proven to be an unsolvable riddle for the UFC lightweight division, but interim champion Justin Gaethje will get a chance to hand Nurmagomedov his first loss at the upcoming UFC 254. Gaethje, who is a former college wrestler known for his takedown defense and destructive striking style, will surely test Nurmagomedov’s dominance on the ground. and Nurmagomedov will need to be at his absolute sharpest to earn the victory in Abu Dhabi. Though the fight is sure to be a competitive one, Nurmagomedov has a great chance to win this fight if he makes sure to incorporate these five essential directions in his game plan. These are the five keys to victory for Nurmagomedov at UFC 254.

These are the five keys to victory for Khabib Nurmagomedov

1. Be cautious of the lead hook

Since the start of Gaethje’s most recent winning-streak that started with his brutal knockout of James Vick, viewers have gotten the chance to see a version of Gaethje that was better than any previous iteration of the UFC lightweight. This new and improved Gaethje was much more patient, and his power was much less wild and unsustainable than in his losses to Poirier and Eddie Alvarez. An interesting trait of Gaethje’s new style is his tendency to throw the lead hook very often. In Gaethje’s wild knockout of Edson Barboza, it was a well-placed lead hook that knocked out Barboza cold. Nurmagomedov will have to make sure he is covering up when entering and exiting range in order to avoid any of those dangerous hooks from Gaethje. If he can succeed in avoiding the hooks, there are more opportunities for Khabib to push the pace on Gaethje without having to worry about one of his most dangerous weapons.

2. Don’t let the fight happen in the center of the cage

Just as it’s clear who is the better wrestler in this matchup, it is also clear who is the better striker. Nurmagomedov needs to make sure that he does not try and strike for too long and that he brings Gaethje down eventually.  Although sometimes Nurmagomedob sometimes lets his opponent stand for too long, he must make sure to go for a takedown right away and not be scared of Gaethje’s ground game. If Nurmagomedov can make sure to keep Gaethje pressured against the cage, his striking will be neutralized completely and he will better his chances of getting a takedown on Gaethje. Keeping Gaethje against the fence automatically is an advantage for Nurmagomedov, and he should make sure he does so in order to neutralize Gaethje.

3. Avoid leg kicks

If one thing is consistent in Gaethje’s style throughout his career, it is his ability to land hard leg kicks consistently. Gaethje’s leg kicks are some of the deadliest in the sport, and he is one of the few fighters to have more than one leg kick TKO. Nurmagomedov has to have a game plan that covers what to do to counter those calf kicks, whether it be trying to check the kick or countering with a strike or takedown of his own to deter Gaethje from wanting to throw the leg kicks. A lack of planning will result in an absolute slaughter of Khabib’s lead leg, so he must develop an effective plan before he gets in the cage. For Nurmagomedov, it would make sense to try and take Gaethje down while he has one leg off of the ground during his leg kicks. If Nurmagomedov can find a way to neutralize those leg kicks, entering range and getting takedowns will become much easier.

4. Emphasize bodywork

When looking at Gaethje’s two losses, it is apparent that one of the main factors that led to his losses was fatigue. Nurmagomedov should take note of this and really focus on wearing on Gaethje’s body in order to increase his fatigue faster. Things like body kicks, hooks to the body, or even some emphasis on body strikes while on the ground could really make this fight shorter than Gaethje would probably want. If Nurmagomedov can consistently land body strikes, it would add a whole new dimension of his game that Gaethje would have to worry about and it would also help to fatigue Gaethje and allow him to find opportunities to get him to the ground.

5. Don’t recklessly force ground exchanges

Although Nurmagomedov’s grappling skills allow him to take down most people without having to always be technically perfect, he will absolutely need to remember the fundamentals when fighting with Gaethje. Gaethje, a prolific wrestler throughout his academic career, is very good at scrambling and finding a way to avoid being on his back at all, so Khabib will most likely need to engage in some very long scrambling sessions with Gaethje. Instead of just recklessly going for takedowns and risking getting denied more often than he would want, Khabib needs to make sure he uses good technique so that he can make the takedowns that do land meaningfully long. If Khabib can be intelligent with the groundwork for this fight, he becomes exponentially more likely to win this fight.

UFC 254 takes place on Saturday, Oct. 24, 2020, live from Fight Island in Abu Dhabi. Follow along with FanSided MMA, who is cageside for the event, for all your live news and highlights.

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