Khabib Nurmagomedov and Edson Barboza combine for what is easily the most exciting match-up on UFC 219 to end the year. While this lightweight co-headliner should attract tons of people, the discussion surrounding the fight seems to be extremely one-sided: Nurmagomedov will run through Barboza.
However, while the Russian’s 24-0 record is extremely intimidating for most people, there is much more to look for in this fight than just past performances.
Without a doubt, Nurmagomedov has been one of the most dominant fighters in the past few years, not only in the lightweight division but in the UFC as a whole. Not much more can speak for the dominance than his undefeated record, and watching him wrap up everyone that he’s ever fought with his incredible grappling.
However, standing across from “The Eagle” on Saturday is easily the most explosive opponent Nurmagomedov has ever fought. Barboza brings world-class striking skills and experience with him. The Brazilian, who turns 32 next month, has been around the UFC since 2010. He’s competed against the best of the best. He’s defeated the likes of Anthony Pettis, Gilbert Melendez and Paul Felder in the process. Also, let’s not forget, he had one of the most memorable knockouts in MMA history that he scored against Terry Etim with a wheel kick. However, his phenomenal striking abilities shouldn’t take away from the fact that Barboza is extremely well rounded. While he only has one submission victory in his career, Barboza is a Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu brown belt.
These two men make for one hell of a match-up, and it’s mainly because of how they compare stylistically. Barboza, who often times rely on his kicks, will want to utilize them a lot. But should Nurmagomedov get a hold of one of Barboza’s kicks, it could mean trouble for the Brazilian. The main question becomes a matter of whether Nurmagomedov can get a hold of Barboza. Is it possible, considering Barboza’s speed?
Well, to answer this question, we first have to look at the odds. Right now, Nurmagomedov sits as a slight favorite over Barboza, which makes perfect sense. Nurmagomedov is ranked higher than Barboza and possesses a much more impressive resume. However, are the odds going to most likely be correct come fight night? Here’s a bold answer: No, they won’t.
Barboza’s fight against Beneil Dariush earlier this year ended in a hectic manner, with a vicious flying knee that knocked Dariush out cold. It showed Barboza’s smarts in this game, as he adjusted to Dariush’s pattern of throwing a jab and then following up with a takedown. His adjustments ultimately led to the knockout. Had this not happened, the nod would go significantly to Nurmagomedov in this fight. However, Barboza’s finish of someone as talented as Dariush in that fashion once again makes it obvious just how good the Brazilian is.
There’s another factor, too. There is much more pressure on Nurmagomedov right now. Missing in action for over a year, Nurmagomedov now faces high anticipation for his return and another dominant performance. Many more eyes will be on Nurmagomedov to see whether he can make the weight for this fight and if he made any improvements in his game while he was gone.
Nurmagomedov also has a point to prove. He has to back up his talk here, as to whether or not he deserves a shot at Conor McGregor and Tony Ferguson. This fight week will be an interesting one to follow to find out if Nurmagomedov can once again prove his place in the top of the rankings and move to 25-0.
This fight is not going to be as simple for Nurmagomedov like most people seem to think. He’ll have more trouble in this fight than all of his fights combined so far. Barboza is not guaranteed to win, but there’s a pretty good chance of an upset in this affair.