UFC on FX 7: Thiago Tavares vs. Khabib Nurmagomedov Head to Toe Breakdown
UFC on FX 7 is set for this Saturday, January 19.
The event features a middleweight headliner to be contested by Vitor Belfort and Michael Bisping but will also play host to an additional 10 bouts.
Of those 10 bouts, perhaps the most intriguing is a lightweight affair between Thiago Tavares and Khabib Nurmagomedov.
Let's take a closer look at the matchup and determine which 155-pounder holds an advantage where and explore who is likely to come out of Saturday night's action the victor.
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Tavares, a jiu-jitsu player by trade, has developed a pretty solid Muay Thai game over the past few years. He doesn't wield much power, though, and his standup more complements his submission skills than stands alone as a threat all its own.
Against Nurmagomedov, the key will be gaining the clinch. From there Tavares can work in some knees or look for a way to bring the bout to the canvas.
Defensively, Tavares tends to get hit a lot. This continues to be a problem for him and is something he'll need to figure out before sharing the Octagon with an active striker like Nurmagomedov.
In just two fights under the UFC banner, Nurmagomedov has shown himself a capable striker.
Like Tavares, he lacks one-punch knockout power, but he has rattled opponents in the past and taken the opportunity to end the fight from the mat, either with follow up strikes or a submission.
Nurmagomedov would be wise to establish some range in this bout. He won't want to enter the clinch—at least not for striking purposes—with Tavares but could do some real damage by peppering his opponent from the outside.
Each fighter owns an advantage in different aspects of the standup game, but the time spent in range usually exceeds that in the clinch, and in range is where Nurmagomedov will have the edge.
It may very well be the young Russian's strategy to keep this one on the feet and outpoint, or try to stop his Brazilian counterpart, with strikes.
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Tavares doesn't have much of a wrestling repertoire to go to, but that doesn't mean he's incapable of taking his opponents to the mat.
He's quite crafty in the clinch with trips and tosses and often finds a way to get foes down. Nurmagomedov, though, seems to own a pretty strong base so it's uncertain whether those tricks will be enough for Tavares to get on top of his opponent at UFC on FX 7.
Nurmagomedov has only a 14 percent success rate with takedowns as a UFC fighter, but in fairness, he has dealt with a pair of guys that don't yield to being put on the mat very easily.
Defensively, he's yet to be taken down in the UFC. That's a trend that could continue this Saturday if Nurmagomedov can stay out of the clinch.
Though his takedown rate gives me pause handing him the edge here, Nurmagomedov should hold a wrestling advantage over Tavares at UFC on FX 7.
He also has the stronger base, which means his takedowns could lend him enough control to grab a decision win.
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With 11 of 17 career wins coming via submission, it's clear what Tavares' bread-and-butter is.
The Brazilian is one of the more dangerous ground-fighters in the UFC's lightweight division and is a threat to stop anyone if he gains an advantageous position.
Tavares is particularly apt at sinking in choke submissions, which functions as well as his sprawl does for takedown defense.
Nurmagomedov has seven career submission wins of his own. And like Tavares, he trends towards chokes rather than limb-locks.
Although Nurmagomedov is more than capable on the ground—he's indeed quite dangerous—he'll probably have to put defense first against a guy like Tavares should the action fall to the floor.
He won't want to be on the bottom if the fight goes there, even if he has used his triangle choke to get a few stoppages in the past.
Both fighters are strong grapplers, but Tavares holds a solid advantage here.
The Brazilian's best chance to control or stop this bout will be from the mat, especially if he's able to get top position from where he can focus on offense rather than defending incoming strikes.
The Bottom Line
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The Brazilian's best chance to win this fight is on the mat. Though his opponent is strong there too, the floor is Tavares' court and where he'll likely look to take the action.
It is getting the action there that might prove the issue.
If he's able to at least semi-consistently put the Russian on his back, this is a very winnable fight for Tavares. If he's not able get Nurmagomedov down, he may even think about pulling guard to see whether he can do anything from his back.
It is not like Tavares is helpless on the feet; it is just that he won't be able to stop Nurmagomedov from there and will probably end up getting worse than he gives in the majority of exchanges.
Nurmagomedov's wrestling and striking advantage give him a lot to work with in this affair. It will be interesting to see whether he's content to keep the action standing or if he wants to try his luck in Tavares' guard.
If he approaches this fight cautiously and works his strikes from the outside, and maybe mixes in a takedown near the end of a round or two, Nurmagomedov could end up putting on a very nice performance at UFC on FX 7.
Projected Winner: Nurmagomedov
Both guys wield some dangerous weapons, but Nurmagomedov has the power to control the action and limit Tavares' chances of putting his deadliest skills to use.
It wouldn't be entirely surprising to see Tavares put up some significant resistance, even if he can't get the fight to the ground, but in the end it won't be enough to ward off defeat.
I'm thinking late TKO or unanimous decision for the up-and-coming Russian lightweight.