UFC lightweight Khabib Nurmagomedov is arguably the promotion’s best-kept secret, boasting a rarely-seen 20-0 record, including a 4-0 mark inside the Octagon.
Despite his impressive resume, “The Eagle” is generally absent on the top 10 rankings of the UFC’s 155-pound division. His manager, Sam Kardan, says his camp doesn't worry about petty things like arbitrary fighter rankings.
“It does not bother us, because once he is a titleholder, that will change,” Kardan, the manager of the Russian-based Ref Fury Fight Team, told Bleacher Report.
“He is not well-known as he fought primarily in Russia. After this fight, we shall see him move up the ranks.”
The 24-year-old grappling ace—a freestyle wrestling standout with a Sambo background and a Judo black belt to boot—has seen little opposition inside the Octagon.
His first four opponents have had no answers for his highlight-reel suplexes and smothering top control.
On paper, he faces the toughest challenge of his career in Pat Healy at UFC 165 this Saturday, another high-pressure grappler who hasn’t lost since June 2010.
Healy made his UFC debut at UFC 159 in April, choking out Brazilian jiu-jitsu black belt Jim Miller on his home turf in Newark, New Jersey.
Unfortunately for the Team Quest fighter, he failed his post-fight drug test for marijuana and the win was overturned to a no contest, costing him $130,000 in bonuses (via Sherdog).
While Kardan respects Healy’s talent and ability, he seems certain his fighter will once again taste victory.
“Healy is an accomplished grappler; certainly is a threat to any lightweight in the UFC. I think Khabib’s wrestling and striking is an advantage here and will determine the fight in Khabib’s favor. Khabib wins by unanimous decision.”
While Kardan also expressed that Nurmagomedov “deserves a title shot,” he noted he wouldn't mind seeing his client square off with a top 5 lightweight first.
When asked what opponent would make sense at that point, The Red Fury Fight Team manager suggested Rafael dos Anjos.
Dos Anjos is fresh off a win over former WEC lightweight champ Donald Cerrone at UFC Fight Night 27 late last month, his fifth straight victory since May 2012.
With the BJJ black belt’s wrestling and striking rapidly improving, a potential showdown with Nurmagomedov sounds like an entertaining scrap to determine the next 155-pound title contender.
Of course, that all changes if Healy is able to once again beat the odds and take out the highly-touted Russian grappler this weekend in Toronto, Canada.