UFC 165: Fights for Khabib Nurmagomedov to Take Next
Pat Healy was returning from a suspension for testing positive for marijuana and was expected to provide a good barometer of where Nurmagomedov ranked in the division.
After UFC 165, I think we can safely say Nurmagomedov belongs in the top 10.
The former Combat Sambo champion showcased his solid ground game after confusing himself for a striker early in the fight. He was a little wild to start things off but eventually found his groove with the takedowns, including carrying Healy on his shoulder in a move that looked like something out of a Matt Hughes classic.
Now that Nurmagomedov has defeated one of the tougher lightweights in the game, it's time to give him a Top 10 opponent.
Rafael dos Anjos
Rafael dos Anjos is another lightweight who's been on a roll lately. The Brazilian is coming off a victory over Donald Cerrone in which he showcased his diversity in the win.
He's a very tough opponent, and like Pat Healy, would likely push the pace against Khabib Nurmagomedov. Healy was meant to see if Nurmagomedov really belonged in the upper half of the division, but Healy has always struggled to rise above gatekeeper status.
Dos Anjos would be a good test to see if Nurmagomedov belongs, but this time it would be to see if he belongs in the title picture.
It's also an interesting matchup in that both guys have good ground games. Nurmagomedov's top game is likely good enough to stifle dos Anjos' BJJ skills, but perhaps the Brazilian could catch him with something?
This choice is all dependent upon Diego Sanchez defeating Gilbert Melendez in his next fight. Sanchez is 3-1 in his last four fights, and the only loss came in an entertaining scrap with Jake Ellenberger. His last fight with Takanori Gomi could've very well been a loss too.
Either way, Sanchez remains in the upper half of the division. Is he likely to compete for a title? I'm not sold on that based on his recent fights, but it'd be hard to argue Sanchez won't earn a top-contender bout should he defeat Melendez.
If he can get past the former Strikeforce champion, Sanchez could find himself facing off against Nurmagomedov. They're competing in relatively the same time frame and both would have impressive streaks going in their careers.
As Nurmagomedov showed last night, he's confident enough in his hands to throw on the feet. We all know Sanchez doesn't have an issue with throwing bombs either. Where this potential fight would be won or lost is in who is strong enough to impose their will with their respective ground games.
Gray Maynard used to be considered the second-best lightweight in the division. Notice the past tense.
Maynard has seen his place near the top of the of the lightweight rankings go by the wayside. A less-than-inspiring performance against Clay Guida (not entirely his fault) and a devastating loss to TJ Grant has sent Maynard plummeting down the ladder.
The former title challenger will get a chance to bounce back against another faltering lightweight in Nate Diaz. If he can defeat his former rival, a fight with Nurmagomedov would make sense.
Both men are similar in style in that their striking games aren't that great but have solid ground games. I don't envision Nurmagomedov standing and trading with Maynard, as Maynard has some serious KO power in his hands.
But will he be able to take down Maynard (who is a huge lightweight along with a former Division I All-American wrestler) with the relative ease he's used to? I'm not sure, but I'd like to see him try.
Like Gray Maynard, Nate Diaz is a former title challenger who has seen his place at the top taken out from under him. Two straight losses have put Diaz in a make-or-break situation.
If Diaz can get back on track against Maynard, it would make sense to match him with Nurmagomedov. Diaz's kryptonite has always been wrestlers who will take him down and hold him there. Getting past Maynard would prove he's evolved as a fighter, but unless he calls out another striker, Diaz will likely always find himself paired with wrestlers.
Nurmagomedov has dominated in most of his UFC tenure but hasn't had to deal with the mental warfare a fight with Diaz would bring. Even if Nurmagomedov can get the fight to the ground, it's not as if Diaz will quit fighting while on bottom. Diaz was able to stay active in his title fight with Benson Henderson, who is one of the best grapplers in the division.
A fight between Diaz and Nurmagomedov would be an interesting clash of styles, and given that both have colorful personalities, it could generate some good pre-fight hype.