Khabib Nurmagomedov Is the New Name to Know in Stalled UFC Lightweight Division

Chad DundasMMA Lead WriterApril 22, 2014

Khabib Nurmagomedov, from Russia, celebrates after Thiago Tavares, from Brazil,  during their lightweight mixed martial arts bout at the Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) in Sao Paulo, Brazil, Saturday, Jan. 19, 2013. (AP Photo/Andre Penner)
Andre Penner

The last name is actually not that difficult if you just sound it out:


Andre Penner

Written out on paper (or in a headline), it looks like a handful, but after the man in question solidified his position as the UFC’s fastest-rising lightweight prospect on Saturday, we’re all going to have to get comfortable with it.

Khabib Nurmagomedov is going to be in the conversation for a while.

By thoroughly out-grappling Rafael dos Anjos at UFC on Fox 11, Nurmagomedov proved he’s worthy of a little attention to detail. Just as we once learned where to put the emphasis in Taktarov, the correct pronunciation of Vovchanchyn and how to properly distribute the vowels in Emelianenko, his name is one we ought to know.

Securing a unanimous-decision victory over dos Anjos on the preliminary portion of Saturday’s card did not make for Nurmagomedov’s prettiest or most high-profile UFC win, but it might go down as the one that launched him into the upper echelon of the 155-pound class.

He’s part of a growing contingent of Dagestani fighters—also including Rustam Khabilov and Ali Bagautinov—currently making their mark in the UFC. His calling card is a powerful grappling game and a dangerous (occasionally reckless) striking attack which to date has proven too much for his foes.

Oh yeah, and there's also this video floating around of a nine-year-old Nurmagomedov wrestling a bear.

An actual bear.

“There are grappling specialists, and then there are grappling specialists like Khabib Nurmagomedov…,” said UFC color commentator Joe Rogan during the weekend’s Fox Network broadcast. “The level of grappling this man has shown in the Octagon has been nothing short of amazing to me. As a fan of grappling, really, I’m in awe of what this guy has been able to do to world-class competition.”

Apr 19, 2014; Orlando, FL, USA; Rafael dos Anjos (red gloves) fights Khabib Nurmagomedov (blue gloves) in their lightweight fight during UFC on FOX 11 at Amway Center. Mandatory Credit: David Manning-USA TODAY Sports

He set that tone early against dos Anjos, spending the first minute and a half walking the Brazilian jiu-jitsu black belt down before hoisting him off his feet and onto the canvas. From there, the 25-year-old two-time world sambo champion unleashed a steady stream of takedowns and throws, nullifying dos Anjos’ improved striking game and easily avoiding his sporadic submission attempts.

In the process, Nurmagomedov garnered his sixth straight Octagon victory, tying bantamweight champ Renan Barao for longest active win streak in the promotion. He pushed his overall mark to 22-0—an astounding feat in MMA’s most competitive weight class—and reaffirmed his position as the up-and-coming lightweight nobody really wants to fight.

In a perfect world, it also would’ve established him as a top challenger for Anthony Pettis’ 155-pound title. Unfortunately, Pettis is still recovering from knee surgery, and the rest of the lightweight top 10 remains in a very strange place right now.

Sep 21, 2013; Toronto, Ontario, CAN; Khabib Nurmagomedov (top) takes down Pat Healy during their Lightweight bout at UFC 165 at the Air Canada Centre. Mandatory Credit: Tom Szczerbowski-USA TODAY Sports

The champion is already booked against Gilbert Melendez, and that fight won’t go down until near the end of the year after Pettis and Melendez fulfill their duties as coaches on season 20 of The Ultimate Fighter.

Meanwhile, theoretical No. 1 challenger Benson Henderson has fully played out the string against Pettis, losing two previous bouts against him. Left to spin his wheels, Henderson is booked for a strange matchup against Khabilov (No. 15) in June.

With Pettis ailing and Henderson otherwise engaged, it means Nurmagomedov will have to fight once, maybe twice more against lesser competition before the division even begins accepting applications for new top contenders.

Given that the futures of T.J. Grant (No. 3), Josh Thomson (No. 4) and Nate Diaz (No. 6) are also all in question for various sundry reasons, who’ll next accept a fight with the surging Nurmagomedov seems like a very vexing question indeed.

Sep 21, 2013; Toronto, Ontario, CAN; Khabib Nurmagomedov celebrates his victory over Pat Healy (not pictured) during their Lightweight bout at UFC 165 at the Air Canada Centre. Mandatory Credit: Tom Szczerbowski-USA TODAY Sports

A potential booking against Donald Cerrone (who also got a win on Saturday) seems like a no-brainer, and Diaz could make some sense, assuming the easily disgruntled fighter can come to a financial arrangement with the UFC.

Either way, the lightweight title picture figures to be stuck in freeze-frame for most of the rest of 2014.

That means despite the fact his ascendance might be the dominant story at 155 pounds this year, Nurmagomedov will have to be content with fighting for our respect.

And his place in the MMA lexicon.