UFC lightweight world champion Khabib Nurmagomedov steps back inside the Octagon on Saturday at UFC 242 in The Arena on Yas Island, Abu Dhabi. Nurmagomedov is currently a -440 favorite over interim lightweight champ Dustin Poirier per Caesar’s Palace.
Why the huge odds for what looks to be an exciting matchup on paper?
Because he is seen as the most dominant force in MMA today. It is a well-earned reputation built on an undefeated 27-0 professional record. He has rarely been phased throughout his UFC tenure, and any time he has been faced with an obstacle he quickly overcomes it to exert his own will upon his opponent.
Ask Michael Johnson. He stunned Nurmagomedov with a left hand early in their bout, but by the end Nurmagomedov was talking to him as he was beating him up. It was a left hand that sparked hope that Conor McGregor’s famed left could be the answer - it wasn’t. Nurmagomedov has dominated everyone in his path.
What story do the statistics show for the UFC’s soaring “Eagle”? All stats provided by UFCStats.com.
Average Takedowns Landed per 15 Minutes: 5.09
Takedown Accuracy: 44%
Takedown Defense: 84%
Average Submissions Attempted per 15 Minutes: 0.6
Nurmagomedov’s average takedowns over 15 minutes are slightly elevated to a UFC record-breaking performance against Abel Trujillo. He scored 21 takedowns in that fight. It’s a credit to Trujillo for getting back to his feet that many times, but Nurmagomedov was able to simply drag him back down. It helped put him at No. 6 on the all-time UFC takedowns list at 52. If he secures one against Poirier, he will break a tie with Corey Anderson. But, in what is truly scary, the average is not that inflated.
In Nurmagomedov’s last six bouts his takedown totals are six, two, two, four, six and three. An average of 3.83 per fight. Three of those bouts were finished in under 15 minutes. More impressively is that those numbers come against the likes of Rafael dos Anjos, Edson Barboza, Al Iaquinta and Conor McGregor. The upper echelon of the division.
But why is his accuracy so low?
It is actually a credit to Nurmagomedov’s relentlessness. Nurmagomedov does not simply have one good takedown technique. No, his strength is his chain wrestling. He is able to get stuffed, alter techniques and then complete the takedown. He won’t give up until he gets it. Doubles, singles, trips, throws, you name it. It is in his arsenal and he will find what specific technique works against his opponent. It is insanely difficult to prepare for that kind of transition.
Rarely are takedowns tried against him. Only Trujillo and Gleison Tibau were able to get a takedown against Nurmagomedov, and those takedowns dropped his percentage to 84%. You can, essentially, throw this stat out of the window. The sample size is too small.
Luke Thomas @lthomasnews
Look at this unbelievable clip from a younger Khabib. Anticipates takedown, uses kurtka to score an osoto gari DIRECTLY into an armbar. Transitions to oma plata, then to the back, then to a triangle, then to another armbar, which closes the show. Beyond impressive. https://t.co/0tCDFj5SyN
As for the submission average, Nurmagomedov will take a submission if given to him but he won’t chase them. The average is low, but when he gets a submission it’s game over. He has three wins via submission under his belt inside the UFC including his last bout. He is more focused on scoring with ground and pound to soften his opponent up.
Significant Strikes Landed per Minute: 4.29
Striking Accuracy: 49%
Significant Strikes Absorbed per Minute: 1.70
Striking Defense: 66%
The significant strikes per minute statistic can be a little misleading for new fans. It may suggest that Nurmagomedov, or anyone else for that matter, are stand-up fighters with that kind of output. However, ground strikes count as well and that is where Nurmagomedov has earned the bulk of his significant strikes.
It is also why his absorption rate is low. It currently is tied for the No. 9-ranked rate in the UFC. Fighters can’t score many significant strikes off of their back. Nurmagomedov’s top pressure keeps him out of harm's way and allows him to pummel his opponents.
Nurmagomedov has shown he has some pop in his hands, but that is not his game. He will hit you enough to work his way inside and take you down. Nurmagomedov’s striking is a means to an end. It’s workmanlike.
Who Can Topple the King?
When you look at the stats along with the videotape it can be a daunting task to come up with realistic prognostications of who can realistically beat Nurmagomedov at this juncture. They have to have good takedown defense and the ability to alter the fight with one punch. That is why Poirier is such an intriguing matchup.
Poirier has not had less than 50 significant strikes landed in a fight since a 95-second loss in 2016. In two of his five-round main events, he has landed over 170 significant strikes. While he doesn’t have elite takedown defense, it is serviceable and could potentially lead to a few extended stand-up exchanges.
Poirier is one of the more athletically gifted fighters Nurmagomedov will have fought inside the Octagon.
The stats showcase Nurmagomedov’s dominance, but it does not show that he is unbeatable. Poirier will try to overcome the odds, both literally and figuratively, this weekend. Good luck, because “The Eagle” may just be getting started with his re-writing of the record books.