Photo: Ed Mulholland / Stringer (Getty)
Twenty-six men have tried and all of them have failed to solve the Khabib Nurmagomedov riddle. He now sits atop the Ultimate Fighting Championship lightweight division as undisputed champion.
Nurmagomedov will defend his title against Conor McGregor in the UFC 229 main event on Oct. 6 at T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas, where he can convert the remaining few who question the legitimacy of his reign at 155 pounds. The undefeated Dagestani sambo stylist last competed at UFC 223 in April, when he took a lopsided five-round decision from Al Iaquinta. The win brought with it the vacant lightweight crown and moved Nurmagomedov to 10-0 in the UFC.
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1. Injuries, inactivity and issues with weight have dampened some of the enthusiasm around him.
Nurmagomedov has not fought more than three times in a calendar year since 2011, and recurring knee injuries once kept him out of the cage for more than two full years. While he reportedly walks around at more than 190 pounds, Nurmagomedov has failed to meet the lightweight threshold on two different occasions. In addition, his UFC 209 clash with Tony Ferguson was canceled due to failed weight cut, costing him his original shot at a piece of the lightweight championship.
2. He has excelled outside the cage.
Nurmagomedov is a two-time Combat Sambo World Championships gold medalist, winning the 2009 event in Kiev, Ukraine before doing so a second time a year later in Moscow.
3. He knows where his bread is buttered.
Training out of the American Kickboxing Academy in San Jose, California, Nurmagomedov ranks third on the UFC’s all-time list among lightweights with 47 takedowns. According to FightMetric, he trails only Gleison Tibau (84) and Clay Guida (50) in the category. Moreover, Nurmagomedov set a single-fight UFC record when he recorded 21 of them in his three-round encounter with Abel Trujillo at UFC 160 on May 25, 2013.
4. Staggering striking differentials can be traced to his suffocating top game.
In his 10 UFC victories, all finishes or unanimous decisions, Nurmagomedov has outperformed his opponents by an 895-298 margin in total strikes. The 29-year-old has done the majority of his damage on the ground. Only Tibau — who stopped all 13 of his attempted takedowns — managed to outstrike Nurmagomedov, as he outpaced him 46-33 at UFC 148 on July 7, 2012 in Las Vegas. Despite Nurmagomedov sweeping the scorecards with 30-27 marks across the board, it remains his most competitive bout to date.
5. Submissions represent a significant part of his offensive repertoire.
Nurmagomedov has eight submission victories to his credit: four by triangle choke, two by Kimura, one by armbar and one by rear-naked choke.