UFC 209: Khabib Nurmagomedov Looks to Soar Into the Mainstream

Khabib Nurmagomedov has crafted an impressive resume, but he still needs one more victory at UFC 209 to book the high-profile fight he desires.

Khabib Nurmagomedov could well have been facing Conor McGregor next had the latter not elected to step away from the cage for awhile.  At UFC 209, Nurmagomedov will now have to dispatch one of the top contenders in the lightweight division to possibly set-up a blockbuster bout with the brash Irishman in his next fight.

“The Eagle” remains perfect in his career, going a flawless 24-0 that includes eight fights in the UFC.  Despite his success, the main criticism of the Russian is that he has not been as active as his opponent and lacks a true signature win up to this point.

The biggest name on his resume is former lightweight champion Rafael dos Anjos whom he dismantled on the mat while the Brazilian was making his run toward the belt.  Admittedly, it is not completely Nurmagomedov’s fault that he lacks a huge win.  He has been scheduled to face Ferguson and Donald Cerrone before but had to pull out due to injury on both occasions (with Ferguson pulling out of a scheduled bout last April).

Nurmagomedov is now back in one of the most highly anticipated fights of the first quarter of 2017 against Ferguson and the bout is more important than ever.  With a victory, he receives the interim title and a shot at the undisputed belt in his next outing.  More importantly, he gains a huge bargaining chip going forward.

The UFC is looking to debut in Russia and Nurmagomedov looks to factor immensely into those plans.  Among the biggest bouts proposed would be a unification bout with McGregor with the idea of promoting it as an Ireland vs. Russia type of event.  The two are among the biggest surging European fighters in the UFC and would be the perfect bout to make waves in one of the biggest countries in the world.

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While talk of super fights in recent weeks has been entertaining, a bout between McGregor and Floyd Mayweather remains more myth than reality.  That means that next Saturday’s match between Nurmagomedov and Ferguson is by all accounts for the next crack at the Irishman in their next fight.  It is guaranteed to headline a pay-per-view and perhaps could have the biggest numbers of 2017.  While the gold awarded next week will be nice, it can’t be undervalued the attention and recognition that goes into a high-profile bout with “The Notorious” at this stage.

Stylistically, Nurmagomedov’s grappling looks to wreak havoc should he close the distance against Ferguson.  “The Eagle” is among the best in the world on the mat and has yet to encounter the opponent he couldn’t stifle on the ground.  Ferguson will be the bigger athlete and better striker and his takedown defense has been consistently impressive during his current run.  That said, he has not faced a grappler of Nurmagomedov’s caliber and the main question will be if he can defend the takedown of “The Eagle.”

For Nurmagomedov, the fight is a critical test of his skills.  He’s expected to win the battle on the ground, but it’s going to be important for him to demonstrate the improvements in his striking.  “El Cucuy” is a tall, awkward striker and Nurmagomedov can’t afford to take unnecessary shots while attempting to close the distance.

On another level, his performance will be evaluated in the prism of a bout with McGregor.  When breaking down a fight between the two, the main criticism is that Nurmagomedov is not expected to be able to stand with McGregor long enough to get the fight to the ground.

“The Eagle” has the opportunity to become a major player in the UFCs international plans, but it only comes to fruition if he is successful against Ferguson.  He’s boasted that his career record speaks for itself, but to win the biggest fight of his career he’ll need to let his skills do the talking.