Analyzing the Ground Game: Khabib Nurmagomedov the Sambo Savant

Wednesday, July 04, 2012

UG Blogger Casey Hartsfield breaks down the extraordinary ground game of Khabib Nurmagomedov, who fights Gleison Tibau at UFC 148.

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Analyzing the Ground Game: Khabib Nurmagomedov the Sambo Savant

Khabib Nurmagomedov is not just some new up and coming prospect. He is one of the best grapplers to enter the Lightweight division, and you’d be smart to take notice before he fights Gleison Tibau at UFC 148. He is a Combat Sambo World Champion and a Combat Sambo Russian National Champion. When he came to America Khabib added NAGA world Champion to his resume. At only twenty-three years old he has racked up a humble 17 wins, and 0 losses. Khabib’s Sambo, Judo, and wrestling have played a huge role in getting him those wins and a UFC contract. His execution of the grappling arts is a thing of beauty and something that we will go into great detail about in this article.

Khabib made his debut on September 13th, 2008 in Poltava Ukraine. Fighting predominantly on the Russian MMA circuit, Having a small stint in M1 before joining up with ProFC Finishing all six of his opponents in the organization and earning a UFC contract.

Khabib’s Shots, throws, and trips all are performed with an aggressiveness rarely seen. He is violent, and his intentions are evident when he takes the fight to the mat.

We will discuss the colorful ground techniques that are staples of Khabib Nurmagomedov’s arsenal.
The tools we will review:
•The Single leg
•Passing/Scramble sweeps


One of the the most overlooked aspects of MMA grappling is attacking and staying offensive while maintaining control. This requires his timing to be impeccable, and is a skill Khabib has come to exemplify in his ground attack. Khabib has an awareness to strike the instance it is required to keep himself on the winning end of the contest.

Take a look at his leg placement. One knee is between his opponents’s legs in the center of his opponent’s butt, while the leg is over to the left of his opponent. This is textbook wrestling right here. He even maintains the seat belt grip across his opponent’s belly. This allows Khabib to keep the his opponent’s hips back. When his opponent attempts to explode out the hip control becomes very important. The slowing of his movement and top pressure is drastic. This grants Khabib the awareness to release pressure and follow his opponent with out losing control.

For you triangle enthusiasts here you go. Khabib displays awesome awareness, and control. While he already has the triangle locked in, his opponent attempts a last ditch effort to break the lock. If Khabib would not have done a few specific things at the right time his opponent would have lived to fight another day. First Khabib grabs the left arm of his opponent with both hands to slow down the transition, but Khabib realizes it wont halt anything so he rolls from shoulder to shoulder with his opponent and maintains the lock. The key to this whole stand off is Khabib’s timing; with out it the triangle is broken, and his opponent has earned a pass.

One a side note I’d like to point out Khabib’s compactness. Never once does he allow himself to become extended. This would cause the triangle to lose leverage and for himself to lose position.


If you can’t appreciate what is going on here there is no hope for you. Not only does Khabib show off some really devastating ground strikes; he does it from a wonderful position and with great control. Take a look Khabib has his opponent in a crucifix position keeping the right arm in locked with his legs in a pseudo side mount. Khabib’s cups with his right arm the head forcing him down while he blasts his opponent with some really powerful punches(after the second punch his opponents mouth piece shoots out). While his record states this ended in a TKO(punches).  you can watch the fight video Khabib initiates a forearm choke and then is promptly stopped by the referee. I think the referee stopped it under the pretense Khabib’s opponent Vitaliy Ostrovskiy had given up.

Also Khabib stays off to the side with his crucifix rather than flattening out like Matt Hughes against BJ penn in their second fight. This allows Khabib to  hit him with a lot more force as well as search for straight arm bars.

Without arguing semantics his complete constraint of Ostrovskiy is something to admire. Khabib has eliminated his entire offense and defense; both of his arms are pinned while his legs are too far to do much of anything and he can’t bridge. This is total domination, and one of the best examples of a crucifix.

Who likes arm locks? This key lock is fine example. Khabib does a few things here that a large amount of people neglect to when they have this position. First he cranks the key lock while in half guard to bring the focus of his opponent to his arm rather than his legs. This distraction allows Khabib to pass from half guard to side control with ease. As soon as hes over the knee he relaxes the pressure he was putting on his opponents arm(no need to crank it again until hes in position). Khabib then proceeds to circle around to the head locking it in ‘figure four’ with his legs. This allows Khabib to create immense levels of torque on the shoulder of his opponent. This isn’t drastically uncommon, but for key locks many competitors are content to sit in side control and work. This motion of circling to the head creates far more leverage, and requires much less energy.

The Single Leg

With all the beautiful trips, and throws from Judo and Sambo Khabib has in his arsenal, his bread and butter is his single leg shot. When Khabib gets his opponent into the corner instead of just bringing him down he has the composure to spin him 180 degrees. This removes any ability for his opponent to walk up the corner of the ring. Now back to the shot; Khabib shoots his head into his opponents Solar Plexus, but keeps it on the inside.

When performing the single leg doing this keeps Khabib’s neck out of danger for the most part (being that the angle on the neck isn’t exactly ideal for a Guillotine). Aside from that unlike many wrestlers who immediately tuck the leg between their legs; Khabib holds it far out to the his left side. This further negates any choke attempts. Though the point in this technique is the motion when he gets his opponent around he keeps that thigh close, and buries his head into the body. Then he creates a push pull motion; with his right shoulder and head Khabib forces his opponent down in a arc. At the same time he gives a nice yank to the leg, and elevates it completely throwing his opponent off balance. The best way to explain the motion is he is drawing a backwards ‘C’ with his body.

Aside from the technique it does grant the one performing the single leg a pass right into side control.

This single leg is under slightly different circumstances, but performed in a nearly identical fashion. The image does not do Khabib’s speed justice at all. Most of these shots are similar and that is because consistency is a sign of skill. The main difference I see in this is shot is Khabib’s level change. More specifically the speed of the move.

Notice he is standing taller than his opponent, who is obviously in fear of the shot and maintaining lower hips and stance. Yet Khabib still gets in; it is quite astonishing. More importantly his back never bends. He keeps a straight back the whole time; never arching only lowering his whole body and extending(wrestling 101). One aspect that is a bit different than most wrestlers is he doesn’t bring his out side leg behind his opponents left. Instead Khabib pulls his opponents further into himself performing the same 180 as before. This shortens the fight between the attacker and the defender. For example a traditional single leg against a guy like BJ Penn would be terrible. Penn would be hopping around forever defending the take down. This removes that opportunity and promptly allows Khabib to lay his opponent on his ass and get the pass.

Passing/ Scramble Sweeps

The art of Passing and destroying to guard. Something Khabib has earned quite a reputation for. While he is very comfortable on his back; Khabib realizes it is always better to be on top when the opportunity presents its self, and he makes sure to seize those moments. Below he was attempting a triangle but instead his opponents gets both of his arms around Khabib’s legs. This for the most part allows the man on top to pass the guy on bottom.

When Khabib’s opponent tries to roll him over to ground and pound Khabib follows him with the roll grabbing the left leg of his enemy. Tucking the leg deep in his arm pit. This allows him to control both of them rolling from there on out. It is very import to watch what Khabib does with that leg through out the scramble. He never once lets go. Only freeing it once in the guard of his opponent and then beginning to work his passes. Back to my earlier point of his control; he chains all these actions together with out breaking the link once creating a scramble to a better position.

This is incredibly simple but I believe should be pointed out. When on top Khabib does not allow space between himself and his opponent until it is absolutely needed. Watch his forehead the entire time. He keeps it buried in the chest of the opponent. Also important is where his leg placement is the entire time. As soon as he shoots that knee down and throws his own leg over he drives it into the butt/thigh area. The only reason Khabib’s left knee isn’t driving into the body is his opponent’s only line of defense that is left is him using his right arm to block/halt the advance of Khabib knee. As simple as this pass it is; fundamentally its far beyond what most guys will do. They leave far too much space between them and their opponent and don’t emphasize their weight. In the light weight division the explosion of these athletes is far to high to not put the most weight you can on the opponent. Making his opponent carry his weight, and being heavy is not an option it is a must.


To be honest this throw is going to be incredibly difficult to analyze. One because it fits no specific technique in Judo, Sambo (even though most take downs in Sambo derive directly from Judo), or wrestling. I will attempt to describe it using all three because Khabib seems to have drawn upon on all his talents to perform this amazing Throw/Trip reversal/Slam…

The Judo and wrestling that is implemented is visible but construed unusually. Khabib’s opponent attempts to use use an inside trip (discussed heavily here), while Khabib does defend in a reversal/slam fashion. Instead of traditional Judo grips on the gi (even though they are wearing gi tops) he uses a double under hook (bear hug) hold. Then using his opponents weight against himself Khabib having become perpendicular to his opponent suplexes him. While this seems very simple the whole moved relied heavily on timing. If Khabib had waited a second later he would have been tripped on to his back. Any earlier and his opponent wouldn’t have been off balance (he wouldn’t have been attempting a trip).

This technique from Judo known as Ouchi Gaeshi (Large Inner Reversal) has the early makings of what Khabib executes. Notice both men being reversed are going for the inside trip/Ouchi Gari (right leg of opponent is hooking the inside of the left leg of Khabib and the judo player completing the reversal). The main differences are grips(double underhooks rather than Gi collar’s) and instead of tripping his opponent he suplexes/slams him. I must admit they are still very obviously different, but this is as close to pure Judo as I could match it. Though obviously the technique Khabib uses is an amalgamation of techniques rather than one specific discipline.


The best way to describe what Khabib did is to combine the Judo reversal Ouchi Gaeshi and this interesting suplex like technique Fedor used against Heath Herring in Pride while again there are largely contrasting differences here; there are many similarities that resemble what Khabib showed above. Though Fedor hits a duck under to the side of Herring which is different the position is almost identical, and has a far similar finish than the “Oechi Gaeshi” and sadly there is not a name for what Fedor did other than ‘duck under slam/suplex’. In conclusion to this ‘technique’ Khabib performed I may not have portrayed it perfectly, but I hope it sheds some light on a awesome take down.

Here Khabib hits a move quite similar to the won above. This time he is reversing an poorly planned Osoto Otoshi (Large Outer drop).

Here at the Combat Sambo Russian Championships Khabib hits an awesome Osoto Otoshi (Large Outer drop). While he does land a bit oddly;  the two men land out side of bounds and are immediately restarted in the center. What I want people to take notice of is when his opponent attempts to fake him out by pulling the gi down, Khabib immediately steps through sweeping with his right leg cutting through his opponents right leg.

Though hard to see with Khabib’s right hand he throws it over right shoulder and behind the back of his opponent grabbing the gi creating much more torque and securing his position pre-sweep. While if you are a Judo player this is common knowledge but one might think this has no place in no gi events like mma. Well Rick Hawn, Karo Parisyan, and even Jon Jones all have hit take downs similar to this. Adjusting to no gi they tend to do it from the collar tie underhook or over under positions.

Here we see essentially a lateral drop from Khabib. A few things to take a glimpse of. First Khabib has the double under hook position. Secondly Khabib is creating a scissor motion with his body; more specifically when he launches his own body to the left he is chopping his opponents legs going the opposite direction. Along with the torque of his drop Khabib has a nice little sweep with the left Leg to really finish the the move. A really important factor of this technique is what he does with his left knee. Khabib over exaggerates the motion of throwing the knee into his opponents hips to really force him to go horizontal.

I’d really like to end this on spectacle that really sums up Khabib. Something that embodies the passion he holds as a fighter, and I believe I have found it.

Khabib starts off with a great hip toss with a inside leg sweep, with the same back gi grip as Osoto Otoshi. His opponent does roll threw, and survives the first throw. Though Khabib immediately foot sweeps him and he is pancaked into the mat. To be honest the foot sweep looks like a incredibly violent Okuriashi Harai (Following Foot Sweep).


Khabib does sweep with the inside of his left foot which is correct, but its just so fast and powerful. Khabib’s opponent pauses on the ground likely rocked. Then he gathers his bearings and is immediately barraged and receives a inside trip/Ouchi Gari right at the end.

As we saw Khabib has great explosive use of Judo/Sambo trips and throws. A wonderful single leg and a nice resume to go along with it.

We are only a few days away from Khabib’s second UFC appearance against Brazilian Gleison Tibau at UFC 148. We will see if this grappling phenom can handle the veteran in Tibau. I will say this is going to really test Khabib, but there is a very good chance his grappling abilities could coast him right to a victory. If you have followed Khabib than it is understood the opportunity he has here. More importantly if you enjoy grappling tune in this weekend you should not be disappointed.