Grading the Prospects: Khabib Nurmagomedov

Friday, August 17, 2012

This is the third in an UnderGround Blog series by Daniel Caton, on grading the prospects in MMA, similar to the way the NFL grades prospects, based on strength of competition, size, speed, agility, and martial arts background, among other factors.

Caton’s previous piece was on James TeHuna. Today he analyses Khabib Nurmagomedov.

 Prospect Grades uses a numerical building block system of grading, where fighters are awarded points based on:
•Strength of competition
•Skill set

Strength of Competition:
30 base points: UFC (four or more fights)
20 base points: Strikeforce
16 base points: Bellator (who have done an astounding job at signing young talent)
12 base points: TitanFC/OneFC/MFC/KOTC/LEGACY
5 base points: Any shows below

Prospect points for size range 10-40
Size points potentially weighs heavily in the score total, as size is frequently the attribute that separates the Jon Joneses from the rest of the stable.

Skill Set:
1-7 Prospect Points are awarded in a number of categories. If there is a glaring hole, negative points can be awarded.
Striking (Offense)
Clinch Work:__
Striking (Defense)
Grappling (Top Game)
Top Control:__
Transition Ability:__
Submission Ability:__
Grappling (Bottom/Defense)
Takedown defense:__
Escape ability:__
Submission Defense:__

The retirements of Chuck, Tito, Randy, etc, which are being followed by the retirements of Pride legends signal a new age.  There is new crop of athletes to cheer for. Understanding the room to grow, and when they will peak, is key.  Age hugely determines where they will be five to ten years from now. 
From 14 to -10 Prospect Points are awarded for age.
18-21              15       
22-23               14      
4-25                 10          
26-28                 5       
29-30                 0       
31-32                -2 
33-36                -4 
37+                  -10 

This, the third Underground Blog Prospect Report, is on Khabib Nurmagomedov.
Height: 5’10”
Weight: 155 lbs
Range: 70”
Age:  23                         
Record:  18-0
UFC Record: 2-0

The Pros

Sambo, Sambo, Sambo!  Nurmagomedov has an award winning grappling background.  As such, he possesses a linchpin shot.  He snaps his shoots almost always for a single.  His single leg takedown is a primary source for his grappling.  He does an excellent job of pulling the single in close, tucking it, and dragging the opposition to their back.  The Russian also does a wonderful job of transitions once on the mat, where he continues to plug away at gaining position.

Kahbib has very good ground and pound as he mixes straight punches with hammer fists when applicable, always making the best of the opportunities there.  Pacing is a real tool for Nurmagomedov. He has a relentless approach to his offensive game, constantly working the cage and clinch to gain position. This same method is applied to his striking as he’s willing to wade into his opponents striking range fearlessly.  The Russian also has a working submission game he connects with his positioning.  When the GnP isn’t working he’ll work for mounted triangles and armbars.

The Cons

Kahbib is still a work in process, and has only faced two quality opponents, one of which, Gleison Tibau, arguably beat him. His striking at this point lacks discipline and technique. He combats this weakness by launching wide looping haymakers that can land flush clean shots. However, these leaping wide looping shots leave his chin up and exposed, a very high risk, high reward way to strike. In sum, his boxing and kickboxing needs refinement.

When in the clinch he’s just looking for takedowns.  The relentless offensive pace leaves him open to being peppered with jabs and hooks.

Right now he’s very much a ground fighter.  As we saw with the Tibau fight, once his takedowns are stuffed; his standup isn’t ready for even a gatekeeper at the 155 pound division.  Albeit, he did somehow earn a decision win in that fight. 

He also shows lapses in his positioning from time to time.  His single seems to be his only real weapon for a takedown, so much so, that he’s shown he’ll continue to chase it when it’s not there. This will be a real problem later down the line when he’ll need to clinch for takedowns.  He does have solid clinch throws, but without the striking ability to get in close, he has to rely on his single. What I wanted to see in the Kamal fight was him on his back. We haven’t seen his guard work other than grappling competitions, so there’s a real question on how well he can defend off his back.


What we have seen from Kahbib is the careful grooming of a fighter.  No disrespect to the competition he’s fought up until his UFC fights, but his fights before the UFC were “carefully” considered before taking.  And when analyzing a prospect’s competition it’s important to note the difficulty one has with entry level UFC fights compared to their pre UFC careers.  There is nothing wrong with managing your career right, but once you’re at the big shows, protecting your record is a thing of the past.  By being groomed so carefully, we’ve seen holes being exposed in just the two UFC fights he’s had.

These holes are fixable with time.  His striking will need to become serviceable if he’s ever to crack the top ten.  Moreover we’ll need to see a more varied base of takedowns and guard work to better assess how he’ll fare with the upper tier of the division. He has the tools to do this, because he takes coaching very well and by all accounts is a work out warrior. 

So what is he at this point?  Well, we see a one dimensional fighter growing and adapting his game.   Granted, many feel he should be 1-1 in the UFC, but he’s not.  He’s a 23 year old undefeated fighter at 18-0. His next two UFC fights will be telling.  I’d like to see a Yves Edwards really challenge him. The good news is his grappling will take him far.  Rarely have I seen anyone outwrestle Kamal, and he did.
Build: Kahbib has a typical build for a solid 55’er.  He does have a workable reach and good upper body frame.  The Russian has a respectable base and flexible hips.  Coming from a Sambo base and great grappling experience, he has compact explosion from his lower body.  He’s not going to be overwhelmed at 155 by bigger guys and most of the time will average out with his competition when it comes to his length.  However, it should be noted that he’s not an elite athlete or even overly quick.  So when evaluating his size he’s right in the middle or maybe a little below.

Khabib Nurmagomedov, by the numbers:
Strength of Competition: 18 
Size: 18
Skill Set Score: 25
boxing 2
clinch work 1
kickboxing 1
footwork 1
Positioning 0
chin 2
composure 1
cardio 3
Takedowns 3 
Top Control 2  
Transition 3
Submission 2
TD defense 2 
Guard Work 0
Escape ability 2
Sub Defense 0
Total Grade 75 B

We can now predict a few things. The Russian is going to grow as a fighter.  He comes from a great camp and will continue to grind away at becoming well-rounded.  The essential note we can take away is there are no negative scores.  Yes, he has zeros but a zero is more of a question mark and not a sign of weakness.

His striking hopefully will develop into a more fundamental weapon.  And if he accomplishes that I’m sure we’ll see his already good ground game become more effective still. The only problem I can forecast is the deep talent at 155.  This is arguably the deepest of all divisions in all of MMA. 

So where does he fit in overall?  At three to four fights per year for two to three years, barring injury) we’ll see the exponential growth a “B” grade would garner.   The real growth is all based around his striking game, and striking takes time.  It wasn’t until recently we saw the work put in by the Diaz brothers start to shine. And Nurmagomedov does not have to become a savvy boxer like those guys. Further, looping shots worked fine for Fedor and even Hendo.  However, those guys have one shot knock out power, but that is something this prospect could develop, as many grapplers do. 

Khabib Nurmagomedov is without a doubt a potential top 10 lightweight contender.