In my recent piece, I outlined what I believe could be Tony Ferguson’s path to victory in his upcoming megafight with Khabib Nurmagomedov. However, that scenario should not be confused for a prediction. Quite the contrary: as much as this fight is necessary in determining – definitively and decisively – the greatest lightweight in the world (and in history), I am of the view that it will not be a particularly competitive affair.
Tony is a remarkable talent, but we need to ask ourselves: does Tony’s skill set present any threat that Khabib has not faced before? Dos Anjos’ ground fighting was expected to present a challenge for Khabib and it did not. Michael Johnson’s hand speed was expected to present a challenge for Khabib and it did not. Edson Barboza’s kicks were supposed to present a challenge for Khabib and they did not. And so on.
The only thing that comes to mind that sets Tony apart from Khabib’s previous opponents – aside from his superhuman will – is his exceptional ability to use elbows, which should ideally be a big part of Tony’s game plan (as we outlined in Pt. 1). One nasty elbow is capable of opening a nasty cut, and sometimes one nasty cut is enough to stop a fight.
But would Tony be able to set up those elbows? We have seen Khabib evade some decent (albeit aggressive) punch combos from Poirier, and he bested McGregor on the feet as well. Can Tony do enough before the inevitable takedown to get his elbow game going and open up that decisive cut?
Some may call me a stan. But for years I have been adamant that Khabib will not lose a fight unless he continues fighting past his prime. Thus, I think his undefeated streak will continue on April 18th, and moreover, I think it will be every bit as dominant a performance as his previous ones.
But how? Against an opponent as strong as Tony, this seems like a strange statement at first glance.
Well, we have to look at where Tony excels and if that can translate to beating a guy like Khabib. Tony has always been willing to trade shots. He does not use traditional boxing or kickboxing entries and does not move in and out of his opponents’ range. He stalks them and throws heat; and hey, that can be said about a lot of fighters’ approach to striking. For someone of Tony’s caliber, that can work against almost anyone, especially with his use of elbows (which tend to be underutilized in the sport overall).
It’s just that Khabib is not going to play that game. Firstly, he is likely to avoid any major damage. Poirier, whose jab and 1-2 is better than Tony’s, could not land anything substantial on Khabib, who was able to evade Poirier’s combos before taking him down and proceeding with father plan. Thus, I don’t see Tony’s approach to stand-up striking as being problematic for Khabib.
Tony’s jiu-jitsu is highly acclaimed, and rightfully so. But Tony tends to set up his favorite finishing technique – the D’Arce choke – from a scramble.
Can you really conceive of Khabib losing a scramble? Or Tony’s patented ground and pound from the bottom; would this be possible against Khabib?
Tony was taken down by Danny Castillo (and Castillo kept him down for quite a bit of time). That was long ago, but if you want a more recent example: he was taken down by Kevin Lee. There is no shame in that; Kevin Lee is a very athletic guy with an explosive double leg (and is just very explosive overall). But Tony also sustained damage from Lee’s ground and pound. Lee is not the same caliber of grappler as Khabib. I do not think it is unreasonable to assume that Khabib will take Tony down early, keep him there for some time, and dish out some damage.
The question then remains: would Tony’s world class conditioning be able to survive this onslaught? How effective would Tony be after they stand back up? We all saw what happened to Dustin Poirier (generally regarded as a cardio machine) after Khabib depleted his health meter in the first round of their bout. We simply do not know whether Tony will be the same Tony after getting mauled.
I just don’t see it. Which is sad, because Tony is a championship-level fighter. But as long as Khabib is around, I don’t see anyone else getting a hold of lightweight gold. Not to sound like a broken record, but it’s really remarkable how dominant he is.