Experts weigh in – Will Tony Ferguson be the one to end Khabib Nurmagomedov’s unbeaten streak?


Khabib Nurmagomedov has lost just one round while racking up a 12-0 record in the UFC.

It’s the second-best start in UFC history behind Anderson Silva, who won his first 16. Nurmagomedov’s 28-0 overall record is the best in MMA. Among lightweights, he has the most takedowns landed and highest strike differential, according to ESPN Stats & Information data.

Unbeatable, right?

Maybe not.

When Nurmagomedov faces Tony Ferguson on April 18 in Brooklyn, he’ll be facing someone who is also on a 12-fight UFC win streak. Ferguson hasn’t been stopped in 16 UFC fights — fourth-best streak in history — and has won 21 of his 26 overall by stoppage.

Many are already looking forward to a Khabib rematch with Conor McGregor — who won the third round before being choked out in the fourth in their Oct. 6, 2018 bout. But Ferguson is not someone who should be overlooked.

ESPN’s MMA panel of Ariel Helwani, Brett Okamoto, Marc Raimondi and Jeff Wagenheim break down the matchup.

What would a Ferguson win look like?

Tony Ferguson brings a chaotic, high-energy, offensive attack to the Octagon, and if he can keep the fight standing, Nurmagomedov’s unblemished record might be in jeopardy. AP Photo/John Locher

Helwani: Nurmagomedov is the most dominant fighter in UFC history, and I have a hard time believing Ferguson will stop Nurmagomedov. I think Ferguson will have to go the distance and out-tough him. Easier said than done, of course.

Okamoto: Ferguson is one of the most entertaining fighters in the world, because he’s all action. Nurmagomedov is entertaining in his own right, but for a very different reason. It’s entertaining to watch Nurmagomedov’s dominance on the floor. “Action” is not one of the first words you’d use to describe a Nurmagomedov fight. He gets his prey to the ground and he doesn’t let them back up. So, a Ferguson win would look like a Ferguson fight: He would defend Nurmagomedov’s takedowns, and beat him standing. If he does get taken down, he’d pull out some kind of somersault, round off, triple axel reverse to get back up. And if he were held down for any real amount of time, he’d throw elbows from the bottom like they’re going out of style. Action is Ferguson’s friend. A grapple-fest is not.

Raimondi: Chaotic. Ferguson excels in a non-linear type of fight — lots of scrambles, lots of unique positions. He’d likely use several aspects of MMA to get it done, not just striking or wrestling. There would almost certainly be some kind of combination of the two. Nurmagomedov is one of the best wrestlers in the world, but Ferguson is dangerous off his back. Ferguson is also a dynamic and fearless striker. He’s unpredictable, which works to his advantage. Plus, Ferguson has cardio for days. There’s a reason he hasn’t lost since 2012.

Wagenheim: Ferguson’s cornermen need to whisper in his ear that the UFC has electrified the Octagon fencing and, if he wants to avoid electrocution, he needs to stay away from the cage. By remaining in open space, Tony will be giving himself his best shot at keeping the fight standing. That way he can utilize his unpredictable attacks to try to put Nurmagomedov on the defensive. We haven’t seen anyone succeed at doing this against Khabib, so maybe it’s fantasy. But it’s less outlandish fantasy than the notion that Ferguson can pull off a submission from underneath a Dagestani lead blanket.


How does Ferguson’s grappling ability compare to Khabib’s?

The UFC will return on Saturday, with an up-and-coming heavyweight looking to knock off an established veteran in the main event. Jairzinho Rozenstruik, who is 9-0 and opened eyes with his first-round KO win over Andrei Arlovski at UFC 244, will face the toughest challenge of his career in Alistair Overeem. “The Demolition Man” is 45-17 and has earned two straight first-round TKO wins.

UFC Fight Night: Overeem vs. Rozenstruik
• Saturday, Washington, D.C.
Early prelims: ESPN+, 5:30 p.m. ET
Prelims: ESPN, 7 p.m. ET
Main card: ESPN, 9 p.m. ET

Subscribe to ESPN+ to get exclusive live UFC events, weigh-ins and more; Ariel and the Bad Guy; Dana White’s Contender Series; and more exclusive MMA content.

Helwani: Ferguson is very unorthodox in all facets of the game. He’s as unconventional as it gets in training, striking and grappling. Nurmagomedov is more of a conventional Russian grappler/wrestler. He is tough, durable and relentless. The latter trait might be his most impressive one. I mean, did you see the way he was cupping Dustin Poirier’s mouth during their fight in September? You don’t see that kind of technique often.

Okamoto: Ferguson has a strong wrestling background that includes success at the high school and collegiate levels. Ferguson has never really fought like a traditional, American collegiate wrestler in MMA, though. He has a style that is uniquely his own, which he has crafted mostly on his own. He’s also a black belt in Eddie Bravo’s 10th Planet Jiu-Jitsu system. Now, that said, there’s not a lightweight on the planet who owns an advantage over Nurmagomedov’s grappling. Nurmagomedov is the best in the world at taking an opponent down and keeping him there. What makes this matchup interesting is Ferguson’s gas tank and his unorthodox style. The cardio can’t be overstated. Nurmagomedov prides himself in making opponents tired. Ferguson doesn’t get tired.

Raimondi: Nurmagomedov is an oppressive wrestler with several ways to put opponents on their backs. Once there, Nurmagomedov has options. He can ground and pound from the top or he can get foes into a leg-ride type of position against the fence, which is where he cinched that jaw crank on McGregor at UFC 229. Nurmagomedov is hard to shake off once he has that kind of position. While Nurmagomedov is suffocating, Ferguson is dynamic. He’s rolling for legs, being aggressive, going for submissions. Both men are excellent grapplers, but they couldn’t be any more different in their approach.

Wagenheim: Khabib is going to maneuver you against the cage, trap you there, lock up your body and take you down, then wrap his legs around yours to immobilize you while he works his body into top position, from where he beats you up. He is as methodical as he is unstoppable. Ferguson, on the other hand, is all about the scramble and the scrap, his martial arts expressed in the chaotic abstract. He is Jackson Pollock impetuousness, while Khabib is as coldly resolute as, say, Edward Hopper. Sorry, champ, but I don’t know enough art history to cite a Russian master of harsh realism.


Is Ferguson a more dangerous opponent for Khabib than Conor?

Nurmagomedov might be the best grappler in the world, as Conor McGregor learned the hard way. AP Photo/John Locher, File

Helwani: Right now, yes, because Nurmagomedov has never fought Ferguson. So, off the bat, Ferguson presents questions Nurmagomedov has never answered. Ferguson is also a tad craftier on the ground, so that will be interesting, but lest we forget McGregor was the first and only person to win a round against Nurmagomedov.

Okamoto: Yes, I believe he is, for reasons we’ve already highlighted. Ferguson has more grappling experience than McGregor and better endurance. Ferguson probably doesn’t have the one-punch knockout power of McGregor, but let’s not pretend he doesn’t hit hard. He has sneaky power and more ways to finish a fight than McGregor. And again, the cardio is huge. Cardio is mandatory against Nurmagomedov.



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