Khabib Nurmagomedov produced a sublime performance in the UFC 242 main-event, submitting Dustin Poirier to defend his lightweight title.
Khabib is the type of fighter will inevitably raise the standard for what it takes to be a modern-day MMA athlete at the highest level in the same way that the likes of Georges St-Pierre and Jon Jones did.
Those two, in particular, presented (and in Jones’ case continue to present) a new technology, one so far ahead of the old that watching them dismantle each of those comparatively-limited opponents was like a condensed evolutionary process unfolding before our very eyes.
It was like watching homo sapien vs. homo erectus in a cage fight.
You just don’t get that feeling with most fighters.
Sure, both guys had their difficulties and moments of adversity to overcome but as they grew and developed, they forced the rest of their respective divisions – and later the sport – to grow with them.
The story of Khabib Nurmagomedov is yet to be told in its entirety but from what we’ve seen so far, I believe that he represents the next step in the evolution of mixed martial arts to a greater extent than anyone else on the roster.
Contenders such as Zabit Magomedsharipov, Corey Sandhagen, and Ryan Hall are all making waves in their respective divisions with a fresh and compelling approach to the game, but as far as established greats go, Nurmagomedov is king in this era.
A lot of the time, people are hesitant to start holding fighters up to that standard. It’s understandable, but based on what we’ve seen so far, based on the fact that people are pointing to clean punches landed as evidence that he’s human and, in fact, beatable – it makes me think that there’s something there.
Is it too early for us to mention his name as one of the best fighters to ever do it?
But from the moment I saw him dismantle Abel Trujillo at UFC 160 I knew he’d be a world champion.
Once I witnessed him destroy Rafael dos Anjos back in April of 2014, I was all-but-certain that greatness was in his future.
These were not contrarian opinions by any means. Nurmagomedov was seen as the uncrowned champ at 155lb long before he defeated Al Iaquinta at UFC 223 to claim the strap officially.
In my eyes, if I felt confident making the statement then, why wouldn’t I do so now?
I know what I’m seeing in there, a man more akin to an unsolvable puzzle than a collection of physical attributes and traits.
He hasn’t missed a step since we all first pegged him for greatness and now, he’s making world champion-calibre fighters look like amateurs.
Even at this early point in his career, people are calling Vasyl Lomachenko one of the greatest boxers to ever lace up gloves and now, I believe that Khabib is deserving of similar praise.
No matter what happens next, his resumé is flawless, his performances stunning, and the sheer gulf that exists between himself and the competition, gargantuan.
In the UFC 242 main-event, Dustin Poirier managed to connect with two or three clean shots – enough to clearly rattle the champ, sending us all into hysterics. Such moments are few and far between and our reaction to them does nothing but help in growing the almost mythical presence that this seemingly unbeatable Dagestani possesses.
A consistent title-run is all that stands in the way of us potentially talking about this guy as the greatest to ever do it because make no mistake, that’s where he’s headed.
That’s a big ask, of course, and who knows, perhaps Khabib isn’t interested in hanging around long enough to convince everyone.
For what it’s worth, though, he’s already one of the greatest and most-effective MMA wrestlers of all-time and based on his in-octagon performances, it’s hard to name anyone who has entered the UFC with such a destructive flair.
Say what you want about his 28-0 record and the standard of fighters he was competing against on the regional scene, with this most recent victory, he became the first fighter since Anderson Silva to debut in the promotion and go 12-0.
You can sit there and deny this man if that’s how you choose to perceive his rise.
I don’t blame you at all, the pantheon of greats is an exclusive category that is reserved for only the very best that this sport has produced.
I’m going to put my neck on the line, though, and say that I’m ready to accept Khabib Nurmagomedov as a great fighter, as a top, top, upper-echelon talent in the vein of a Jon Jones, an Anderson Silva, or a Georges’ St-Pierre.
I’ve seen enough to go into his fights expecting him to win in the same way that I do with Jones or did with GSP and by the looks of things, he’s only getting better and more refined in his approach.
We are well and truly living in the Khabib era of the sport, people!
Only time will tell if the rest of the game can catch up before The Eagle inevitable takes flight and hangs up his gloves for good.
Cillian Cunningham, Pundit Arena