Never have the realms of boxing and MMA been so closely intertwined.
UFC lightweight champion Conor McGregor is on the cusp of a potential billion-dollar showdown with undefeated boxing legend Floyd Mayweather, Anderson Silva and Roy Jones Jr have discussed a potential fight and David Haye is more than happy to take up UFC light heavyweight Jimi Manuwa’s offer to throw down.
Hell, even Nick Diaz has been challenged by former WBC light heavyweight champion Jean Pascal. Throw in some call outs from boxers such as Ricardo Mayorga, Paulie Malignaggi, Michael Katsidis, Vasyl Lomachenko and Manny Pacquiao then you must be in heaven if you’re a crossover enthusiast.
However, if you’re a boxing purist, you’ll probably consider it an insult that MMA fighters are even considering the idea of boxing seasoned professionals. A typical boxing purist’s critique of MMA is that fighters spend most their time rolling around on the floor and that they completely underestimate the subtle technical aspects involved in ‘the sweet science’.
The average MMA fan’s argument for why boxing is an inferior sport is based around the idea of ‘cherry picking’, where a boxer’s record is intentionally built up by fighting substandard opposition and/or avoiding top competitors in order to create a big fight down the road. Hence the dubbing of a ‘padded record’. Ironically, one of the UFC’s biggest prospects is as guilty of owning such a record as any boxer.
No, it’s not McGregor. Knocking out two champions and taking their belts should end all qualms regarding Mystic Mac’s record. The culprit is ‘The Eagle’, Khabib Nurmagomedov.
The Dagestan native has amassed a record of 24 wins with 0 defeats, which on paper seems incredible. However, when you actually take a closer look at the sambo specialist’s record on his run to the UFC, it looks significantly less impressive.
Describing his record as questionable is the understatement of the century and it’s baffling that this has not been publicised to a greater degree.
The ‘padded’ record first came to my attention when Tony Ferguson criticised his would-be opponent about it in an interview with Fox Sports back in December 2016.
“I’ll take his 24-0 record, it’s fu*king padded dude. Look at some of the legit fights he’s had then look at mine. I’ll take my record over his any day. His record is so padded. He’s a paper champ. Get out of here.”
This persistent bashing of Khabib’s record intrigued me enough to research his 16 fights leading up to his UFC debut.
What I found certainly justified Ferguson’s claims of a ‘padded record’.
Nurmagomedov made his professional debut in 2008 against Vusal Bayramov, an Azerbaijani who was 0-0 at the time and eventually amassed a record of 2-5.
All the losses that Bayramov suffered during a short two-year career came inside the distance.
Next up for Khabib was a man so bad they named him twice, Magomed Magomedov. It was a fight in itself just to find a database on this Russian with no age or height even known.
Magomedov was four fights into his career when he fought Khabib. He was on a four-fight losing streak and all of those defeats came inside the distance. Magomedov finished his career with a negative record of 4-6.
Khabib’s third fight was against fellow Russian, Ramazan Kurbanismailov. Another inexperienced competitor with only one fight to his name. Nurmagomedov won by unanimous decision and his opponent is currently 5-3-2, which more closely resembles a defensive-minded formation on FIFA than a decent fighter’s record.
In his fourth bout, Nurmagomedov took a considerable step-up in competition considering his previous opponents, fighting a man who was 2-0. Shamil Abdulkerimov was defeated by Khabib via unanimous decision and only fought four more times thereafter, finishing up with a mediocre record of 4-3. His only claim to fame being that he once featured on an Emelianenko undercard. Unfortunately for Abdulkerimov it wasn’t the legendary Fedor, it was his lesser known brother, Aleksander.
His fifth fight is laughable. Nurmagomedov faced Said Akhmed, who was making his debut at the time. Akhmed lost by first round TKO and has not fought since. He ended his ‘career’ 0-1, which begs the question; was this guy even a legitimate fighter or just someone they literally dragged in off the street?
The Dagestani continued to be matched up against newcomers in his sixth fight where he fought Eldar Eldarov, who was 1-0 at the time. Eldarov has earned some credibility though, winning seven straight fights since losing to Nurmagomedov, taking his record to 8-1.
The recurring theme of favourable match-ups was evident once again in Nurmagomedov’s seventh outing as he faced Shahbulat Shamhalaev, who only had two fights under his belt at the time. Khabib dispatched of his inexperienced opponent in the first round via kimura.
Nurmagomedov went 8-0 after beating another unproven opponent in Ali Bagov, who was 2-1 at the time and coming off a submission loss. One must question why a seven-fight streaking Khabib was paired against such a green opponent coming off a loss.
Bagov can best be described as a journeyman fighter, as he went on to accumulate a lacklustre record of 23-10 with an 80 per cent TKO loss rate.
Khabib extended his winning streak to nine by beating another subpar opponent in Vitaliy Ostrovskiy. The Belarussian came into the fight 3-3, with two of his victories coming against an opponent with 28 losses (20 by submission) and the other against a fighter with a 1-2 record. Top class opposition indeed. Ostrovskiy didn’t fare much better after losing to Khabib as he lost six of his next seven fights and seven of eleven overall before retiring with an 8-11 record.
Given Nurmagomedov’s record at this stage, you’d expect him to be lined up against adversaries with similar records but this was not the case. For his tenth fight, Khabib dispatched of Alexander Agafonov, a Ukrainian who had competed in half the number of fights that the ‘Eagle’ had. Agafonov retired shortly after his defeat to Nurmagomedov, with an undesirable record of 5-3 having competed for barely two years.
Khabib scored a submission victory over Said Khalilov to extend his unbeaten run to eleven in April 2011. The defeat to Nurmagomedov was the second of the five-fight losing streak that ended Khalilov’s career. He finished up with an unattractive record of 12-13, with defeats to Dennis Siver and Albert Tumenov along the way.
Astonishingly, an undefeated, eleven-fight streaking Khabib was somehow matched with a fighter 0-2 for his twelfth contest. Ashot Shahinyan was the fighter in question and he faced the multiple time sambo world champion in the middle of a five-fight losing streak. The Armenian went 0-2 in his next two contests before picking up the first win of his career. He subsequently retired with a record of 1-5.
Unlucky for some, 13, was the complete opposite for Nurmagomedov as he was gifted yet another untested opponent with just two previous fights. Khabib defeated fellow Russian Kadzhik Abadzhyan in the first round. It was the second defeat of what turned out to be a six-fight losing streak for Abadzhyan, who eventually finished with a 3-6 overall record.
Victory number 14 came against Hamiz Mamedov. The Azerbaijan native went 0-3 at the beginning of his career before putting together a decent four-fight winning streak that was eventually snapped by Nurmagomedov. Mamedov was hit and miss and retired in 2014 with a mediocre 8-4 record.
Obviously, by this point of Khabib’s career, overseas MMA organisations would have been scouting the Dagestani with a view to signing him up. Usually, a fight against a noteworthy name is what management seeks to speed up the process but for Nurmagomedov it couldn’t have been more opposite. Bewilderingly, in his 15th professional fight Khabib fought an opponent making his debut. Yes, you read that correctly. At 0-0, Vadim Sandulitsky was the next opponent for the 14-0 Nurmagomedov and needless to say it ended in the first round. Cherry picking at its finest.
Nurmagomedov’s last fight before joining the UFC’s ranks was against Arymarcel Santos, a Brazilian with 72 fights to his name. At the relatively young age of 33, ‘Chocolate’ Santos has a crazy record of 38 wins and 34 losses and is still actively competing. Khabib was the Brazilian’s 51st fight and he was 28-22 at the time. Khabib got the stoppage and is just one of 14 KO/TKO losses for Santos.
It is hard to disagree with Tony Ferguson’s labelling of Khabib’s record as ‘padded’ when you consider the credentials of his opponents and circumstances in each of the 16 fights above. This unbeaten streak portrayed the sambo specialist as untouchable upon entry to the UFC but even during his time in the organisation there have been signs of mortality that have been ignored.
Against Pat Healy’s high tempo ultra-offensive style, similar to that of Tony Ferguson, the Dagestani struggled to hold his own when constant pressure was applied and showed signs of cardio issues. His fight with Gleison Tibau is shrouded in doubt as many, including this writer, feel the Brazilian was the clear victor.
On that night Khabib failed to land a single takedown and earned a unanimous decision but 3 writers at leading site Sherdog, 1 writer at MMAFighting and 1 contributor at MMAWeekly scored the fight three rounds to 0 in favour of Tibau. Most recently, Michel Johnson exposed the Russian’s inferior stand-up game.
When you add in the weight issues, persistent pullouts, injuries and the fact that Khabib’s first ever fight in a cage was his UFC debut I feel it is quite reasonable to argue that Nurmagomedov is extremely lucky to find himself in the position he’s in.
David O’Donovan, Pundit Arena