Khabib Nurmagomedov went from a relatively unknown lightweight in the UFC to a worldwide sensation in just a few fights. As one of the most dominant champions in history, his fighting style has been thoroughly studied and analyzed.
Khabib’s fighting style combines sambo, wrestling, and judo. He is a relentless pressure grappler that mauls his opponents on the ground with pressure and ground and pound.
There is a lot more that goes into the fighting style of The Eagle, and in this article, we will cover in detail what made him so special.
Khabib is a complete mixed martial artist, but stylistically, he is perhaps the most dominant grappler to compete in the octagon. He retired at 29-0 after thoroughly dominating almost all of his opponents’ thanks to his relentless pressure style, mixing sambo, judo, and wrestling.
Khabib does his best work on the ground and is relentless in pursuing the takedown. Even if he doesn’t succeed with the first, he will adjust and make more attempts until the opponent inevitably hits the canvas. Khabib completed many takedowns from the clinch or near the cage wall.
This is where he would use different techniques from his enormous arsenal of takedowns taken from sambo, judo, and wrestling.
Nurmagomedov exercises very effective positioning and control on the ground. Still, unlike most BJJ-centric grapplers, Khabib reigns down constant carnage that wears the foes down, hurts them, or at least prevents them from standing up.
A significant factor in Khabib’s otherworldly control on the ground was his signature leg wraps. Most fighters predominately use their hands and upper body to control the position.
Khabib and fighters from similar backgrounds use their legs to wrap around the opponent’s legs, preventing them from improving their position or standing up.
The Eagles’ dominating fighting style has been half-jokingly called “smesh” due to Khabib’s less-than-ideal English in his earlier UFC days.
While his language skills were getting better, so were his already formidable smashing capabilities. His relentless ground and pound game was made possible again by his expert control of the legs, which left the hands free to do the mauling.
Khabib has also finished quite a few submissions, especially early on in his career. But where submissions specialists search specifically for a joint lock or a choke, Khabib would wear down and maul the opponents with ground and pound to a point where they can’t or won’t defend the submissions.
As the son of decorated wrestler and judoka Abdulmanap Nurmagomedov in Dagestan, Khabib has been on a rigorous training and competition schedule since a very early age. He started wrestling at his father’s gym at age 8 before moving to the capital of Dagestan when he was 12.
In Makhachkala, he continued wrestling and started training in judo, eventually earning a black belt. Just before turning 18, Khabib moved on to combat sambo, dreaming of fighting in the UFC one day.
In Russia, the state’s highest honor to sportsmen is the rank of “International Master of Sports,” which Khabib has been awarded in judo, sambo, army hand-to-hand combat, and Pankration.
Nurmagomedov debuted in MMA in 2008, winning by a triangle choke. His next 3 professional fights are under the rules of Pankration. At the same time, in the meantime, he also captured two combat sambo world titles in 2009 and 2010. The Eagle landed in the UFC as a 16-0 lightweight in 2012 and the rest, as they say, is history.
It may seem strange to some, but a BJJ white belt is one of MMA’s best grapplers. He even has a strong opinion against jiu-jitsu and famously wore a t-shirt at one of his weigh-ins, saying, “If Sambo was easy, it would be called BJJ.”
Khabib’s dominant grappling is based on sambo, judo, and wrestling rather than BJJ. His success in the cage has a lot to do with his vicious ground and pound, but Khabib is also a very elite pure wrestler.
He is frequently seen in videos out grappling fighters who outweigh him by dozens of pounds. Further proof of his pure grappling prowess is his dominance at the 2012 NAGA grappling tournament.
Khabib Nurmagomedov’s grappling has received much praise, but he is in no way a one-dimensional fighter. In fact, his striking has been quite underrated.
While it’s very rough around the edges and is not visually as attractive and fluid as that of prolific strikers, Khabib’s stand-up game has played an essential role in his success in the cage.
Indeed, Khabib does not shine as a complex striker, but his shots are precisely what he needs to execute his MMA game plan. In combat, sambo striking is used more to enter a favorable grappling exchange rather than to knock out the opponent.
This is precisely what Khabib does in the cage as well. He uses heavy punches, mainly an overhand right, to help set up his constant bombardment of takedowns.
You may call Khabib a grappler, but in reality, he is a complete mixed martial artist. Using all his tools in a potent mixture allowed him to dominate the most competitive divisions in the UFC and retire undefeated.
Khabib Nurmagomedov’s fighting style is hard to replicate. Still, any aspiring MMA fighter can learn much by studying and analyzing The Eagle of Dagestan. Khabib defeated world-class grapplers and strikers in MMA thanks to his aggressive blend of grappling styles, often set up by powerful punches. Few have managed to maul opponents and break them physically and mentally like Khabib Nurmagomedov.