The Ultimate Fighting Championship has been recognized as the number one Mixed Martial Arts organization in the world for two decades now for good reason. While many other MMA orgs may house considerable talent on their roster in select weight classes while lacking in others, the talent in the UFC is distributed equally throughout eight weight classes from Flyweight to Heavyweight. Nearly every UFC card these days, from their televised Fight Nights to their Pay Per View events, has numerous interesting style match ups in both the lighter and heavier divisions. One great thing about the wealth of talent in the UFC is that each of its fighters has his own unique skill set which makes for intriguing clashes in the cage and as such each fan finds themselves excited about different upcoming bouts and for different reasons. Two of the more popular UFC divisions in recent years have been the lightweight-155lbs class and the HW 265lbs class, and there are two upcoming fights in these divisions which I am looking forward to eagerly. These fights which I am greatly anticipating are Pat “Bam Bam” Healy vs Khabib Nurmagomedov at UFC 165 in Toronto, Ontario Canada and Antonio “Big Foot” Silva vs Mark Hunt at UFC Fight Night in Brisbane, Australia on December 7th. In this article I will discuss why I find these fights to be particularly intriguing to me stylistically and the strategies that I think each fighter will have to employ to be successful while giving my own personal predictions for the outcomes of these contests.
Of the two aforementioned fights, the Pat Healy vs Khabib Nurmagomedov LW fight at UFC 165 on September 21st is probably the one I am anticipating most eagerly. Both of these fighters are known for being well-rounded grapplers and fighters with a great deal of experience under their belts. Pat Healy (29-16-0-1NC) is an Oregon native and former Division 2 wrestler with strong Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu skills who is coming off a recent no contest against Jim Miller due to being caught using an illicit substance. Despite the fight result being over turned, Healy surprised many by catching the very tough and highly ranked Miller in a rear naked choke in the 3rd round. Prior to this, Healy had been very successful in the now defunct Strikeforce organization with decision wins over Kurt Holobaugh, Mizuto Hirota, Eric Wisely and Lyle Beerbohm, the latter of which was a fight of the year candidate in 2011 where Healy dealt Beerbohm his first loss ever. Healy has also had recent submission wins over Caros Fodor by way of arm triangle choke and Maximo Blanco by way of rear naked choke. Healy is most known for being what is often referred to in Poughkeepsie MMA parlance as a “grinder”. With most of his wins coming by way of submission, Healy generally overwhelms his opponents by clinching with them early and feeding them a study diet of low knees and body shots combined with a good deal of wall clinching and dirty boxing. When he has worn his opponent down his modus operandi seems to be to gain a takedown, usually by way of doubles, singles, inside or outside trips, and upon hitting the ground works feverishly from all positions with relentless ground and pound and submission attempts. His highest percentage submissions are generally rear naked chokes, side chokes and guillotines which he sinks in after thoroughly exhausting his opponents with his fast paced scrambling. Perhaps Healy’s best attributes are his incredible cardio and his solid chin. He rarely seems to get tired and this often causes his opponents to wilt even if they at first seem to have the upper hand in the fight because he is very good at suddenly turning the tide.
On the other hand, Khabib Nurmagomedov (20-0) is an undefeated fighter with a twenty fight win streak who hails from Russia and has an extensive background as a Combat Sambo Champion as well as holding a black belt in Judo who also learned to wrestle under the tutelage of his father growing up. Since his debut in the UFC both his Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu and his striking have evolved and along with his top-notch grappling he is also known for having a hard overhand right and very good cardio. Since arriving in the UFC he has had finishes over Kamal Shalorus by rear naked choke and Thiago Tavares by TKO, as well as having decision wins over Gleison Tibau and most recently Abel Trujillo where he set the record for most takedowns in a single UFC fight, completing 21 out of 27 attempts. His record is fairly well rounded, with both 7 wins by way of submission as well as 7 knockouts and 6 decision wins.
So now that I’ve discussed both fighter’s backgrounds the question becomes: what are the strategies that could best be employed by these fighters to achieve victory in this contest? By all accounts this fight seems like it is going to be a barnburner and one which could likely go the distance. Both fighters have excellent cardio and wrestling as well as top notch submission skills, but Healy is a bit more of a “grinder” who has gone the distance a number of times whereas Nurmagomedov has finished half of his fights in the first round and has only gone the distance twice. When it comes to striking I don’t see either fighter as having a significant advantage so I’m not sure that it would benefit either to try to keep the fight standing for a long period of time. As far as Healy is concerned, I think he should do what he does best and try to take this fight into deep waters and expect or even hope for it to go into the third round. While Nurmagomedov has proven he can go the distance, he has still only seen the 3rd round three times while Healy really seems to thrive in long fights so I would think his best chance is to make the Russian work for every takedown, for every strike and for every position. He should push him into the fence and hang on him relentlessly, giving him no room to breathe whatsoever. However, Khabib is likely to look for the takedown and while Healy’s wrestling is strong, in my opinion Nurmagomedov’s is superior, especially seeing as he set the UFC’s takedown record in his last fight. For this reason, while Healy should make him work for those takedowns, he should not in my opinion waste his energy trying to take the Russian down early in the fight. Instead, I think it would serve him best to be cognizant of when he can fight off a takedown attempt no longer and then at the very last second, after having already made his opponent exert some effort in the attempt, he should occasionally give way to the Russian’s takedowns and use them as opportunities to create scrambles on the mat. Healy is particularly good at coming out on top in mat scrambling scenarios and I see him as being more likely to gain a top position on the Russian by sweeping or reversing him on the ground then taking him down outright. With the Russian’s takedown ability and his clear aggressiveness he might be taken off guard if Healy fights off some of the attempts fully while using others to gain the momentum to scramble, using moves like switches and granby rolls. In this way I think Healy could eventually end up on top of the Russian in the 2nd or 3rd round once he begins to tire and from there utilize ground and pound to either set up a submission or earn a TKO victory.
For Nurmagomedov, since I believe he has slightly superior wrestling to Healy, I think he should use the aggressive style that has worked for him in his past few fights and immediately take the fight to Healy. However, since Healy will probably expect the Russian to immediately shoot for the takedown I think he should instead start the fight with some striking, particularly leg kicks and straight punches which will keep him at bay and not allow him to establish the upper body clinches and dirty boxing against the cage which he often enjoys. Then once he has lulled Healy into a striking battle he should shoot hard for doubles, power doubles or singles from outside the clinch so Healy never has the opportunity to push him against the cage. If he does find any of his attempts stuffed he should immediately disengage and resume at striking range and should do the same if Healy engages him in a standing clinch, rather than trying to clinch with him as that is Healy’s territory. Since he has a good overhand right, the Russian may be able to catch Healy from the outside and then use the opportunity to shoot for a takedown or simply get him to respect his strikes then fake an overhand right and shoot instead. Once Nurmagomedov gets Healy down however, he should work position over submission and not rush anything as Healy likes scrambles and he should do his best to avoid frantic mat wrestling scenarios. Instead, Khabib should work slowly and patiently to pass Healy’s guard while keeping heavy shoulder pressure on Healy’s jaw as much as possible to make him uncomfortable and to give him as little space as possible to initiate a scramble or get back to his feet. Healy is also good at wall walking so the Russian should try to prevent him from sliding his back to the cage where he can regain his footing. Once he achieves a dominant position like sidemount, mount or backmount, the Russian should first strike from on top with short punches and elbows and only go for a submission if it really appears as if he can finish the fight because Healy is good at using failed submission attempts to tire the opponent out and then find a chance to escape. Overall, this is a fight where it is hard to pick a winner but if I had to make a prediction it would be that Khabib Nurmagomedov wins this either via unanimous decision based on takedowns and damage from top control or scores a submission at some point in the late 2nd or 3rd round. If Nurmagomedov can win this fight he can take Pat Healy’s place at number 10 in the UFC’S LW rankings and this is undoubtedly something he has in mind on his road to the top of the LW division.
Another fight I am eagerly anticipating is the HW tilt between the number 4 ranked Antonio “Bigfoot” Silva and Mark Hunt at the upcoming UFC Fight Night in Brisbane, Australia on December 7th. Both Bigfoot and Hunt received KO losses at UFC 160 back in May, to current HW champion Cain Velasquez and Junior Dos Santos respectively. Hailing from New Zealand, Mark Hunt (9-8) is most known for being an extremely heavy handed K-1 Kickboxing veteran with an iron chin and a reputation for being extremely difficult to knock out. Despite the fact that Junior Dos Santos recently proved that it is possible to knock Hunt out, few other than the very best strikers in the HW division would choose a standup battle with Hunt as their first course of action. Although prior to his arrival in the UFC Hunt had a fairly unimpressive record including several first round submission losses, over the past two years Hunt has amassed a 4-2 record in the UFC with impressive wins over Chris Tuscherer, Ben Rothwell, Cheick Kongo and Stefan Struve. His most impressive win under the UFC banner was his 3rd round TKO over 7 foot-tall Stefan Struve back in March. Struve is not only well known for being a very accomplished kickboxer but also for having very good Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu with 16 submission victories to his credit. While many thought Hunt might have the standup advantage in this fight most agreed that if Struve could get the fight to the ground he would easily submit Hunt. However, much to the surprise of many MMA fans, Hunt was not only able to survive on the ground against Struve, fending off some strong submission attempts and escaping inferior positions like mount and backmount, he was even able at one point to pass Struve’s very tricky guard and establish side control which is no easy feat. Hunt then got the fight back to a standing position where he landed a devastating over hand right to break Struve’s jaw, resulting in a TKO victory. This fight, as well as others have proven that Mark Hunt has greatly improved both his ground game and his takedown defense which were previously his weaknesses. He will need these new found skills if he is to defeat a Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu black belt like Antonio Silva.
The number 4 ranked HW Antonio “Bigfoot” Silva has had some impressive wins as well as some difficult losses since arriving in the UFC. With 2 wins and 2 losses since his arrival to the big show in May of 2012, “Bigfoot” has established himself as a “kill or be killed” fighter. His two losses in the UFC are nothing to be ashamed of as they have come at the hands of current HW champion Cain Velasquez. On the other hand, Silva has recently had impressive knock out victories over both 6’7 Travis Browne and devastating K-1 Grand Prix champion Alistair Overeem. Since he possesses serious knockout power and very long reach, Silva is often at an advantage when he can get his opponents to engage in a close-quarters brawl. However, because what he has in power he lacks in speed and mobility, this strategy can work against him against faster strikers like Cain Velasquez and Daniel Cormier. In these cases, the intimidating Silva usually looks to take his opponents to the ground and use his size and Black Belt Jiu-Jitsu skills to earn a victory either via submission or TKO from heavy ground and pound.
So having now looked at these two fighters’ skill sets, lets look at these fighters’ keys to success against eachother in the UFC’s octagon. For Mark Hunt, he clearly wants to keep the fight standing in order to utilize his striking advantage. While Silva does possess very heavy hands, he is not nearly as proficient a striker as Hunt who is a former K-1 veteran. He also does not possess Hunt’s iron jaw, and as such a stand up fight would not be advisable for him. Silva likely knows this and so will probably try to take Hunt down early and for this reason Hunt should be working on his takedown defense and should try to make this fight a “sprawl and brawl” affair where he shuts down Silva’s takedown attempts and forces him to engage standing. If taken down, Hunt will need to use the newly acquired submission defense he utilized against Struve and work to escape any inferior positions he is put in and regain a standing position. Even if he is taken down, if he can avoid being submitted or taking too much damage from ground and pound Hunt can likely score a knockout at some point in this fight.
On the other hand, Antonio “Bigfoot” Silva should try to get this fight to the ground as quickly as possible and avoid any lengthy standing exchanges with Hunt who is clearly the superior striker. Even though Hunt has significantly improved his ground game, Bigfoot is a Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu black belt who should have just as clear an advantage on the mat as Hunt will have standing. If Silva can get the fight to the ground he would be wise to pass guard as quickly as possible and preferably achieve a strong mount where he can reign down punches on Hunt. Despite Hunt’s iron jaw, if the bigger Silva can trap Hunt in a dominant position on the ground it is possible he could finish him with strikes. However, if this fails then Silva can attempt any number of submissions which may be effective, such rear naked chokes, sidechokes and kimuras. His best shot at beating Hunt is to submit him as others have done in the past. That said, my prediction is that Mark Hunt wins this fight via KO late in the 1st round. While Hunt’s takedown defense is not world class, nor is Silva’s takedown offense and I believe that Hunt can stuff Silva’s attempts to drag him to the mat and land his signature left hook to the jaw for a devastating knock out. If taken down I also think that Hunt has what it takes to defend himself and get back to his feet and use his heavy hands to achieve the victory.
In summation, both Pat Healy vs Khabib Nurmagomedov at UFC 165 and Antonio “Big Foot” Silva vs Mark Hunt at the next UFC Fight Night in December have the potential to be barn burners. Both are intriguing style clashes which could go either way and could end in any number of scenarios. All four fighters have clear avenues to victory. However, as usual it all comes down to how these individuals’ skill sets, strengths and weaknesses play off of eachother when they finally meet in the cage. I for one know that I will be tuning in for both cards to see if my predictions are correct.
Jamey Bazes is a Poughkeepsie MMA practitioner holding a Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu brown belt with over 15 years of competition experience earning over 100 tournament victories. He also holds a Masters of Arts Degree in English from SUNY New Paltz with a focus on the English Romantic poets. To train with Jamey, visit our website at http://bjjfighter.com