Now that ‘The Eagle’ has gotten his beak wet, it’s time to get him inside of the Octagon with a ranked opponent. He’s passed each of his first three UFC tests with flying colors winning with a combination of Sambo and striking. When he wasn’t able to land his takedowns against Gleison Tibau he was still able to pull out a unanimous decision victory. When he was put opposite the hometown favorite and former top ranked lightweight in Thiago Tavares he was able to pound him out with punches and elbows in under two minutes. When he saw that Abel Trujillo would allow him to use his world-class Sambo for fifteen straight minutes he decided to put on a clinic, and it was a thing of beauty. He now stands at 20-0 and in need of an opponent that will either put him over, or humble him.
I’ve compiled a list of five fighters I believe would be the best match for Nurmagomedov below at this very important point of his career. Take a look, and as always, if you agree, disagree, or have another suggestion – don’t be afraid to use our comment box.
• Nate Diaz – It’s the fight that Nurmagomedov asked for following his finish of Thiago Tavares in Brazil earlier this year. The UFC had other plans for Diaz though. Now that the TUF 5 winner is coming off two straight defeats, the latest of the head kick TKO variety against Josh Thomson, does it make sense to put him against a fighter as hot as Nurmagomedov? Sure it does. This would be the perfect way to welcome Nate back from his suspension for Twitter misuse.
Regardless of records, a win over Nate Diaz in the UFC present day still holds more cachet than one over Nurmagomedov. It’s just the facts. Diaz is a former #1 contender and TUF champion who also has earned 10 fight bonuses over his illustrious 18-fight UFC career. Diaz has headlined five UFC shows; Nurmogamedov has yet to fight on the main card of a PPV.
A lot of people will tell you that this fight isn’t necessary. They’ll say that it’ll just end up like the time Diaz fought Rory MacDonald in Toronto back at UFC 129. While there are plenty of differences between the games of MacDonald and Nurmagomedov. One of the main differences is that MacDonald walks around at somewhere over 200 lbs. That match up with Diaz (along with the Penn fight) was of the complete mismatch variety. Anytime you put two fighters that compete in the upper echelon of the UFC in this era that could legitimately be two or three weight classes apart then you’re likely going to see a beat down. Nate vs. Khabib would be a much more competitive fight, and if it isn’t, well – then credit to the man who dominates it. While I do like this match up a lot, there may just be some better options for ‘The Eagle’ though at this juncture.
• Myles Jury
Two fighters that have yet to suffer loss in their respective professional MMA careers. Both men made their UFC debuts back in 2012 and have each finished two of their first three fights for the big show. This is a ridiculously intriguing match up that could put one man a couple of victories away from title contention while knocking the other down a couple of rungs.
The one problem – one of your young contenders will suffer a loss. The upside – you get a fantastic match up. Considering how stacked the lightweight division is it shouldn’t be that big of a deal to break things up a little bit, right? You’ll surely create at least one star with this fight, if not two depending on how what kind of fight the fans get.
• Jim Miller
After winning seven in a row in just under two years, all while fighting for the biggest MMA promotion in the world, Jim Miller appeared to be just one big win away from a title shot. Instead it would be Benson Henderson that would serve him with his first loss since being beaten by Gray Maynard back at UFC 96 and eventually become the world champion himself. This loss to Henderson also raised a very serious question. Is Jim Miller incapable of winning the big fight?
Miller would grab a quick rebound by beating Melvin Guillard in his next fight but soon after would once again be beaten by a top contender. It would be Nate Diaz choking out Miller live on FOX last May, stealing yet another shot at the title away from the Jersey native. It was the first time Jim Miller would be submitted in his 25-fight career.
After getting back into the mix with a bloody win over Joe Lauzon in a fight of the year performance to end his 2012 campaign, it would be time for Miller to welcome Strikeforce scrapper Pat Healy back into the cage. Miller would be submitted for the second time in three fights. The silver lining? Healy’s win was overturned into a no-contest due to ‘Bam Bam’ being unable to pass his drug test. It would also be Miller’s second consecutive time collecting a fight of the night bonus check. On paper, a fight against Khabib Nurmagomedov looks to have all of the makings of a story book ending. One where both fighters end in an embrace, each collecting $50K checks with their names written on it.
Miller has the grit and the tenacity on the ground to make ‘The Eagle’ really work for those trademark Sambo throws. He can out strike Nurmagomedov if he is able to thwart the Russians takedowns and frustrate him. If Jim Miller can turn any fight into a Jim Miller kind of fight then we as fans win. This would be a huge test for Nurmagomedov, a win over Jim Miller these days certainly seems to be worth its weight in a shot at lightweight gold.
• Diego Sanchez
Following Nurmagomedov’s shenanigans at the weigh-in’s it may be a good idea to set him up with someone that can get under his skin. Or someone who is just flat out nutso. That someone is Diego Sanchez. This could be the fight to get Nurmagomedov over with the fans. Sanchez didn’t look that impressive coming off a long layoff but luckily for him the judges in Saitama were in a giving mood earlier this year. They gifted Sanchez with a split decision victory thus keeping him relevant in the UFC lightweight division. Sanchez has teased a move up to welterweight and fighting a fighter in Nurmagomedov whose name doesn’t exactly jump off the page to most likely wouldn’t appeal to him.
Both of these fighters missed weight ahead of their last contest so maybe a rare catchweight affair could be in order. Also not likely, but just an idea. Ok, so maybe this one isn’t likely. That said, the build up and the energy that these two bring to the Octagon would be enough to burn up any Arena, sports bar, or home entertainment system for that matter. This match up is all sorts of crazy.
• Matt Wiman
You wanna continue to bring up Nurmagomedov slowly? Then give him ‘Handsome’ Matt. It’s a major upgrade over his first three UFC fights and it would be a huge signature win for the man Dan Rose likes to call ‘K-Dov’. Plus, you can never count Matt Wiman out. How many people had him submitting the ‘Sassangle’ in Nottingham via armbar? Wiman is one of those guys that always hangs around and certainly never quits. It would be a great match up for any pay-per-view or Fox Sports 1 main card, and it would show us where ‘The Eagle’ lands in the big picture.
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