Monday, September 9, 2019

Why Nurmagomedov is MMA’s GOAT

By Anthony Brancato

Not the same sport, true enough — but as Bill Parcells said, "You are what your record says you are."

And in the case of UFC lightweight champion Khabib Nurmagomedov (pronounced "Nur-mah-go-MAY-dov), that record is perfect, at 28-0.

Nurmagomedov, the pride of Makhachkala (pronounced "Mah-KOTCH-kah-lah"), the capital of the would-be-breakaway republic of Dagestan, notched his 28th consecutive victory Saturday night with a third-round, rear naked choke submission of Dustin Poirier in the main event at UFC 242 in Abu Dhabi. While it was only his second successful title defense, the win made "The Eagle" 12-0 in the UFC, after having quite literally shut Conor McGregor's mouth with a rear naked choke in the fourth round at UFC 229.

One would think that with such a record, Nurmagomedov would have few if any detractors. Yet that is not the case: you see, he is not an "exciting" fighter; that is to say, he doesn't just stand there and knock guys out: Only eight of his 28 wins are by knockout or TKO, just two of them in the UFC. But only once in his UFC career has Nurmagomedov held a reach advantage over an opponent (in his first UFC fight against Kamal Shalorus at UFC on FX 1 in 2012), and had to overcome a three-inch reach disadvantage to beat Poirier, and four to defeat McGregor.

The pencil-neck geeks, as the late Fred Blassie liked to call them, who buy tickets, and even more so, pay-per-views, are totally oblivious to the reality that a UFC contract is not a suicide pact — and if they want to see pure, unalloyed, stand-up slugfests, they can always watch boxing, or the newest extreme sport, bare-knuckle fighting, which is taking off rapidly.

But isn't Jon Jones the greatest of all-time, you ask?

Do any of us know what would have happened the second time Jones fought Daniel Cormier at UFC 214 had Jones not used steroids at that fight, especially since Jones won the first fight only by decision? And the rule that resulted in it may have been arcane, but a loss is still a loss — the illegal "12-to-6-o'clock elbow strikes" that got Jones disqualified against Matt Hamill on the Ultimate Fighter 10 finale card (the season that featured Rashad Evans and Quinton "Rampage" Jackson as the coaches). And not for nothing, but Jones has had a ridiculous reach advantage almost every time he has fought. He had a foot in reach advantage when he fought Cormier!

In his early days as head coach of the Giants, a reporter asked Parcells when the team's offense was going to become more imaginative — to which Parcells brilliantly responded: "By 'imaginative', I suppose you mean throwing the hell out of the football."

Same goes for MMA, where "exciting" almost always means one-dimensional striking. But that concept should have no role whatsoever in determining which fighter is better than another — either in a pound-for-pound context (and what does that even mean anyway?) or a career context.

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