UFC Fight Night 31: Jorge Masvidal vs. Rustam Khabilov preview and the prognostications

Photo by Esther Lin of MMA Fighting

Jorge Masvidal and Rustam Khabilov face off in one of the more intriguing lightweight battles for UFC Fight Night 31 in Kentucky. Can the Sambo suplex machine pull off the modest upset?

Jorge Masvidal (25-7) vs. Rustam Khabilov (16-1) Lightweight

When we last left our heroes...Masvidal continues his odd journey into the world of mixed martial arts that originated with taking out Kimbo's protege on youtube, and has progressed into title shots, and UFC presence.

Jorge is an interesting case though. He seems to have the talent of a world class lightweight, but for whatever reason, he has yet to put it all together, as there's always a bout that seems to snatch whatever momentum he might have had.

The Michael Chiesa win nearly became another Toby Imada road bump. Masvidal was hurt and put in a very precarious position. Luckily the same fight proved exactly what makes him a potential contender.

As for Khabilov, what else can be said about the Sambo specialist that we haven't already learned from a lifetime of quarters spent on Street Fighter? Rustam is a beast when he has a grip on you. His KO over Vinc Pichel via suplex marks the second time he's destroyed someone's brain by throwing them over his head.

Rustam's last fight didn't tell us much unfortunately. He slammed Yancy Medeiros a few times, but the fight ended with an ill fated thumb injury early in the first.

This is the type of fight that would be on Facebook on a big PPV event, but that is right at home on the main card of these small shows.

What both men can do: 'Gamebred' does so many things technically well, you wonder how he's managed to lose so many fights against lesser competition. His boxing is as proficient as it gets; a steady jab, punctuated by a strong powerful right hand, and solid leg kicks make him a imposing presence.

He's also aware of when to mix it up at his best. The Paul Daley fight was well within his grasp. He can shoot for takedowns, and he's got a strong sense for the grappling game. He was a steady competitor at the NAGA submission grappling tournaments in early 2000 years.

Khabilov's game is all about full body tattooing his opponent on the canvas. But aside from his arsenal of suplexes, he's also, like many Sambo practitioners, pretty good on the ground. The way he swiftly moves his hips to roll for an armbar is very Fedoresque against previous opponents.

Sambo seems to divinely inspire ground and pound violence, which Rustam is quite good at as well. While his striking is a bit raw, he has a sneaky left hook, and a powerful right hand.

What both men can't do: It'll be interesting to see how Rustam handles Masvidal on the feet. I feel like this is a little like the Chiesa fight, where Jorge will find out early on that this won't be a walk in the park.

Jorge needs to establish his jab. One of the things Rustam is weak at is craft on the feet; he just doesn't have much of a rhythm when he's not gripping his opponent's body for a suplex. Jorge has the obvious advantage here.

I'm excited for this fight because I'm fascinated by the grappling exchanges. Jorge can scramble well, so how he reacts to getting slammed, which should happen at least once, will be interesting. Moreover, Jorge does tend to get tagged in fights. Which is weird because he seems to avoid damage against guys like Gilbert Melendez and Paul Daley, but then guys like Rodrigo Damm and Michael Chiesa put him down, and you're just left scratching your head.

X-Factor: This is essentially the x-factor...Masvidal's head, and where it's at. He has yet to be truly consistent, but it'll be hard to tell whether or not his struggles in this bout, should he have them, are because he's not putting away his opponent like he should, or because Rustam is just that good.

I think the straight right from Jorge will be the actual x-factor in practice. Yancy Medeiros seemed to land it enough because Rustam leaves his hands wide open. I think Jorge will have trouble early on, but he'll find a home for that right hand eventually.

Prediction: Jorge Masvidal by Decision.


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