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To catch an Eagle, Part 2: Khabib Nurmagomedov’s wrestling & submission game

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In the second part of this series we will provide several examples of Khabib Nurmagomedov’s takedown and submission game.

In the first part of this series, we focused on Khabib Nurmagomedov’s striking game that enables him to establish a grappling connection and take the fight to the ground. In this second part, we will analyze his pure takedown game and provide some examples of his submission grappling arsenal. As mentioned in part 1, this is a modified and updated version of a previous post.

Our main objective in the first three parts of this analysis is to help readers prepare for the fourth and final part: How to beat Khabib. This is by no means an article dismissing Khabib’s legacy. Quite the contrary: fighters that get a “how to beat” series by the author are active fighters that are GOAT candidates. The only other fighter that was featured in a “how to beat” series here on Bloody Elbow was Jon Jones.

Khabib’s grappling technique

The author often tells his students that those who think fighting is about “technique” don’t understand fighting, and don’t understand technique.

What we call application of technique in a fight is not the same as what we call technical execution or drilling at the gym.

Technique application in a fight is an inseparable combination of:

  1. Usage of proper mechanics of the move designed to produce a specific outcome(s).
  2. Usage of proper mechanics of the move designed to avoid specific outcomes or counters by the opponent.
  3. Timing of execution. This timing is connected to the previous moves used by both fighters and the opponent’s reaction during the time of execution.
  4. Sport specific attributes that enable the athlete’s body to apply the technique. These attributes may or not be present due to injuries of fatigue.
  5. The psychological resilience and mental toughness of the athletes, especially if they have to push through fatigue and injuries to execute the technique.

Psychological resilience is the ability to mentally or emotionally cope with a crisis or to return to pre-crisis status quickly. Resilience exists when the person uses “mental processes and behaviors in promoting personal assets and protecting self from the potential negative effects of stressors”.

The author has provided an analysis of sport specific attributes for BJJ here.

In other words, executing a technique in the safety of the gym is not the same as executing the technique in the Octagon when you are in harm’s way. Proper execution in a constantly changing environment is all bout timing and is not possible without conditioning, explosiveness, grappling strength, flexibility and timing, all being sports specific attributes.

What we are trying to say that Khabib’s techniques are effective because they are designed to be so AND because Khabib is an exceptional grappler. To quote Bruce Lee, “the living creature, the creating individual, is always more important than any style or system.”

“Technical Webs”

A “technical web” is a fighting term that was created by the author. The term is used to describe a situation during a fight that is very difficult to escape from. It is different from a bad position in that a web can be a combination of positions. An example of a technical web is the BJJ mount combined with back control. When trying to escape from the mount, you can get your back taken and when you try to escape from back control you can end up in bottom mount position. When fighting a fighter with a well formulated game, you can get trapped in a never-ending loop, between mount and back control, especially when strikes are involved.

Such technical webs are Khabib’s tripod and sitting guard domination games. These two webs will get analyzed extensively in part three.

Khabib’s takedowns

In part one we analyzed some of the takedowns used by Khabib in combination with his striking game. In this post we will focus more on the wrestling aspect of his takedowns. That being said, let’s examine several types of takedowns that were successfully used by Khabib in the past.

Double-leg takedowns

Khabib has a great double-leg takedown as you can see in the clip below against Pat Healy (which was also analyzed in part 1). However, single-leg takedowns and locking hands around the torso or waist are Khabib’s go-to moves.

As we noted before, if opponents get overaggressive and try to force Khabib to move backwards, he just ducks under and goes for the double.

Getting single and low single-leg takedowns.

High crotch, single-leg and low single-leg takedowns are Khabib’s favorite way to get the fight to the ground.

Please examine the following sequences and note how he goes on both his knees and hugs the opponent’s foot to establish control. He finishes in different ways, depending on the opponent’s reaction.

Example 1

Here Khabib uses the “running the pipe” finish. Here is an instructional:

Example 2

In the sequence above, Al Iaquinta is almost able to pull his foot out and stop the low single so this time Khabib lifts the foot up in order to finish the takedown.

Here is another option:

Double underhooks to body lock

In this example Pat Healy is pressuring Khabib, forcing him to retreat and attacks with a right hand to the body, followed by a left hook. Khabib ducks under, gets double underhooks and connect his hands. Healy tries to push him away with his elbow but Nurmagomedov slides to his back and pushes him down towards the cage.

When Khabib connects his hands around his opponent’s torso or waist, he hangs on his opponent, thus dragging him down and forward. Once his opponent’s hands touch the floor, Khabib is in a good position to dominate using his top tripod technical web.

Lifting opponents

Khabib loves lifting opponents and land them in the middle to the cage in order to finalize the takedown. This prevents his opponents from using the cage to stand back up. It is also a good way to demoralize them and break them mentally.

Opponents work to get up and get taken down again

Khabib never gives up going for the takedown. If opponents manage to stand up when his hands are connected around their hips or torso Khabib just uses the grip to take them down again.

Guillotines against Khabib are not a good idea

One of the best ways for Khabib to finish a takedown and land on top is when he shoots for a takedown and his opponent goes for a guillotine choke. Here are two examples of him just passing or finishing the takedown and landing on the safe side (with his feet on the opposite side of his trapped head). It is important to note that in the clips below, Von Flue chokes were an available option.

Example 1

Full fight:

Example 2

This second example is a great finish. Please examine how Khabib moves his right foot to the outside of his opponent’s left foot (photo 7) then grabs his hip on the back with his right hand (photo 8) and just pulls the left foot to finish the takedown. This is how he finishes most of his low single takedowns.

Takedowns from the clinch

Two of the main ways to score takedowns in MMA are from the clinch and from wrestling ties. Khabib’s superior cardio and gripping game enable him to dominate the clinch and take the fight to the ground. Here are two examples.

Example 1

In this first example Khabib uses an outside trip. Here is Daniel Cormier with a tutorial and several other options from the over/under clinch.

Example 2

In the photos above you can see Rafael dos Anjos having established an underhook and trying to grab Khabib’s leg with the other hand. Khabib blocks him by getting wrist control and uses the whizzer (overhook) to throw dos Anjos with a beautiful major outside foot reap throw (Osoto Gari). Here is a version of the throw using an underhook instead of an overhook:

You can watch below several applications of Osoto Gari:

Countering sprawls to takedowns.

Khabib is very fast at getting up from the bottom when opponents sprawl.

In this example Kamal Shalorus sprawls, and Khabib gets an overhook, transitions to head and arm control and drags Shalorus down. As Kamal tries to stand up, Khabib gets a Russian 2-on-1 and ducks under for a single.

Here is an instructional on how to get a single-leg takedown from the Russian tie:

As we noted on the previous part of this series, when Khabib shoots and fails to get the takedown he has the ability to get back to his feet very fast. This can be examined in the photos below where he was able to catch Shalorus with uppercuts. Here is the sequence again:

Ground control/Submissions

Khabib is not your typical sambo grappler or wrestler. He has a good bottom game and is good in getting submissions from all positions.

Like all overaggressive wrestlers who keep charging forward (like Daniel Cormier), Khabib can be taken down. However, he will use any means necessary to get back on top and will often improvise in a way that reminds me a lot of Ben Askren. These improvisations often generate interesting grappling outcomes. For example here is such a sequence:

Khabib is a great submission grappler. Watch the clip below and notice how he is able to finish the armbar:

Additional source.

The clip above is an impressive transition from takedown defense to a throw to an armbar from the bottom. Khabib has submissions from his back and does not hesitate to go from top mount to a triangle from the bottom:

Here is a similar example:

Nurmagomedov is also great at getting armbars from the mount:

Please notice above how he combines strikes with proper posture and grip changes to force the armbar.

Here is the full fight of the sequence:

Rear naked chokes

Khabib uses a series of grips to control opponents. He transitions from side control to the mount, to single hook control and to top turtle, while delivering punishment all the way.

His favorite position is a single hook back-take where Khabib is on top and a leg hook controls his opponent’s foot. He was able to rear-naked-choke Kamal Shalorus from this position:

Here is Connor McGregor (both hooks in):

Dustin Poirier (one hook in):

UFC lightweight champion Nurmagomedov defends his title Photo by Valery Sharifulin\TASS via Getty Images

The RNC or the threat of it, is part of Khabib’s sitting guard & tripod domination games which will be analyzed in our next post.

Delivering punishment from the crucifix position.

Khabib loves the crucifix position. It is a great way to deliver punishment while maintaining total control.

Here is Khabib using the crucifix in a Sambo match:

Here is an instructional:

Kimura (double wrist lock)

Khabib is also good at applying double wrist lock submissions also known as kimuras.

Here is a fight where Khabib applies a kimura submission:

And here is a more interesting version:

Full grappling clip:

That will be all for now. In our next post we will continue with Khabib’s tripod and sitting guard domination game from the top.

For a list of my previous technique breakdowns on Bloody Elbow, check out this link.

About the Author: Kostas Fantaousakis is a researcher of fighting concepts, tactics, and techniques, and a state-certified MMA, grappling, and wrestling coach in Greece. He teaches his unique Speedforce MMA mittwork system © which combines strikes, takedowns, knees, and elbows applied in the Continuous Feedback © mittwork system of the Mayweather family. Kostas is a black belt in BJJ under MMA veteran and BJJ world champion Wander Braga (the teacher of Gabriel Napao Gonzaga).