Thiago Tavares (top) has delivered 11 of his 17 wins by submission. | D. Mandel
Thiago Tavares (17-4-1, 7-4-1 UFC) vs. Khabib Nurmagomedov (18-0, 2-0 UFC)
The Matchup: Nurmagomedov was fortunate to leave UFC 148 with his unblemished record intact. Gleison Tibau was able to stuff the Russian’s takedown attempts and counter effectively for most of the bout, but, in the end, Nurmagomedov was rewarded by the judges for his consistent aggression. That followed an impressive debut effort in which he submitted World Extreme Cagefighting veteran Kamal Shalorus with a rear-naked choke in the third round at UFC on FX 1.
Just 24 years old, the Red Fury Fight Team representative appears to have a bright future ahead of him if he continues to improve. He faces a veteran performer in Tavares, who enters the bout on a two-fight winning streak. The Brazilian defeated Sam Stout via unanimous decision in his last outing at UFC 142; although Tavares is known for his ground game, he held his own on the feet with Stout for much of the contest.
Tavares is a patient performer who relies on his conditioning to give him the upper hand in struggles for positional control. The Ataque Duplo product is persistent in clinches, where he gradually wears on foes and gets the fight to the floor. Nurmagomedov presents a significant challenge in this area, as he has successfully defended all 10 takedowns attempted against him thus far in the UFC.
Tavares will need to mix up his attack by landing kicks along with his overhand right. His striking is not of the world-beating variety, but, as he demonstrated against Stout, it is a useful addition to his arsenal. Nurmagomedov can set the tone by moving forward and landing multi-punch combinations, and he is also capable of catching Tavares with a solid counter as the grappling specialist attempts to move into tie-up range. The key will be how his stamina holds up after multiple draining tie-ups.
The Pick: This is a closely matched fight that could swing on just a few pivotal moments. Nurmagomedov has already proven that he is willing to initiate the action, and he will land effective combinations on the feet while defending enough of Tavares’ takedowns to come away with a narrow decision verdict.
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