Watching a lopsided game is a fairly awful viewing experience in most sports. Even if it’s our team that’s winning, there is something inherently boring about dominance. A competitive match, in any sport, is more compelling because the outcome is uncertain. There is a reason why stadiums and arenas tend to clear out early when an insurmountable lead is established; people get what they came for and stop caring.
MMA is the exception to this. Whereas a blowout football or basketball game is hard to watch, a prolonged, ferocious beatdown is hard to stop watching. Perhaps it is hardwired into our mammalian brain, or perhaps it’s a psychological phenomenon. Whatever it may be, the appeal of watching another person get the stuffing beat out of them is impossible to deny.
When Khabib Nurmagomedov spent the majority of three rounds ragdolling Michael Johnson at UFC 205 on Nov. 12, nobody took a smoke break. It was a hellacious, one-sided beating that earned the undefeated Dagestani Sherdog’s 2016 “Beatdown of the Year.”
This was not the first time Numagomedov has thoroughly trounced an opponent, as evidenced by his 24-0 record. What made this different, however, was that it happened against an opponent who had all the tools necessary to truly to test him. Fresh off a 95-second blitz of streaking contender Dustin Poirer, Johnson possessed the wrestling pedigree, athleticism and striking to push “The Eagle” into uncharted waters; and for the opening two minutes, that’s exactly what he did, as he landed crisp shots and stuffed Nurmagomedov’s first takedown attempt. It looked as if a competitive fight was about to unfurl -- until, shortly after avoiding the initial takedown, Johnson was dragged to the floor. “Khabib Nurmagomedov mauls people,” commentator Joe Rogan said immediately after. “It’s the best way to describe his style.” It ranks as one of his most prescient and accurate statements to date. There really is no other way to describe what happened next.
The remainder of Round 1 saw Nurmagomedov rain down 30 unanswered significant strikes -- roughly one every six seconds -- from various top positions. Johnson squirmed and maneuvered from his back as much as he could, but it did little but stall the beating until the next round. All it took was one takedown, and Johnson went from controlling the fight to fighting for survival.
It only got worse from there.
Johnson stuffed three takedowns and landed one significant strike before pulling guard for a guillotine attempt. The former world champion sambo practitioner pulled his head out, cut through Johnson’s guard and repeated the same process from the first round. Once more, all Johnson could hope to do was make it to the bell, while Nurmagomedov effortlessly passed from side mount to crucifix to full mount, landing hard hammerfists from every position. He controlled Johnson’s wrists and hips, trapping his arm to pave a clear path for his punches to land. Somehow, Johnson survived, but by the time the bell sounded, he had eaten 49 flush significant strikes compared to the one he delivered.
In between rounds, Nurmagomedov started talking to Ultimate Fighting Championship President Dana White, who was sitting cageside: “Hey, be careful. I’m going to smash your boy (Conor McGregor).”
“Just get through this first,” White responded, to which Nurmagomedov could only say, “Yes, of course.” Apparently, it was a foregone conclusion that he had already gotten through the fight. The final round was academic.
It took less than 30 seconds for Nurmagomedov to resume position in the third. He sat on top of Johnson’s knees and locked his legs together, preventing the Blackzilians standout from doing anything but cover up. “The Eagle” picked up where he left off in the second round and started dropping bombs. The dominance was not limited to the actual fight. While simultaneously smashing Johnson into the mat, Nurmagomedov started talking to him: “You have to give up. I need to fight for the title. You know this. I deserve it.” Johnson had little chance to refute those claims, as each of them was punctuated with vicious ground-and-pound.
Johnson shrimped into the fence, and Nurmagomedov climbed into full mount. A brief glimmer of hope for Johnson turned out to be his final undoing. He kicked off the fence to try and reverse his position, and for a moment, it looked like he almost succeeded. However, Nurmagomedov deftly maneuvered into side control. From there, he trapped Johnson’s right arm and cranked the left with a kimura until the fight was mercifully stopped. When it was all said and done, Nurmagomedov outlanded Johnson 94 significant strikes to 19. It’s worth reiterating that 16 of the strikes that Johnson landed occurred in the first two minutes of the fight.
“The Eagle” had some sturdy competition for his “Beatdown of the Year” honor. Stephen Thompson’s three and a half minute striking clinic against Johny Hendricks at UFC Fight Night 82 on Feb. 6 was a devastating performance, while Andrey Koreshkov’s five-round sweep of Benson Henderson at Bellator 153 on April 22 was also a notable drubbing. Another standout Bellator MMA beatdown happened in the bantamweight division at Bellator 151 on March 4, when Darrion Caldwell suplexed Joe Warren and cinched a rear-naked choke with only one hook in to finish the fight in the first round. The final shortlisted fight was when Neil Magny dropped 148 significant strikes on Hector Lombard en route to a third-round TKO at UFC Fight Night 85 on March 20.
Each of those fights showcased different levels of dominance, but none were quite as savage or comprehensive as Nurmagomedov’s beatdown of Johnson.