Pat Healy (29-16 1 NC, 0-1 1 NC UFC) vs. Khabib Nurmagomedov (20-0, 4-0 UFC)
A lightweight battle between two fighters on hot streaks looking to break into the title picture takes place in the opening bout of the main card of UFC 165. Healy returns following a suspension for a positive marijuana test stemming from his submission win over Jim Miller at UFC 159 in April. It was actually Healy’s seventh win in a row, and he has just one loss over his last eleven fights. Nurmagomedov will put his perfect record on the line as he looks to move to 21-0 in his career. His last four wins have come as a member of the UFC roster, and he is coming in off a decision win over Abel Trujillo at UFC 160 in May.
Fight Breakdown- Healy has been very impressive over the course of the past five years, and he has only suffered two losses since February 2008. He has been a journeyman for a long time as evidenced by the fact he has fought 46 times in his career, yet only two of those fights have come inside the UFC Octagon. He really found a home when he made his way to Strikeforce, and while it was a losing effort in his debut against Josh Thomson, he then won six straight fights, ending with a decision win over Kurt Holobaugh at the final Strikeforce event. Healy moved over to the UFC and was quickly matched up against perennial top-ten lightweight Jim Miller. It was a test to see if Healy could be a title contender, and it was a test he passed as he submitted Miller in the third round. However, it was another test he didn’t pass, and that was the drug test as he tested positive for marijuana and the win was overturned into a no contest. It was costly as it also cost Healy two bonus checks, and now Healy returns from a 90-day suspension looking to earn those bonuses back and end a perfect record from his opponent.
Nurmagomedov is a talented prospect looking to break into the big time as he fights on a pay-per-view main card for the first time in his career. He has won all twenty of his professional fights, a feat almost unheard of in these rapidly changing times of mixed martial arts. 14 of his wins have come by knockout or submission and being a Combat Sambo World Champion and having a black belt in judo has helped him prepare well for the transition to fighting. After racking up 16 wins to start his career, Nurmagomedov made the move in signing with the UFC, and he has picked up four wins to start his UFC career. He debuted with an impressive submission win over Kamal Shalorus in January 2012, and then was matched up against the always-tough Gleison Tibau for his second UFC bout. It was a hard-fought battle that saw Nurmagomedov get the decision. He then scored his first UFC knockout win when he quickly finished Thiago Tavares in January of this year. Following that win was a dominant win over Abel Trujillo at UFC 160 in May. He set a UFC record for the most takedowns in a fight in that bout as he took Trujillo down 21 times. His only issue so far in the UFC was that he missed weight for the Trujillo fight, and that is something he will have to correct if he wants to be a title contender.
This will be a big test for Nurmagomedov, especially with his grappling skills as Healy is a hard-nosed veteran and will give him a huge test. Healy is a gritty fighter who likes to use his wrestling to set up his high-level submission skills. Healy has 16 submission wins in his career, but Nurmagomedov looks like he is going to be a fighter that will be difficult to submit. We have yet to see Nurmagomedov in any serious trouble, though in his fight with Tibau, a fighter who is somewhat similar to Healy, he was unable to take him down. Nurmagomedov is gonna have to take Healy down if he is going to win this fight and establish dominant positions, and he will need to not leave an opening for Healy to capitalize on. He will be looking to take Healy down early and often, and he has very good effectiveness in the clinch. Nurmagomedov likes to take the back of his foes and pick them up and slam them from their back so Healy will need to find ways to avoid being body locked by Nurmagomedov. Healy is also good in the clinch and likes to wear down his opponents by grinding them against the cage. He will need to do the same against Nurmagomedov.
Both men have solid and underrated striking. Nurmagomedov has seven knockout wins under his belt, and he is a finisher when he gets his opponents in trouble. Healy likes to strike in close quarters as he looks to set up the takedown, and he employs some good dirty boxing and elbows when he has the advantage position in the clinch. Nurmagomedov should look to keep Healy at a distance when the battle is on the feet as Healy becomes much less comfortable on the feet the further away from his opponent he is. Healy will need to look out for counters from Nurmagomedov as he is a solid counterpuncher, and his knockout of Tavares with a flying uppercut shows that he can bring power from all ranges. As Healy presses forward it will open Nurmagomedov up for counters, but if he can’t land those punches, it will allow Healy to move closer and force a tie-up. Healy can absorb a lot of punishment so Nurmagomedov will need to hit with heavy punches.
Both men are large lightweights, but Healy will likely have the size advantage. Nurmagomedov making weight is always a concern as he either pushes it very close, or as evidenced in his last bout, misses it completely, and by a lot. Healy will be looking to use his strenght in the grappling department, and this fight could be decided by transitions and scrambles. It is a very interesting and high-quality lightweight bout, and the winner should find themselves in a possible title eliminator in their next bout. Healy has the experience of fighting on a lot of big stages, and his extinguished win over Miller proves he has what it takes to compete in the UFC. Nurmagomedov has much more explosiveness, though, and a ton of upside, and training with the American Kickboxing Academy team means he has a lot of tough training partners. This will be about who executes their gameplan first and the best and who can win the grappling battle. It will be a tough, close fight but it sets up for Nurmagomedov pulling out the win and remaining undefeated.
Why It Matters- The winner is one step closer to earning a title shot and will move high up the UFC’s official rankings. Healy is currently ranked at number ten, and if the rankings went past the tenth spot, Nurmagomedov would likely be around the eleven to thirteen range. The winner will get a big fight for their next bout, possibly against someone the likes of Rafael Dos Anjos, and it is a big opportunity for both to establish themselves big time. Healy wants to show that his failed drug test had no effect on him while Nurmagomedov wants to keep his perfect undefeated record alive. This is a big fight for both.