5 differences between Khabib Nurmagomedov and Islam Makhachev's fighting styles

khabib-islam
Khabib Nurmagomedov (left) and Islam Makhachev (right)

Islam Makhachev and Khabib Nurmagomedov have always been compared to one another. The undefeated retiree is a former lightweight champion. Meanwhile, his protege is the reigning and defending champion of the UFC's 155 lbs weight class. Additionally, they're both powerful grapplers with wrestling, judo, and sambo skills.

To further punctuate their similarities, 'The Eagle' and his longtime training partner are both members of the American Kickboxing Academy, one of the most successful MMA gyms in the world. After UFC 284, however, comparisons between the two heightened.

Some fans are confident that Khabib Nurmagomedov would have ragdolled Alexander Volkanovski. Conversely, Islam Makhachev had a closely contested fight with the Australian great. Despite the similarities between the two Dagestanis, there are also some key differences that this list will detail.


#5. Khabib Nurmagomedov is a jabber, while Islam Makhachev is a kicker

Neither Khabib Nurmagomedov nor Islam Makhachev are strikers by trade. But as all fights start with both fighters standing, it's imperative for all mixed martial artists to have some level of competence in kickboxing exchanges. When it comes to striking, the two Dagestanis differ significantly.

The undefeated all-time great 155'er is a more relentless striker who applies suffocating forward pressure. He frequently pumps out his jab before following it up with a right cross. Once his opponents are close to the fence, his striking grows more chaotic with looping punches and flying knees.

The purpose of his striking style is to overload his foe's decision-making process and create openings for takedowns. If his opponents raise their guards or try to counter his punches, he dives under for deep takedowns. Meanwhile, Islam Makhachev is a more measured striker.

He doesn't apply constant pressure like 'The Eagle'. Instead, he feints his jab but doesn't throw it often. He's a southpaw who takes advantage of how the stance aligns his rear leg with the open side of an orthodox opponent's midsection. Since his foes rarely try to take him down due to fear of him doing the same, he kicks liberally.


#4. Their takedowns are different

Khabib Nurmagomedov and Islam Makhachev are greatly feared for their takedowns and grappling skills. But just as their striking styles differ, so too do their wrestling styles. The reigning lightweight champion is a more technical takedown artist who makes greater use of his judo past compared to 'The Eagle.'

An example of his frequent use of judo is any time his foes enter the clinch. This is especially the case if his back is against the fence. While most fighters try to turn their opponents away and disengage from the clinch, Makhachev is different. He often threatens his foes with knees that target the midsection.

The purpose of doing so is to dupe his opponents into answering his knees with knees of their own. But the moment they raise their knees to attack him, he hooks his leg around their supporting leg for a trip.

As an athletic powerhouse with tremendous speed and explosiveness, he creates chaos before shooting for extremely fast, low, single-leg takedowns. He'll even do so from a distance due to his shocking speed. A key example of this was in his bout against Conor McGregor.

He is more concerned with securing his opponent's hips than pursuing clinch-based takedowns like his heir apparent.


#3. Khabib Nurmagomedov is more concerned with ground-and-pound

Once opponents are on the mat with either of the Dagestanis, they're often trapped under them. Both Khabib Nurmagomedov and Islam Makhachev are concerned with imprisoning their foes in grappling exchanges from which they have no hope of escaping. In 'The Eagle's' case, he is a brutal grappler.

After a successful takedown, he immediately wraps his legs around his opponent's. Once he's trapped his foe's legs in a leg-triangle, he raises their ankles above the mat, preventing them from standing back up. Simultaneously, he traps one of their wrists in his grasp. Thus, his foes only ever have one free hand.

When possible, he traps one of their hands behind them while applying heavy top pressure to keep their trapped hand squeezed under them. He frequently rains down blows against his opponents, even posturing up to drive his hips into his punches for more power.

This is why 'The Eagle' is often described as mauling his opponents. He is relentless and is more concerned with battering his foes than he is with securing submissions.


#2. Islam Makhachev is more concerned with submissions

From a superficial standpoint, Islam Makhachev is similar to Khabib Nurmagomedov once the fight is on the mat. His most recent wins, like his victories against Charles Oliveira and the one against Dan Hooker, highlight his primary interest on the ground.

As a grappler, the Dagestani phenom only has submissions on his mind. While he throws strikes, it isn't his main goal. After dropping 'do Bronx,' he immediately dove into his foe and defeated him with an arm-triangle choke. Against 'The Hangman,' he sought to set up a kimura.

On the mat, Makhachev suffocates his opponents under him by pinning his head and shoulders against their chests to flatten them. He's like a pressure cooker that slowly breaks down his foes as they panic or grow frustrated under him. Spending so much time under him causes his foes to make mistakes.

As they grow desperate to escape under him, they expose themselves to submissions, which Makhachev is always eager to secure.


#1. Khabib Nurmagomedov is the better athlete

While Islam Makhachev is a large and powerful 155'er, his success isn't mainly attributed to his strength or speed. He's incredibly skilled and has a breadth of traps and tricks to lure his opponents into vulnerable positions, enabling him to earn takedowns and submissions.

Khabib Nurmagomedov, however, is a genetic freak in terms of his athleticism. First, his ability to absorb his opponent's blows is tremendous. Conor McGregor, Dustin Poirier, and Justin Gaethje are three of the hardest-hitting punchers in the lightweight division.

Yet none of them were able to deal any damage to his foe, who simply walked through their best shots. Not only is 'The Eagle' durable, but he's extremely fast, which renders him capable of shooting for takedowns from a distance. He's also so strong that simply catching Poirier's kick dissuaded the latter from kicking.

He was also very explosive, which allowed him to generate maximum force in minimum time. With all of these attributes, he shouldn't have the bottomless gas tank that he does, but Khabib Nurmagomedov never tires and pushes a suffocating pace that breaks everyone.

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Edited by Allan Mathew
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