Al Iaquinta is one of the few fighters to have survived the wrath of Khabib Nurmagomedov, having lost a fairly competitive unanimous decision to Khabib in a short notice title fight at UFC 223.
Since then, however, Khabib has gone on to finish both Conor McGregor and Dustin Poirier, cementing himself as the most dominant lightweight champion in UFC history.
Asked what makes Nurmagomedov so special, Iaquinta explained that the reigning UFC lightweight champ is perhaps the strongest fighter in the division and has one of the most unorthodox grappling styles in the UFC.
“I’ve felt guys that are as strong as him, use their weight. But at 155, I think he’s probably the strongest guy,” Iaquinta told Ariel Helwani in a recent interview (h/t Abhinav Kini of The Body Lock MMA). “He’s definitely one of the strongest guys. His game is very different than anybody that I went with — trips against the cage, I would feel safe in certain positions but then he’d come with a trip where I thought he would have done something else.
“He’s got his game down to a tee and he’s great at getting people, kind of like filtering whatever’s going on into his game where he can get you against the cage. Even when you’re so aware or prepared for a takedown, that’s when he starts boxing and using his hands, like against Conor [McGregor], how he hit with him that shot, that overhand.”
Iaquinta added that Nurmagomedov knows how to distribute his weight perfectly while on the ground, effectively suffocating his opponents from top position.
“Just mixing it up. He shot a low single on me and kind of just held on to my ankle and that wasn’t a shot that I was prepared for,” Iaquinta added. “… Maybe if he takes a not traditionally great shot, he’ll get in and because he’s so strong, he’s able to finish [it]. His finishing techniques are incredible, his strength is incredible.
“… He knows how to use his strength. … I kind of relate to when I roll with Matt Serra. Matt is a big guy, what 200 plus pounds, but when he’s on top of you, he feels like 10,000 pounds. Not because he’s a big guy but because of how compact he is and where he’s using his weight. He knows exactly how to distribute his weight in the right place at the right time to get the reaction that he wants to advance his position and I think Khabib is a master at that. And he’s relentless — even when you get up, he’s going right back. He’s not really scared to get tired in those grappling situations so he’ll keep the pressure on and keep pushing until he gets what he wants.”
UFC 254: Khabib vs. Gaethje takes place on Oct. 24 on Yas Island, Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates.
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