The MMA world is quick to hang tags on fighters like “the next big thing,” “someone to watch,” or “future champ.” Shavkat Rakhmonov picked up some of those markers after three finishes in the UFC. However, when his finishes came against opponents who were unranked at the time, those labelling Rakhmonov as “the future” or some such thing might have gotten ahead of themselves.
Things changed in a big way for the 27-year-old welterweight at UFC Vegas 57 when Rakhmonov matched up with Neil Magny.
Magny, who has been with the UFC since 2013 and facing top 170-pound competition since 2015, entered the contest as the No. 10 fighter in the official UFC welterweight rankings. Rakhmonov checked in at No. 15 on the strength of his finishes of Alex Oliveira, Michel Prazeres and Carlston Harris.
What was interesting about this fight was Magny’s experience against top fighters, his well-rounded skill set and the fact he had both a height and reach advantage over his younger opponent. On paper, this bout seemed like it was going to provide, if not a test for Rakhmonov, at least a way to assess his talent and standing in the welterweight division.
The fight was not a test. And in the aftermath of his submission win over Magny, quick assessment of Rakhmonov’s upside is “potential future UFC champion.”
Magny might have made a mistake in the opening seconds of the fight in throwing a naked body kick that Rakhmonov caught under his arm with ease. With that, Rakhmonov put Magny on the mat, where he showed what is quickly becoming his signature style of attack.
Rakhmonov is an extremely poised and patient fighter on the ground. He uses his length well, especially when he postures up and places his knee on the belly of his opponent and lands big strikes with bad intentions. During these attacks on Magny, Rakhmonov targeted the head and body while also looking for any opening that might have provided him the space to score a submission.
One issue of concern in the first round of the Magny fight was Magny able to find some openings to attack the legs of Rakhmonov. A more established grappler with a focus on those techniques might — and that’s a big might — be able to give Rakhmonov some real trouble on the mat.
In the second round, Magny scored with a piston-like jab. Rakhmonov acknowledged that blow by inviting Magny to throw another and when he did, Rakhmonov avoided the jab and landed a counter left.
Later in the first stanza, Rakhmonov did a fantastic job of holding Magny against the fence and keeping him from finding any space to strike, before he scored a nifty takedown that allowed him to go back to his nasty ground striking game.
When he had side control, Rakhmonov’s patience and technical ability kept Magny on defense. That also enabled him to keep looking for his own offensive advantages and openings. During this time,Rakhmonov never put himself in a dangerous position, nor did he force anything. His performance in working toward a finish was efficient and veteran-like.
The set up for the finish was beautiful and showed a high fight IQ. With 13 seconds left in the round, Rakhmonov cupped Magny’s chin during a scramble on the ground and pulled his head to the side. From there, he allowed Magny some room to maneuver, which only provided Rakhmonov with the space he needed to apply the fight ending guillotine choke.
Rakhmonov might not have the experience of some fighters in the UFC welterweight division, but neither does Khamzat Chimaev and he’s sitting at No. 3 in the official UFC rankings.
With Chimaev, Rakhmonov and perhaps Sean Brady, it looks like the next generation of top UFC welterweights has arrived.
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