Not being the late legend Abdulmanap Nurmagomedov, we don’t have the blueprint on how to wrestle like Khabib. That being said, we can analyze his fighting style and give a breakdown of his approach to wrestling in MMA.
Khabib comes from a Sambo/Judo background but is also a freestyle wrestler. He uses lots of techniques from various disciplines to make him an incredibly dominant grappler. While there are plenty of wrestlers who are better than Khabib on the wrestling mat, no one comes close to his grappling prowess in the MMA Octagon.
What makes Khabib so effective is his pressure and his understanding of weight distribution. His style is just relentless and his unembellished record is a testament to this style. He attacks every limb to ensure his opponent is always in a compromised position during the grappling exchanges while he is in the dominant position. This allows him to either use ground-and-pound or look for submissions.
Why Khabib Is So Dominant In MMA
Khabib’s fighting style is based on dominance, he likes to have and maintain favorable positions from where he is most dangerous. He likes to dictate where and how the fight takes place. This means he’s very front-footed and extremely aggressive. He’ll rarely look for submissions from his back and he’ll rarely be on his back in the cage.
Khabib will pressure his opponents towards the cage, relentlessly shoot for takedowns, and bury his opponents with ground-and-pound or catch their necks and make them tap.
In a tutorial video, Khabib explains the reason for his dominance on the ground is because of the way he approaches wrestling. Most conventional wrestlers will use their arms to hold down their opponents. Khabib however, immediately ties up his opponent’s legs tightly. This means that they have little chance of escaping. It also allows him to keep his weight back so his opponents are constantly being dragged down which means they are more vulnerable to ground-and-pound.
Khabib’s Submissions Strategy Explained
Khabib predominantly likes to use rear naked and triangle chokes in his submission game. He does have a few wins using armbars and kimuras but he he mainly uses the first two. While he has great submissions, Khabib isn’t a BJJ fighter and therefore doesn’t incorporate many of the niche submissions that are often performed from less dominant positions.
His style is effectively to break his opponent down and once they are tired, try to choke them out. Or as he famously said, “Make him tired, make him tap”. He does this by making his opponents carry his weight. He’ll his weight shifted back on their hips so they are constantly struggling to get up. Then he’ll tie up their legs with his own which prevents them from escaping. Once Khabib establishes this position, its very difficult for fighters to escape.
Khabib’s Takedown Strategy Explained
The vast majority of Khabib’s takedowns are up against the cage and that’s how he sets them up. Khabib puts great pressure on his opponents when they are standing. He comes forward with awkward but effective punches that force his opponents onto the backfoot. As soon as they come into range on the cage, he shoots for a takedown and gets them pinned up against the fence.
The threat of takedowns also allows Khabib to use his striking on the feet more effectively. The most notable example of this was during his infamous bout with Conor McGregor. Khabib feinted for a takedown in the second round and Conor dropped his hands and hips to sprawl as he’d just been taken down and dominated in the first round.
However, Khabib threw a hard, looping overhand right which McGregor never saw coming due to the perceived takedown threat. Ordinarily, such loaded punches would miss on a slick striker like Conor, but because he was so preoccupied with the threat of a takedown, he totally missed the incoming punch. This just shows how effective great wrestling and takedowns are in MMA.
Khabib’s Judo Background, Sambo, & Trips
Khabib has often praised Judo and its techniques. However, he comes from a Sambo background which encompasses a lot of Judo but was developed in the Soviet Union. Combat Sambo is what gives Khabib such strong fundamentals in MMA. He’s used to people throwing kicks and punches at him. While he isn’t the most sophisticated striker himself, he’s accustomed to incoming strikes and that means he’s incredibly comfortable and confident in the octagon.
Compare this to someone like Ben Askren for instance, who is undoubtedly a great wrestler. However, he had no striking experience which meant that he was never comfortable on the feet which prevented him from being complete.
How Would Khabib Do As A Wrestler
Khabib is without a doubt a great grappler but on the wrestling mat, elite wrestlers like Jordan Burroughs would get the better of him. This is because wrestling in MMA is totally different from conventional wrestling. A lot of the grappling techniques and strategies used in MMA are illegal in the sport of wrestling. Grappling is quite broad so its kind of like asking who would win between Gordan Ryan and Jordan Burroughs. Both men would beat each other in their respective sports so its kind of a pointless question.
Khabib has proven to be extremely dominant using his grappling in MMA and I doubt many wrestlers or Jui-Jitsu specialists would be able to deal with that. However, if he transitioned to their respective sports, of course, the outcome would differ.
Khabib’s wrestling style has made waves in the MMA world. However, if you’re a fighter yourself and you’re looking to emulate his dominance, trying to copy him won’t always be the best route. It’s one thing to learn something from a fighter, its another thing to copy them.
A good fighter knows his own strengths and weaknesses. He’ll be able to analyze other fighters and incorporate what they do well into his game. But trying to fight like your favorite fighter rarely works out. Everyone is different, so you have to find a style that suits you.