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UFC254: Khabib v Gaethje

Not necessarily the UFC Lightweight title fight we thought we’d get - but maybe the one we deserve. Early wake up call in the States, as the main event begins at 11am PST. Can definitely see Justin taking it - certainly didn’t see his win over Tony Ferguson coming. But if I’ve got to choose: I’m going with the Man from Dagestan.

Wow, what a dominating performance! Finishes Gaethje by strangle in the second round. Retires undefeated at 29-0. Khabib is one of the all-time greats, no doubt. Impressive! Gotta love a grappler showing 'em what’s what!

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Impressive performance? Hell yes!

Dominating?
No, absolutely not.

It always bugged me that most people can be fairly objective when judging smaller fights, but once a narrative is established it gets crazily convoluted.

Khabib lost round 1. Although he was the aggressor and almost fearless, he paid by eating a number of strong kicks and punches. If the fight continued exactly like this for three rounds, Gaethje would have tko’d him easily.

This is so, so confusing. I came into this having absolutely no idea who would win. Gaethje was dominated. And he lost both rounds. Khabib has had like one lip cut in 29 fights, nobody’s even touched him, and he didn’t even look like he’d been in a fight afterwards, so no, he wouldn’t have been “tko’d easily”. He controlled the fight from start to finish. And he did it with a broken foot.

Did we watch the same fight? Kabib ate hard, hard shots. That’s not domination. It is an elite skill to keep perfect composure but who would honestly claim he could eat 10 more of these lowkicks?

Domination occured when he fought Barboza or Dustin. No damage, just mauling.

When Conor fought Alvarez, the thoroughly dominated the fight. He won and controlled Diaz II in impressive fashion, but he didn’t dominate there.

I may rewatch the fight later with a notebook.

And he was able to do this for an entire round. When it hit the floor, the fight lasted seconds. I think we can clearly state that Khabib dominated the ground but can we say, using that as an example of domination, that Justin dominated round one?

If. The truth is that it didn’t and was never going to. Because Khabib was dominant. He decided where and how the fight would be fought.

And let’s not forget that Khabib was landing his jab with ease. Justin was never going to win by fighting backwards.

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Khabib landed 26 significant strikes, Justin landed 29 - 15 of his were leg shots. Yes, he has nasty leg shots, but Khabib had a great standup game last night, and controlled the fight, plus he had 2 takedowns. Justin was fighting backwards, and is a great striker, but he was outmatched from start to finish, and he was only delaying the inevitable.

As for how many more low kicks he could stand, I’m not sure - that’s not the point, though - basically even on significant strikes, 2 takedowns vs none on him, and a quick victory in the second round - that’s domination to me, at least.

“Impressive” is not generous enough. Fighters can be “impressive” in defeat (see Holloway v. Volkanovski I and II).

This is a pretty presumptuous response given that your subsequent analysis reads:

I’m not a big fan of the “he was winning until he was losing” take - especially in combat sports when “losing” means getting put to sleep. As Charles Barkley used to say “the other guy over there is trying to win, too!”

McGregor won two rounds against Nurmagomedov. Better than Gaethje. I think Khabib dominated them both.

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so I reviewed the whole damn round, making notes.
The verdict couldn’t be clearer.

If damage is the No.1 criterium - which it is, then Justin clearly won the first round. There is simply no way to argue around this.
It’s not necesarily my idea of judging, I think Somalia has a more functional judicial system than the unified MMA judging criteria. But under the existing ruleset, the fighter who strikes more effectively wins the round because

The next two criteria (ie aggressiveness and control) must be treated as a backup and used ONLY when Effective Striking/Grappling is 100% equal for the round.

I’ll break it down.
Minute 1
nothing happens much apart from one measly lowkick by Justin

Minute 2
Khabib slowly establishes aggression but hits only air. He maybe hits with a jab@3:03 but eats a lowkick for it. Justin scores two lowkicks (the best hit up to this moment@3:06) and one or two punches.

Until minute 3, a judge might have a bad seat or Cecil Peoples’ brain or whatnot and pretend that Khabib won because of the low volume of hits. Still, Machida won rounds with less “dominance”

Minute 3
Justin does some really good bobbin’, weavin’, dodgin’ and distance managing. Khabib lands maybe 2 nonserious kicks, two, maaybe three jabs (maybe his best jab of the fight@2:21). The flying knee looks cool but had zero effect. He misses several times with his 1-2 combo.
Justin scores three kicks, two of them hard low kicks and one nice punch@2:41.

It’s a strange fight because there’s lots of action & aggression but comparatively a lot of good evasive maneuvering.

Minute 4
Still lots of exchanges with only bruised air. Khabib scores at best four jabs which Justin takes well by rolling. And he finally, arguably scores a right hand@1:45 which still gets blocked, though. Against that, Justin scores two more lowkicks, a great jab, a left hook and a thunderous body-head combo@1:09 (the best of the fight).

Minute 5
Khabib has one shitty, non-commited kick and the td. Justin scores two hard lowkicks, a right and a left hook.

That’s it.
10:9 Gaethje, absolute nobrainer

Not arguing who won round one (though some smart analysts do). I’m arguing that you can have a dominating performance even if you lose a round (especially round one) in a 10-point must system. Also, look at the fightmetric numbers. Dead even in significant strikes in round one. Khabib scored a takedown.

ufc254 card

I’d argue that if a fighter had ten fights in the UFC play out exactly like this - even first round, finish opponent in the second with a strangle (the most dominant kind of finish), he’d (or she’d) deserve all the hype as the promotion’s most dominating up-n-comer.

FWIW, Khabib’s my #4 GOAT behind GSP, DJ, and Bones. Anderson Silva is fifth. Have you got a top 5 P4P? Love to hear it!

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Thing is, the fightmetric is total bs. There’s a guy sitting there with 4 buttons and pushing them as he sees fit. I bet I have seen more fights and sparred more guys then he.

The low pay FM employee does everything in the heat of the moment and has ridiculous black-white biases. If you have good composure, he’s inclined towards you and the other guy has bad score-habits (like barely staying out of range, which is a fantastic skillset but terrible with these FM bean counters) you will not win a point fight.

I took my time going back and forth, looking sometimes five, six times in slomo at one jab or exchange.

It’s not hard to arrive at a far superior metric.

Bones is out bc of countless shenanigans.

Khabib will be there but I need some time to process his career.

So far it’s

GSP
Fedor
Silva
Saku
Cruz

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I watched the fight again, too. It’s not hard to arrive at your scoring of round one, for sure. I’d back off on saying Khabib won both rounds. But it’s VERY hard to arrive at your analysis of “absolutely not dominating”. You’d be hard pressed to find an expert out there that agrees with you on that front. He set the tone, dictated how the fight went, and pretty much did what he always does, and he did it fairly quickly.

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Also, I’m glad to see Fedor in there.

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I think the consensus is that Fightmetric is reputable - even after being bought by the UFC. Not infallible, but better at their jobs than you suggest. I’ve been following the game for awhile and not heard anything to the contrary.

Again, some analysts gave round one to Khabib. Not my argument - and actually irrelevant to it. But underscores the point that “winning before losing” might not be a widely shared view.

Interesting top five. Nice to see the love for Saku. Fedor is another worthy candidate, though watching him get submitted by Werdum will be one of my favorite MMA memories for the rest of my life.

My favorite, not-necessarily-UFC fighters -

Fedor
Crocop
GSP
Khabib
ERNESTO FUCKING HOOST (if we’re talking about leg kicks…)

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A favorite kickboxers list would be really interesting … Hoost would be on my list, for sure. Benny the Jet Urquidez, Bill “Superfoot” Wallace was always a sentimental favorite of mine … I was a PKA/WKA kid growing up more than a muay thai guy …

It was not even a contest. Khabib just showed he is the better athlete and out performed his opponent. He took the middle and just kept on pushing. Gaedji survived the first round being still fresh and strong, but just could not keep up with the tempo. Nobody could with Khabib. Then the rest is a history.

There is no point in counting significant strikes and who took round one. Round 2 showed that even if Gaeji took it, he was surviving, not winning.

No damage against Dustin? I’m pretty sure Khabib ate a big punch from Dustin in the second round that forced him to back off and avoid Dustin while Dustin chased him.

I get that the low kicks Justin threw was visibly making Khabib’s leg red. Did Khabib care? I don’t know, but given how he acted all round it clearly didn’t look like he cared.

The first round had me laughing at what seemed to be the absurd reality of what I was watching. Justin is stopping Khabib’s takedown attempts while Khabib is the one pressuring the shit out of Justin and forcing him back the entire round- complete opposite of what I had expected given what I know of the two fighters. I didn’t expect Justin to be able to stop Khabib’s takedown attempts, and I expected Justin to stand his ground.

What struck me the most was that that Justin seemed visibly flustered and tired by the end of round one, and the rest was history as seen in round two.

As far as I am concerned Khabib dominated round one because he never once backed off and forced the ordinarily aggressive fighter to back off the entire round. I get that scoring rounds is highly individual and different people give different emphasis on things. Some dudes score “damaging shots” and “accurate shots” higher, other dudes score “aggression” and “octagon/ring control” higher.

I like to score fights based on how the fighter historically fights- I have no problem with defensive fighters backing off and landing selective shots because that’s their style. If their defensive style is failing then I score that against them.

So when I see the dude who is normally supposed to be aggressive and apply pressure backing off against his opponent, I score that against him and don’t care nearly as much about low kicks that he’s landing, especially if the dude getting hit doesn’t seem to really care about them.

It’s very different from Henry Cejudo vs Marlon Moraes, where it was clear that Marlon’s low-kicks bothered Henry very, very much.

So is Mcgregor vs. poirier 2 for the vacant lightweight title.

Then winner of Chandler vs Ferguson fights that winner.

Soo bummed Gaethje didn’t win that. If only it could have stayed standing but it didn’t.

Its been discussed by many before but I think Khabib as freaky strength at 155. There is just something about his anatomy that contributes to him being a lot stronger than most his opponents.

It could be a certain specific kind of strength. After all Dagestanis have the second highest incidence of consanguinity after Fijians. I am inclined to believe it is that. It would also explain why all the men have the same fucking hairline.

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