It’s hard to stick out in mixed martial arts. For guys like Rashid Magomedov, standing out is even harder when verbal self-promotion is now part of the equation. What makes things even worse for Magomedov is the fact that he competes at 155 pounds, which is widely considered the most competitive weight class in all of MMA.
Still, the 32-year-old Russian has managed to stay afloat in the UFC lightweight division. A master of hand-to-hand combat, Magomedov has utilized tremendous patience, distance control, footwork and precision to pick apart some of the division’s best competitors outside of the top 15. He has blitzed past the likes of Gilbert Burns, Rodrigo Damm and Tony Martin en route to claiming a 4-0 UFC record. This weekend at UFC Fight Night 98, Magomedov will have the opportunity to make it five in a row when he takes on rising title threat Beneil Dariush from high altitude in Mexico City.
But even though Magomedov has been putting himself in the right positions since entering the promotion back in 2014, casual fight fans are unaware of his collective work. With a 19-1 professional record and a striking pallet unlike few at the lightweight level, you would think Magomedov consistently gets the push he deserves.
Unfortunately, it’s often difficult for UFC to promote foreign fighters who don’t speak English and don’t finish fights. Khabib Nurmagomedov may be the exception (albeit he speaks fairly good English), but he’s in a league of his own. As for Magomedov, who has captured just one finish inside of the Octagon (his only one stretching back to 2011), his inability to secure devastating knockouts or submissions has hurt his chances of rapidly ascending the 155-pound ladder. Because if there are no finishes to watch, you’re asking impatient fight fans to pay close attention to the intricate angle play and striking nuances put forth by a Russian with little-to-no flashiness. It’s a hard sell, especially in a division that possesses so many unique characters and fan-friendly fighting styles.
Not to worry. There comes a time when winning is all that you need to breakout. Just ask guys like Tony Ferguson and Max Holloway. Despite being unable to stick out in their respective weight classes, whether due to other fighters or an unenthusiastic push fom the UFC, they’ve been able to claw their way to the doorstep of title contention just by winning. No eccentric trashtalking or in-cage masquerading. Magomedov has taken his time climbing the lightweight ladder and there’s simply no place to go but up.
While Dariush isn’t the biggest name at 155 pounds that the Russian could have drawn for his last appearance of 2016, the matchup does possess a certain level of skill unfound outside of the top 15. Remember, Dariush holds wins over UFC veterans Michael Johnson and Jim Miller, as well as possessing a combination of striking and grappling that few lightweights can mirror. So even though Dariush’s name doesn’t explode off of the page, he’s Magomedov’s key to entering a class that would have be unattainable otherwise.
UFC Fight Night 98 will mark Magomedov’s third-straight appearance on a main card so he needs to take full advantage of the opportunity before it’s too late. Leaving the Octagon this weekend with a finish over a top 10 opponent (No. 8 to be exact) would be a good start. But considering both of Dariush’s career defeats have come by way of stoppage, Magomedov may not be able to outlast the Iranian on the scorecards. He needs to finally open up, push the pace and let his crisp hands do the talking.
If Magomedov can get past Dariush and push his UFC record to 5-0 (20-1 overall), he’ll put himself in position for huge opportunities in 2017. That includes potential matchups with the likes of Edson Barboza, Michael Chiesa and/or the loser of Rafael dos Anjos vs. Ferguson.