The Severe Spotlight: Shavkat Rakhmonov

18 professional fights. 18 finishes, 10 submissions and 8 KO/TKO stoppages.

Let us add some context to that record. 6 of those stoppages have come inside the UFC, 3 against ranked opponents, all 6 inside 3 years, and all 6 with a combined cage time of 50 minutes and 11 seconds. Including the rest of his record outside of the UFC his opponents records combined boast a vastly impressive record of 233-73.

The performance against Stephen “Wonderboy” Thompson was that of a future champion. Why?

We can begin with the two major factors outside of the octagon that Rakhmonov chose to deal with, the first being that mere weeks out from the fight he badly tore ligaments in his ankle, which removed one of his main weapons in the fight – his kicks. When you are unable to bring one of your main weapons to any fight it is a vast detriment, when you are fighting such an illustrious and decorated karateka like Wonderboy, for others it would have proved fatal.

Second, Rakhmonov chose to miss his sister’s wedding, so he could wander out into the T-Mobile Arena and likely cement his place in either a #1 contender-ship fight or even a crack at the title itself.

Thirdly, we can dissect the actual goings of the fight.

Rakhmonov begins the first round by forcing Wonderboy back to the outside tramline of the cage. Watching Wonderboy lose the footwork battle so early on into the fight is alarming and fascinating in equal parts. Rakhmonov won the battle with upper body feints, with visual feints and with ensuring that he splits the centre line of Wonderboy at every possible occurrence.

Running through the entire fight was a narrative exuding from Rakhmonov that screamed a lack of sporting respect for Wonderboy and his offerings. That is a wrinkle that neither should be ignored nor understated, regardless of age this is still a Wonderboy with a vast array of technical accolades and knowledge, yet the undefeated confidence underwrites the lack of respect.  The front leg feints of Wonderboy have been a staple and a just deterrent in almost every single fight he has had. Rakhmonov paid no mind and used this same feint to barrel into the clinch.

The pair ended up in clinch exchanges for much of the first round. Frankly this felt tactical, even prior to the release of information on the ankle injury for the victor it felt as though the primary gameplan was to begin to drown Wonderboy, full his arms and legs with lactic acid and place an air of doubt in his mind for the rest of the fight. If the finish comes, it comes. Wonderboy showed off some fantastic balance from the single leg attempts, and in the clinch did a good job of holding his own. But Rakhmonov oscillated between lovely head position, heisting Wonderboy’s leg looking for singles, landing shots to the body and head, and dragging him down to the mat.

At the end of the first, Wonderboy walked shellshocked back to his corner.

Round two begins with Wonderboy throwing caution to the wind, understanding that he must up the ante to win back a level of respect. The second blitz thrown lands him in some hot water as Rakhmonov angles his head off the centre line and lands a clean right hand to kill the forward momentum.

The grappling returned when Rakhmonov punished a Wonderboy lead leg feint again, scooping it up this time and running him to the cage. Again, Wonderboy showed off some fantastic balance to not be immediately grounded by the offense, however as he hopped to maintain his balance, Rakhmonov took his opportunity to drag Wonderboy to the mat with a mixture of running the pipe one handed, with the right hand assisting with a bicep post to drive the head of Wonderboy off the centre-line.

From here, the grappling is dominant. Wonderboy desperately tries to keep his back on the mat, but Rakhmonov has crowded the hips and taken a far side wrist-ride grip. The wrist ride combined with the hip crowding means Wonderboy is unable to scoot his hips away usefully and Rakhmonov worked to a grapevine hook and landed shots with his free hand.

Rakhmonov works to Wonderboy’s back, trying to upgrade the wrist-ride to a handcuff trap behind Wonderboy’s back.  Rakhmonov tries to sink in a choke, but it is over the chin and slightly off angle. Again, Wonderboy shows his toughness and works his way back to bottom half guard.

The hailstorm of elbows begins from Rakhmonov as he now offers a dilemma between damage and threatening a d’arce choke. Wonderboy is forced to attempt to improve his position and does so by working up to a front headlock. Immediately Rakhmonov cuts the angle, turns the corner, and takes Wonderboy’s back, crowding the hips he doesn’t waste any time searching for hooks. Instead, he squeezes his knees around the hips and throws a choke tight over the jaw.

Toughness isn’t enough here, and Wonderboy is forced to tap. Rakhmonov wheels away, having secured one of the biggest wins of his career and doing so in dominant fashion.

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