UFC Fight For the Troops 3 will take place this Wednesday night from Fort Campbell, Kentucky, and is to be aired live and free on FOX Sports 1. This card was originally to be headlined by U.S Army Elite Special Forces sniper Tim Kennedy taking on former light heavyweigh Lyoto Machida, but Machida was removed from the card and replaced by Brazilian Rafael Natal. Featured on the main card is Jorge “Gamebred” Masvidal, who has shown little respect for his opponent in his pre-fight interviews, taking on highly explosive suplex specialist and world Sambo champion Rustam “Tiger” Khabilov.
While Khabilov (16-1 MMA, 3-0 UFC) hails from Dagestan, Masvidal (25-7 MMA, 2-0 UFC) wasted no time after this fight was booked in expressing his dislike for ethnic Russians (which Khabilov is not), going as far as bringing up history between the Russians supporting Fidel Castro (Masvidal is Cuban-American) and stating that he is going to take out all his pent up anger towards Russia on Khabilov. “Gamebred” has set the American versus Russian, Democracy versus Communism stage for the crowd at Fight For the Troops 3 and will no doubt be the fan favorite despite a bit of misinformation on the history of Khabilov’s background (Dagestani’s also don’t get along with ethnic Russians.. but that’s beside the point!)
Masvidal is currently undefeated in his two fights inside the octagon with wins over Tim Means and Michael Chiesa, who is also fighting on this card, both following a five fight stint in Strikeforce where he only lost to current top contender and former Strikeforce Lightweight champion Gilbert Melendez. While Masvidal has submission grappling credentials dating back to 2002, his preferred method of finishing fights in mixed martial arts is clearly by knock out having earned ten KO’s in his career. Masvidal has also shown that he can go the distance if need be, earning himself 13 decisions. That being said, Masvidal should look to avoid any form of clinch and use his jab to keep Khabilov at a range and pick him apart from the outside with hopes of frustrating the tenacious Dagestani fighter creating an opening for the knock out. If Masvidal gets too eager, he may find himself soaring through the air being suplexed to the mat.
Khabilov is also undefeated inside the octagon, having only lost once to Ruslan Khaskhanov in M-1 Ukraine. Khabilov made the transition from the Legion Sport Club in Russia to Jackson’s MMA in Albuquerque, New Mexico. Khabilov is a 4x Combat Sambo Republic of Dagestan Champion, 1x Combat Sambo Russian Champion and the 2007 World Combat Sambo Champion. While Masvidal has numerous NAGA submission grappling championships, his grappling is not quite on the level of Khabilov’s who should most certainly look to close the distance and force this fight to the ground and dominate with his smothering style. If he isn’t able to slam the experienced Masvidal and pin him on the ground, we will have to see how much training with both Carlos Condit and Donald Cerrone extensively at Jackson’s MMA has helped his stand up – “Tiger” has earned four knock outs, but only one was strictly from strikes. The other 3? All a result of his infamous suplex.
Prediction: Rustam Khabilov def. Jorge Masvidal by unanimous decision.
Khabilov and Masvidal have both a lot of momentum going into this fight and a lot of things to prove going into this fight. A win over either fighter should result in earning a top ten ranked fighter as their next opponent, especially if that win comes in an impressive fashion. That said, I believe Khabilov is going to be able to fight his fight and frustrate Masvidal with his take downs and superior grappling. Often times when people cite a “smothering” and “controlling” fighting style, it does not appeal to fans. When the same style is said about Khabilov, fans should know that he is a different kind of animal when it comes to smothering his opponents. The only reason I am not calling for a finish in this fight is because of how tough Masvidal is. In his 32 fight career, he has only been finished three times – the last time being in 2009. However, Khabilov will close the distance and utilize trips, throws, and slams showcasing his superior Sambo which he has used to dominate every opponent put in front of him in the UFC thus far.