Khabib Nurmagomedov was only 1-0 in the UFC when he was matched against Gleison Tibau, one of the true veterans of the lightweight division, at UFC 148 in 2012.
It ended up being the closest fight of Nurmagomedov’s Octagon career, a fight which many people scored against him.
Tibau defended every single one of Nurmagomedov’s 13 takedown attempts and even took Nurmagomedov down himself, a rare occurrence in Nurmagomedov’s career. In the end, judges Glenn Trowbridge, Mark Smith and Jeff Collins all scored it 30-27 for the Dagestani, who cried a lot after Bruce Buffer read the result.
”I think I’m the only athlete that really gave him a fight,” Tibau told MMA Fighting. “He’s not fighting, he’s just rag-dolling people. What he’s doing in his fights is really impressive. I watch the guy fight and, ‘Wow, how was I able to control this guy?’ I see I have potential to fight anyone. I fought Khabib, (Rafael) dos Anjos, who became champion. Khabib is a level above in his fights. I don’t think there’s anyone to stop him in the division.”
Nurmagomedov’s evolution since his controversial unanimous decision over Tibau has been remarkable. Over the last five years, “The Eagle” has beaten the likes of Thiago Tavares, Rafael dos Anjos, Michael Johnson and Edson Barboza, and now awaits his chance to fight for a UFC belt — a chance which could come soon at UFC 223.
Tibau’s UFC career, however, went in a different direction.
The Brazilian veteran won six of his next 10 fights, but ended up testing positive for erythropoietin (EPO) following a quick win over Abel Trujillo in 2015. He was given a two-year suspension by USADA. Now he returns to action Saturday against Nurmagomedov’s training partner, Islam Makhachev, at UFC 220.
After being the man to give Nurmagomedov his hardest fight in the UFC, Tibau hopes to one day meet Nurmagomedov inside the cage for a second time.
”I really wanted this fight, to fight Khabib again,” Tibau said. “It was a very close fight. Many people say I won, many people say he won. It was a close fight. He couldn’t take me down, I took him down twice, something that no one else came close to achieving. I really feel like getting this rematch, but my focus now is this big battle with Islam.
”I’ll have a good chance now fighting Islam, who trains with [Nurmagomedov]. They have the same style, they train together. There are a few Russians here (at American Top Team) that said Islam is more skilled on the ground, but Khabib has more pressure. Let’s see how I’ll perform after two years.”
Don’t expect to see Tibau calling “The Eagle” out if victorious at UFC 220, though.
”I thought about making some noise, but Khabib and I became friends after the fight,” Tibau said. “He’s a really nice guy. I went to Russia and we went out a few times, had good moments there, so I won’t call him out publicly because I respect him and he respects me. I won’t challenge him publicly. If the UFC matches us up again one day I’ll be happy and excited, but in a respectful way. I respect everyone that respects me.”
Tibau is instead focused on Makhachev, who won a decision against Nik Lentz in his last appearance inside the Octagon. Tibau is impressed by Makhachev’s performances in the UFC, and he knows what he needs to do in order to win.
”He has a good wrestling, he’s really tough,” said the Brazilian. “I watched his fight with Nik Lentz and he has a good pressure on the ground. It’s not an easy fight for someone that is coming back after two years, but that’s an opportunity for me to show I didn’t waste any time. I’ve evolved a lot. I know it’s going to be a tough war. He’s young, but I will use my experience against him.”
Both fighters haven’t competed in a long time, but for different reasons. While Tibau was sidelined due to a doping suspension, Makhachev was forced out of a fight with Michel Prazeres last September with an injury.
Tibau says his body “responded well” in his intense eight-week training camp for UFC 220. He has suffered a few “small injuries” ahead of the fight in Boston, but says he recovered well and is really to come back.
Sporting one of the best takedown ratios in UFC history, Tibau plans on using his wrestling to keep the fight standing at UFC 220, pretty much the same way he fought Nurmagomedov in 2012 and Caol Uno in 2010.
”I know that taking him down and putting him on his back won’t be easy, and I don’t plan on doing that,” Tibau said. “This is a fight for me to stop his takedowns and box. I will show my evolution in this fight, use other skills and go for a brawl instead of wrestling him.
”I have the same mindset I had when I was about to fight Caol Uno. Uno was a tough fighter back then, had a great jiu-jitsu, and we focused on boxing him. I got the knockout in that fight, and this is my goal now. Stop his wrestling and box him up.”