The former two-division champion has served as Nurmagomedov’s training partner for several years with both working out of the American Kickboxing Academy and more recently Cormier has been the wrestling coach for the undefeated Russian.
Over the past couple of months, Nurmagomedov has been in the middle of an intense training camp to prepare for his showdown against Tony Ferguson at UFC 249. After the fight was made and scrapped on four previous occasions, Nurmagomedov vs. Ferguson might be one of the most highly anticipated title bouts in UFC history.
According to Cormier, Nurmagomedov was treating his preparation with that kind of attitude as the lightweight champion seeks his third straight title defense, but perhaps more importantly, he gets the opportunity to vanquish arguably the toughest challenge of his entire career.
“He was looking good,” Cormier told MMA Fighting about Nurmagomedov’s training camp for UFC 249. “Dude was training hard. He was very focused. He was aware of the challenge that was out in front of him. He’s a guy who understands how difficult Tony Ferguson is to prepare for and how tricky he can be inside the Octagon.
“So I thought he was on point. I thought he was ahead of schedule. I thought he was a true pro’s pro. That’s his new thing. That’s his trash talk — ‘I am professional, brother, this is my thing, I am professional.’ So he was really locked in.”
Cormier won’t pretend to be unbiased when it comes to his opinion about the fight, but as a regular member of the UFC broadcast team, he’s spent plenty of time studying both athletes ahead of UFC 249.
During his 12-fight win streak, Ferguson has beaten a string of top-ranked lightweights while finishing nine of those opponents by knockout or submission. Ferguson is like a human Rubik’s cube when he fights because it’s been nearly impossible for opponents to come close to figuring him out.
That said, Cormier has seen a pattern of behavior from Ferguson in some of his past fights that makes him believe Nurmagomedov could be a stylistic problem for him when they finally clash on April 18.
“I’ve seen Tony Ferguson be so spectacular throughout the course of his career but I’ve also seen Tony at times struggle with the exact kind of game Khabib brings,” Cormier explained. “The Kevin Lee fight — Kevin Lee was able to implement a really good game plan early in that fight but he got tired. Then Tony was able to take advantage of a mistake he made. I watched Abel Trujillo take Tony down and control him.
“Those types of guys, and granted that was a while ago, and Tony has improved vastly, those types of guys are able to do that and those guys are not on the level of Khabib Nurmagomedov.”
From his start in the UFC as a prospect to his time now as champion, Nurmagomedov has been a dominant force of nature against almost every opponent he’s faced.
He’s out struck his opponents by a wide margin, averages over five takedowns per 15 minutes he spends in the cage and he’s only lost one round during his entire UFC career in the bout against Conor McGregor in 2018 — and Nurmagomedov finished him one round later.
“His top control is smothering. His control. His understanding of grappling and grappling positions. It’s a new level,” Cormier said. “I don’t know how else to say it. The guy is just a beast.
“I think he’s going to provide a lot of problems for Tony. Honestly, he’s much better standing that people want to give him credit for it.”
As dynamic and creative as Ferguson can be during his performances, Cormier predicts that he will still struggle to stop Nurmagomedov from doing what he does best over five rounds.
In fact, Cormier points out that nobody has been able to prevent Nurmagomedov from imposing his will and he doesn’t believe Ferguson will be any different.
“How good do you have to be that everyone you fight knows exactly what you’re gonna do. It’s no secret what Khabib is going to you and he’s still going to implement that game plan to a T,” Cormier said. “That tells you the level of what this guy is. You know what’s coming.
“My man Dustin Poirier trained for it. He knew but the moment Khabib grabbed him it was probably like ‘I’ve trained with guys before but they didn’t feel like this guy’. I just believe he’s so good at what he does, he doesn’t even have to hide it.”