On March 2nd, featherweight prospect Zabit Magomedsharipov will encounter his first legitimate step up in difficulty since joining the UFC in late 2017. With three of his four appearances in the UFC ending in submission (and the lone decision netting a Fight of the Night bonus), fans and pundits have been clamoring for Zabit to move further along the contender track. UFC 235 could be Zabit’s golden ticket.
Zabit Magomedsharipov Evaluation
However, I am not sold on Zabit. While his stance switching and Showtime kicks are exciting, there is plenty missing from Zabit’s technical wheelhouse. There are signs of a potentially terrifying force down the line, but at the moment, many people are making Zabit out to be a finished product, when in fact, he clearly has a long way to go before being capable of competing with the featherweight elite.
Tall Man Defense
Zabit has constructed a decent first layer of defense with a wiry 6’1½” frame. Much like Jon Jones, Zabit prefers having his hands on his opponents, posting on their head and shoulders. This serves two purposes:
- It prevents opponents from closing distance.
- It allows Zabit to tuck his chin behind his lead shoulder.
>Zabit paws his lead hand out and hops back as Santiago tries to lead with a tight hook. Zabit paws again, and posts his lead hand on Santiago’s shoulder as Santiago tries throwing a right hook over the top of Zabit’s posted arm. Zabit is able to short arm the hook, and he leans over his rear hip behind his shoulder. Santiago’s follow-up right hand falls short.
I like Zabit’s lead hand quite a bit. As a product of Mark Henry’s, Zabit possesses a killer left hook, which he’ll pivot off of when pressured to the cage. It remains maybe his only refined counterpunch.
>Bochniak pressures Zabit to the fence. Zabit lands a left hook and angles off the fence, as Bochniak misses a follow-up right hand.
The left hook is also good for “closing the door” in boxing, meaning that when concluding an exchange, finish with the left hook and move backward, which protects the throwers chin behind their lead shoulder. Zabit is good at “closing the door.”
>Zabit throws a looping right hand and attempts to weave under it as Bochniak shells into the pocket. The right hand misses, and Bochniak responds with a short right hook. As both men retract and regain their stances, Zabit closes the door with a left hook.
Dealing With Kickers
One of the problems with Zabit’s defense is that he’s quite vulnerable to the body, and Santiago landed a number of solid body kicks to Zabit’s liver as Zabit was fighting hands. Sheymon Moraes also had some real success kicking with Magomedsharipov. Zabit is not a counter striker, and Moraes took advantage of this by leading with kicks and negating much of the return fire by simply moving offline.
>Moraes leads with a rear kick to Zabit’s lead leg. Zabit attempts to grab the kick with his left hand and fires the right hand down the middle. However, Moraes is able to move his head off the centerline and skip back out into open space.
>Moraes leads with a lead leg switch kick to Zabit’s body, and Zabit throws a jab at the same time that misses. Zabit immediately drops his lead hand, scoops the kick but recoils from the kick. Zabit tries to throw a right hand counter over top, but it also falls short.
Moraes approached Zabit as well as anybody has so far. He was willing to kick with Zabit on the outside. His head movement in the pocket was solid. Every time Zabit would feint or attempt to set up some high-octane strike (a spinning elbow or kick), Moraes would pivot out of the way and Zabit’s attacks would go sailing by.
>From the southpaw stance, Zabit attempts to throw a body kick, but Moraes raises his lead leg and checks the kick. Zabit shifts to orthodox and throws a jab, but Moraes steps to his left and pivots off his lead leg.
Pocket & In-Fighting
Zabit has learned how to use his reach effectively, but his positioning in the pocket is sorely lacking. He’s quite good at fighting tall from range, but when guys close him down, he weakens in the pocket.
>Moraes throws a rear leg kick, and Zabit drops his lead hand. Zabit attempts to counter with a right hand again, but Moraes ducks under the punch, slips inside and throws a left hook. Moraes follows with a straight right as Zabit exits the pocket.
>Moraes sits down on a straight right to the body, and Zabit shells and backs straight up. Moraes follows the right hand with a left hook that lands.
Bochniak gave Zabit a lot to think about with his constant pressure and feinting, but feints don’t mean very much if you can’t establish a threat behind them. The best Bochniak could do was simply make Zabit a bit more tentative at range, and pressure his way into the pocket.
>Bochniak feints a jab and then feints a right hand, and Zabit raises his left arm to parry what he assumes is a jab. Notice how Zabit’s still tries to hide behind his lead shoulder as Bochniak’s marching left hook lands on Zabit’s glove. Zabit shuffles away, trying to turn off the shot and Bochniak cracks him with a right hand. Bochniak keeps pressing with a left hand behind his right, and Zabit paws out his left jab. As Bochniak pressures towards the fence, Zabit throws his left hook and regains his defense behind his lead shoulder while angling off. Bochniak’s final right hand misses.
There’s a lot to this exchange. First of all, it’s encouraging that Zabit’s reactions to getting hit are to regain his defense and look for one of his most reliable weapons. Zabit has also showed a solid amount of cage awareness in regards to when he’s backed up against the fence. However, this exchange also highlights how uncomfortable will Zabit get in layered boxing exchanges. Against someone like Aldo whose head movement goes past the first layer, Zabit will find himself on the receiving end of powerful counters as his initial punches go sailing by.
Bochniak also learned how to stymie Zabit’s clinch entries and frame out before Zabit could initiate any grappling exchanges.
>Zabit enters with a rear hand uppercut and shells as Bochniak tries to counter with a left hook. Zabit tries to grab a hold of collar ties around Bochniak’s neck, but Bochniak throws a short right uppercut to dissuade Zabit. Zabit grabs for the collar ties again, but Bochniak attempts to frame with his left arm and throws a right hand over the top, ducks his way out of Zabit’s grip and throws a left hook to conclude the exchange.
Zabit Magomedsharipov strikes me as the type of fighter who has never needed to fight with a strategic approach in mind. His skill set is well rounded enough that he’s likely always been able to enforce at least one part of his technical game (usually by grappling), and he has good ideas with his striking. However, as the featherweight ranks become more and more competitive, Zabit will have to learn how to adapt his game from fight to fight, because there will be less opportunities for Zabit to play with his food on the feet.
Jeremy Stephens (Zabit’s upcoming opponent this weekend) is flawed in his own ways, but he’s gotten increasingly good at tailoring his midrange power striking to exploit his opponent’s weaknesses. Against Gilbert Melendez, Stephens’ jab and low leg kicks crippled the former Strikeforce champion. Against Doo Ho Choi, Stephens made good use of cage cutting, in which Choi repeatedly circled out to his left (the same direction that Zabit tends to circle) before running into Stephens’ right hand. Stephens seems poised to challenge Zabit in the areas Zabit needs the most polish, which makes me think this might be too much, too soon for the prospect. If he falls short against the longtime veteran, the lesson will be clear and Zabit will need a more substantive technical striking game if he wants to compete among the finest at featherweight.
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