MMA fans constantly ask the question, “Who is the GOAT”, they constantly talk about legacy and repeatedly refer to statistics in order to back up their point.
Legacy has many different factors, number of wins, quality of opponents, finishes, titles won, outside the octagon personality, to name a few.
We’ll look at both men’s careers and conclude who truly has a better legacy.
The undefeated record of Nurmagomedov is what has, without a doubt allowed him to rocket up the legacy list. He retired at 29-0, with a UFC record of 13-0.
Along his MMA journey, he notched eight knockouts and 11 submissions. Seven of these finishes came in the UFC.
He captured the title against Al Iaquinta at UFC 223, however, the title was vacant at the time. Iaquinta was also scheduled to fight Paul Felder, a completely different stylistic match-up that Khabib on the 223 card, however, due to various pull-outs, was thrust into the five-round main event for the belt. It’s also worth noting that he was #11 at the time.
He made just three title defences, all of which came against some of the best opposition the division has seen in recent years. First came the grudge match with Conor McGregor, whom he finished in the fourth round. McGregor was returning after two years away from the sport.
Next came Dustin Poirier, the interim champion, whom he finished in the third round and in the final fight of his career, he submitted Justin Gaethje (another interim champion) in round 2.
The criticisms of The Eagle throughout his career was his tendency to cruise through fights and not look to finish his opponents. He also missed weight against Abel Trujillo by 2.5lbs. He also had to withdraw from four scheduled bouts due to either injury or weight cutting complications.
At no point did he ever entertain the idea of going up in weight to welterweight, even despite his dominance at 155lbs.
He also averaged just 1.6 fights a year and competed just twice in the final two years of his career, despite not being injured.
It’s hard to deny that Alex Pereira is one of the greatest combat sports athletes in history. He’s a two-weight GLORY kickboxing champion, a GLORY hall of famer and as of this past weekend, a two-weight UFC world champion.
— Chamatkar Sandhu (@SandhuMMA) November 12, 2023
After just seven UFC fights, he’s not only captured the middleweight belt but went up in weight to smash his way to the light heavyweight belt as well.
His MMA record is 9-2, with a UFC record of 6-1. Of these six wins, four have come via knockout.
He won the middleweight belt by doing something no one ever had done before, defeated Israel Adesanya at middleweight. He not only did this, but he did so by knockout having been down on the cards.
He granted Adesanya the rematch and having lost that fight, he went up in weight to take on new challengers at 205lbs. After narrowly defeating former champion, Jan Blachowicz, he went on to knockout Jiri Prochazka for the vacant belt. Granted, this is the belt that Prochazka vacated due to injury.
The main criticism of Pereira is that he has lost his most recent bout at middleweight and didn’t stick around to finish the rivalry with The Last Stylebender. Questions also have to be posed about his route to the title. He didn’t have the tough road that many do, he got the shot due to his prior rivalry with Adesanya, which made for a great storyline.
He’s also yet to clash with an elite wrestler, something that could perhaps be his downfall. He’s lucky that at 205lbs, there isn’t an abundance of out and out wrestlers, otherwise he could be in trouble.
Pereira vs. Nurmagomedov: Who Wins The Stats?
UFC Fights (number) – Khabib takes this one with ease
Finishes – The Russian again has more finishes, however, if we compare his first seven UFC fights (the number Pereira has had), he had just three, whereas Pereira has four. It’s also worth noting that Nurmagomedov only recorded three post-fight bonuses throughout his career, whereas Poatan already has four
Title Defences – Nurmagomedov made three title defences, whereas Pereira is yet to make a successful title defence
PPV Headliners – The UFC hall of famer headlined four PPV’s during his tenure, Pereira has three in just seven fights
Exciting Fights – It’s hard to argue that Numragomedov was part of one of the most exciting, highly anticipated fights in UFC history against Conor McGregor, however, there’s also no argument that the flying knee knockout on his debut, the finish of Adesanya in their first bout and the knockout of Prochazka has Pereira winning this one
Calibre of Opponents – Across his career, Nurmagomedov faced four future or former champions (including two interim champions). Pereira has also faced four future or former champions, none of whom were interim champions. This one is close, however, Khabib likely takes this on quality of opponents P4P.
Legacy in the Sport Overall
As we previously put, if this was a legacy in combat sports, it would be hard to look past Pereira, however, we’re just focussing on MMA.
Khabib Nurmagomedov bought millions of eyes to the sport due to his stoic manner, his post-UFC 229 antics and his dominant, mauling style. Was he always a fun watch? No. Was he a guaranteed sound-bite? Again, no. But did you always get a headline whenever he fought? Yes. He was arguably just hitting his peak when he decided to hang up the gloves.
Alex Pereira has also bought a large proportion of his fans from kickboxing over to MMA and there’s no doubt that he has his Israel Adesanya feud to thank for his popularity. Without Adesanya, Pereira would have had to gain a title shot the hard way. His style is fun, devastating style is fan friendly. Like Khabib, he doesn’t always provide a sound-bite, but his weigh-in tradition has become somewhat iconic, as has his octagon walk. The fact that he’s a two weight UFC world champion simply can’t be ignored. If he makes a few title defences at 205lbs, he’ll undoubtedly go down as a legend of the game.
Ultimately, despite his dominance of a weight class, Nurmagomedov retired when he was just about to hit his best career form. He only made three title defences, recorded seven UFC finishes and only averaged 1.6 UFC fights a year throughout his career. Pereira is a two-weight UFC world champion in just seven fights, has a fan friendly style and has beaten four former or future UFC champions. The issue with the Brazilian is that he’s been finished in his UFC career as recently as April this year and never went back in there to get that win back. With that being said, becoming a two-weight world champion (winning both title fights via knockout) is simply unprecedented, confirming that he has a better legacy than Khabib (for now at least)!