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Shavkat Rakhmonov: The Time is Now

The UFC welterweight division is currently in flux.  Leon Edwards just dethroned long-standing champion Kamaru Usman.  In the meantime, several promising contenders have risen up the rankings to position themselves for a title shot.  At UFC 285, Shavkat Rakhmonov and Geoff Neal both performed impressively and have earned fights against the division’s absolute best.

Coming into the fight, Rakhmonov seemed completely unstoppable.  He had incredible striking and a phenomenal ground game.  Although he did not bulldoze opponents in the way that Khamzat Chimaev did, he methodically deconstructed them with little resistance.  His dominant win over Neil Magny signaled that he would be a problem for any ranked welterweight.

Rakhmonov faced a revitalized Geoff Neal at UFC 285.  Neal himself was riding an impressive finish over the notoriously durable Vicente Luque.  Both fighters had unquestionable striking acumen, but many expected Rakhmonov to win this fight with his grappling prowess.

Image – Essentially Sports

The fight did not disappoint.  Both fighters landed frequently and with power.  Rakhmonov pushed the pace, but Neal’s accuracy proved difficult to deal with.  Neal also showed outstanding takedown defense and improved cardio, which kept the fight competitive throughout.  At one point, Neal wobbled Rakhmonov badly, and for the first time made him look vulnerable.  Impressively, however, Shavkat continued to overwhelm Neal and eventually finished him with a standing choke.  

Much like Chimaev’s fight against Gilbert Burns, Shavkat was finally tested in the fight against Neal.  However, by the same token, he also proved that he has the skills to compete with the top of the division.  Shavkat’s striking defense could use improvement, though one cannot discount the role that Neal’s accuracy played in the fight.  The upper echelon of the division has fighters such as Burns and Belal Muhammad who can likely stop Rakhmonov’s takedowns.  However, Shavkat’s creativity allows him to compete with and potentially beat anyone on the feet.  He joins a shortlist of challengers waiting to face the winner of the trilogy between Leon Edwards and Kamaru Usman.  Though it is far from guaranteed, it would not be surprising to see Rakhmonov wearing the belt soon. 

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