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UFC Fight Night 221 Sleeper Scrap: Said Nurmagomedov vs. Jonathan Martinez

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Welcome to the MMA News’ Sleeper Scrap! The relentless schedule of the MMA world means that some fans don’t have a full look at a fight card until days before the event, leaving the promoters to decide which bouts you should be paying the most attention to.

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Everyone wants to tune in for main events and fights that feature popular names, but that means meaningful or potentially action-packed matchups from elsewhere on fight cards sometimes get lost in the shuffle. A Sleeper Scrap might highlight interesting style matchups, fighters with notable storylines, or bouts that simply have the chance to be a Fight of the Night contender.

Last week’s Sleeper Scrap from UFC 285 saw Farid Basharat make his promotional debut with a hard-fought win against Da’Mon Blackshear, and this week’s UFC Fight Night 221 is a surprisingly strong card with a few matchups that deserve some extra shine. Only of those fights can be highlighted as a Sleeper Scrap however, and this week’s pick is the bantamweight bout featuring Said Nurmagomedov and Jonathan Martinez.

The Fighters

Not related to the UFC’s former lightweight champion Khabib, Said Nurmagomedov has already earned five victories from six fights since joining the promotion in 2018.

The Russian started his career at 6-0 before suffering his first loss, but a five-fight win streak led to him getting the call to join the UFC in 2018. His promotional debut ended with a split decision win over Justin Scoggins in a flyweight contest, and in his second UFC fight Nurmagomedov stopped Ricardo Ramos in the first round.

Nurmagomedov has only lost once since joining the UFC. (Zuffa LLC)

The 30-year-old had that winning streak snapped in his first UFC loss against Raoni Barcelos, but Nurmagomedov rebounded by finishing both Mark Striegl and Cody Stamann in less than a minute. Following his most recent victories over Douglas Silva de Andrade and Saidyokub Kahkramonov, the Russian now has four-straight wins with three finishes.

Jonathan Martinez entered the UFC the same year as Nurmagomedov, but so far he’s been the considerably more active fighter and has already competed for the promotion 11 times.

Martinez has kept busy since joining the UFC in 2018. (Zuffa LLC)

The 28-year-old’s only loss prior to joining the UFC was due to him landing an illegal knee on current UFC flyweight Matt Schnell, but Martinez did come up short in his promotional debut when he lost a unanimous decision to Andre Soukhamthath.

“Dragon” went 4-2 over his next six fights and earned a pair of impressive stoppages against Pingyuan Liu and Frankie Saenz, but Martinez appears to have really hit his stride in the UFC after being stopped by Davey Grant in 2021. Since then the 28-year-old has rattled off three decision victories that included handing Zviad Lazishvili the first loss of his pro career, and Martinez most recently stopped UFC Hall of Famer Cub Swanson with leg kicks.

The Matchup

It’s already been established that Said has no relation to Khabib’s family of Nurmagomedovs, but the 30-year-old also separates himself from that group with his preference for relying on striking more than grappling.

The most notable feature of Nurmagomedov’s striking arsenal is undoubtedly his kicks, which he’ll throw with regularity from both southpaw and orthodox stances. The Russian is comfortable kicking with either leg, and he’s just as likely to throw something at an opponent’s head and body as he is to try and chop down their lower half.

Nurmagomedov’s kicks are a constant threat for his opponents. (Chris Unger/Zuffa LLC)

Aside from an occasional jab, the 30-year-old mainly uses his hands to throw big counter punches at aggressive opponents. Nurmagomedov also loves to throw spinning back fists and spinning kicks, but his recklessness with these techniques does open him up for takedown attempts when he hasn’t gauged his range properly.

Although he prefers to strike, opponents that do tie up with Nurmagomedov need to be wary of his submission game. Cody Stamman tried to land a takedown off a spinning back fist attempt before finding himself caught in a guillotine choke, and Saidyokub Kakhramaonov had considerable success wrestling the Russian before suffering the same fate.

Martinez employs a somewhat similar striking style to Nurmagomedov in that he relies a lot on his kicks and the particularly dangerous attacks directed at the legs of his opponents.

“Dragon” likes to keep opposing fighters backed up to the fence when he can, and often times he accomplishes this by relying on his feints. The southpaw will start opening up with his jab more as he gains confidence, but his hand feints largely serve as a way to set up openings for his kicking game.

Martinez finished Cub Swason with leg kicks in his last fight. (Twitter)

Martinez can sometimes be guilty of throwing kicks without setting them up with previous strikes, but the speed at which he throws these attacks is a danger for most opponents. The 28-year-old will use his rear kick to attack the head, body, and legs of opponents, and he’ll also work in low kicks with his lead leg to accumulate damage like in his most recent fight with Cub Swanson.

The American is occasionally willing to mix in his own takedowns in order to swing a close round in his favor, and his ability to remain standing when opponents try to bring him down has largely been solid during his UFC career.

The Stakes

The bantamweight division is a regular fixture in the Sleeper Scrap series due to the overwhelming level of talent available in the weight class, and these two fighters are no exception to that trend.

Breaking into the Top 15 of such a loaded division is no easy task, but the fact that both of these men are on four-fight win streaks shows they’re already a cut above many of the bantamweights in the UFC. A chance at the top part of the division is by no means guaranteed with a win here, but a five-fight win streak for either man would certainly put them in a strong position going forward.

Martinez will need to avoid being caught in one of Nurmagomedov’s guillotine chokes. (Chris Unger/Zuffa LLC)

The loss to Raoni Barcelos is the only setback of Nurmagomedov’s UFC career so far, but he could benefit from putting on a convincing performance against Martinez. The Russian’s last two fights saw him overcome some adversity before securing the win, but his dynamic finishing ability always makes him a threat to prevail in bouts where he might be struggling at points.

Martinez is in the best form of his UFC career after his up-and-down start with the promotion, and his last win against Swanson was especially impressive. The veteran was admittedly past his best, but after three-straight decisions that finish will hopefully give “Dragon” quite a bit of confidence against an opponent in Nurmagomedov that has shown himself to be vulnerable to leg kicks.

Martinez is currently on the best winning streak of his UFC career. (Jeff Bottari/Zuffa LLC)

One aspect of this fight that could prove particularly entertaining for fans is if Nurmagomedov elects to rely on his spinning attacks even when Martinez has him backed to the fence. These close-quarters exchanges could result in the Russian getting countered or taken down, but during those scrambles “Dragon” will need to make sure that he protects his neck from potential submission attempts.

How do you think this bout between Nurmagomedov and Martinez will turn out? Are there any other fights from UFC Fight Night 221 that you feel deserve more attention?

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