Rustam Khabilov getting ready for his first foray into UFC
ALBUQUERQUE -- Perhaps nothing better embodies Russian lightweight Rustam Khabilov's first foray into the UFC than his official fighter profile page. With roughly 72 hours before his UFC debut in Saturday's The Ultimate Fighter 16 Finale against Vinc Pichel (7-0-0), the site didn't feature a picture of the 14-1-0 fighter, but a silhouette. The site has since been updated with profile pictures, but Khabilov's reputation remains much like the cache of that page: a blank.
Khabilov might be an unknown to all but the most rabid MMA fans but he's already achieved celebrity status with his Jackson-Winkeljohn teammates. Coach Mike Winkeljohn helps Khabilov step out of the shadows by breaking down what to watch in his pupil's premiere.
SI.com: What are Khabilov's strengths in the cage?
Winkeljohn: Rustam is probably one of the best wrestlers we have here at our school. He's got a great wrestling base. No matter where he's at, even in a scramble, when it looks like he might be at a disadvantage, he pulls it out and ends up on top. He's new to the sport in that he gets on top and doesn't finish people off. He wasn't sure. Greg has really been working on his ground and pound.
SI.com: What does Vinc Pichel do well?
Winkeljohn: Stand-up wise, the kid we're fighting has a good right hand -- a good, long right hand that we're watching for. . . That's his strongest asset. That, and being very, very physically strong. He will be in the best shape of his life.
SI.com: What's the key to the fight?
Winkeljohn: The key to this fight is I think we get this kid down. But it's a matter of now putting him down and imposing our will on him as far as our ground and pound goes. We do have a few submissions we can use but if we do more ground and pound, it'd be a beautiful world.
SI.com: What is it like trying to coach Khabilov, who doesn't speak much English yet?
Winkeljohn: I use my iPhone translator now a little bit with the guys, use hand signals. Fighting is a universal language in that we can talk about an underhook or a hit (he makes the underhook and striking motions) and then the guy changes levels and they start picking up because everybody has experience with fighting enough that we can teach through hand signals and looks.