The term “sleeper” refers to anything that exceeds expectations to the surprise of many. In combat sports, fans witness at least one or two cases of fights that fit this term in some respect. How does it happen? It usually occurs due to any number of things, from fighters not wanting to get cut to contenders pulling out all the stops to prove they belong in a division, let alone contend for its title.

UFC 159’s lightweight tilt between undefeated Yancy Medeiros and Rustam Khabilov fits the term “sleeper” as well as any. UFC lightweight champion Benson Henderson retained his title last weekend against former Strikeforce lightweight champion Gilbert Melendez, and the winner of UFC 160’s lightweight showdown between Gray Maynard and T.J. Grant getting the next crack at the belt. As a result of this, rising prospects such as Medeiros and Khabilov may get lost in the shuffle, as will even the most impressive of recent winners from the weight class.

Khabilov and Medeiros will, however, do everything they can to ensure that they remain on the radar, even in a shark tank of a division. Stylistically, both can create fireworks because of how effectively they use their skills inside the cage. Realistically, fans can expect this one to get ugly because neither will go down without a fight, especially considering what lies ahead.

In reality, though, we know nothing of what does lie ahead for the winner. We do know that Khabilov, an International Master of Sports in Sambo and hand-to-hand combat, stands at a different point in his career than does Medeiros. Khabilov carries a four-fight winning streak into the Octagon on Saturday and the undefeated Hawaiian, Medeiros, will put his 9-0 run on the line in his promotional debut.

The pressure of a win proves enough for any promotional newcomer, but Medeiros also comes off of a three-year layoff to take on Khabilov, and on top of that, he will debut at lightweight in this contest. Khabilov comes fresh off of his domination-by-suplexes against Vinc Pichel and will create some demand in a big way if he keeps the momentum going.

However, for every question about where Medeiros fits in the lightweight division, similar questions exist about Khabilov’s progression. How well does he react to fighters who wish to battle with him in the stand-up department? Will he experience any trouble showcasing his submission game, even against lightweights with notoriously inferior submission defense?

Most importantly of all, will a convincing win over Medeiros open the door for Khabilov to face elite competition? Some would think so, but Khabilov’s rise to contendership will come slower than preferred. Unless Khabilov calls out a top lightweight outright after the win, one should expect him to face at least one more highly-touted prospect before drawing someone who could advance his standing in the division.

Now then, what if Medeiros beats Khabilov in impressive fashion? Does he take any quicker of a path to the top than Khabilov would? Again, one may think so, but it will not happen for Medeiros right off the bat either. In fact, one should expect Medeiros to contend against his share of fellow prospects as well, provided he scores an impressive win over Khabilov.

We say “provided” because nothing stands as certain before fight night. Also, take a look at Medeiros’ 9-0 record and the men he defeated to attain it. He cleanly knocked three out, scored TKOs over another three and submitted one, but only his most recent victim, Gareth Joseph, still maintains any sort of career, which begs the question of whether or not Medeiros benefited from facing bottom-tier fighters before his layoff.

Granted, Khabilov’s record does not include what many would call a “murderer’s row” of opponents either, but to Khabilov’s credit, he did experience a busy 2012, with wins over Jason Dent and Rodrigo Ribeiro preceding his now-famous KO of Pichel.

Knowing all of this, fans should not sleep on this bout, regardless of whether or not they know about either or both of these lightweights. With both coming into this bout with something to prove, first-time fans of the sport should expect this one to thrill for as long as it lasts. Again, though, they should not expect this one to look completely pretty.

Sure, both men can throw a number of offensive attacks that look cool here and there, but they will look to connect with something loaded with nasty intentions. Once it happens, the man who emerges victorious will serve notice to their division and let the MMA world know of their arrival.

We won’t know until Saturday who will emerge victorious, but when we do, guarantee that we will talk about them for a long time afterwards.

Photo: Rustam Khabilov (Wilson Fox/Sherdog)

About The Author

Dale De Souza
Staff Writer

Dale De Souza is a 22-year-old kid straight out of Texas, who grew up around Professional Wrestling but embraced the beauty of Mixed Martial Arts and Combat Sports at a young age. Dale is a Featured Columnist at Bleacher Report MMA, a writer at The MMA Corner.