Big Fight Preview: Khabib vs McGregor
By Jon Prentice
We are now just a matter of days away from one of the biggest, or if you go by Dana White, THE biggest fight in the history of the UFC. Fans will finally get to see Conor McGregor (21-3) and Khabib Nurmagomedov (26-0) square off for the UFC lightweight title in the T-Mobile Arena, Las Vegas on October 6th in the main event of UFC 229.
The build-up to the fight has been relatively subdued in comparison to previous McGregor fights. Long gone are the days of world media tours that we saw for McGregor vs Aldo, however, White is still stating that UFC 229 is trending for over 2.5million PPV buys. If White’s estimate is to be believed then it will make fantastic reading for WME IMG, the UFC’s top brass, as PPV buys have been extremely underwhelming in 2018, with reports this week suggesting that UFC 228 only did an estimated 130,000 buys.
MMA fans have been speculating for years as to how McGregor would cope with the wrestling dominance of someone like Nurmogomedov and whether Nurmagomedov would be able to handle the striking prowess that McGregor holds. Come Saturday night those questions will be answered and we will either see Nurmagomedov extend his unbeaten record to 27-0 or McGregor regain the lightweight Title that he never lost in the ring.
Photographs that have surfaced from several years ago appear to show that McGregor and Nurmagomedov had a good relationship with the two posing backstage for some snaps at a previous UFC event. McGregor has recently described Nurmagomedov as simply a “fan boy” in response to media questions regarding the photograph of the two together, distancing suggestions that the two used to get along. However, over recent times the rivalry between the two has intensified, culminating in the infamous dolly incident ahead of UFC 223.
I’m sure by now that everybody is aware of what happened, but if you have been living under a rock for the past year here is a quick summary. During fight week for UFC 223 back in April in Brooklyn, event headliner Khabib Nurmagomedov along with his fight crew surrounded Artem Lobov, a teammate of McGregor who was also on the card, at the fighter hotel. They proceeded to exchange words and Nurmagomedov allegedly slapped Lobov during the confrontation which incensed McGregor.
As a result of Nurmagomedov’s actions, McGregor and a dozen or so of his teammates flew over to Brooklyn in search of the Russian. Following a media event on the Thursday of fight week, McGregor and his crew were let into the backstage area of venue and proceeded to attack the bus transporting Nurmagomedov and a couple of members of his team, along with several other fighters on the card. McGregor then famously launched a dolly through the bus window causing the glass to shatter. Several fighters sustained injuries, including Ray Borg and Michael Chiesa who were both forced to withdraw from their respective fights.
McGregor was subsequently arrested and charged by the NYPD with his actions being condemned by most. This however, has not stopped Dana White and the UFC from using the bus footage as part of their build-up for UFC 229, with White stating that it formed “part of the storyline” between the feuding fighters.
McGregor and Nurmagomedov had the chance to get the upper hand verbally this past week when New York played host to the one and only press conference to date involving the two ahead of the event. In an eerily quiet “Radio City” that was closed to the public, McGregor and Nurmagomedov traded barbs in a back and forth of words that added fuel to the fire ahead of October 6th.
McGregor, in between promoting his new whiskey “Proper Twelve”, aimed shots at Nurmagomedov’s political links, management team and his father. Nurmagomedov appeared unfazed throughout and fired back with his own comments on McGregor’s team, wrestling skills and whiskey.
The Journey to UFC 229:
Both fighters have taken very different paths to the October 6th showdown, with both being equally impressive.
McGregor gained notoriety very early on in his UFC career by talking a good game and backing it up with impressive finishes, self-proclaiming himself as “Mystic Mac”. Wins over Marcus Brimage, Max Holloway, Diego Brandao, Dustin Poirier and Dennis Siver set up a featherweight title clash with Jose Aldo at UFC 189.
Following a world press tour, spanning 8 cities in 5 different countries, Jose Aldo was forced to pull out of their highly anticipated duel just 2 weeks before the event. Team Alpha Male’s Chad Mendes stepped in on short notice to challenge McGregor for the Interim title in one of the most entertaining events in UFC history. McGregor came out victorious finishing Mendes by TKO in round 2 to finally set up the unification bout with Aldo.
UFC 194 played host to McGregor vs Aldo and one of the most famous knockouts of recent times. After another exciting build up, McGregor took just 13 seconds to knock out the long-reigning featherweight champion and cement his place as one of the biggest stars in the UFC.
McGregor was due to step up in weight and challenge Rafael Dos Anjos for the lightweight title at UFC 196, however, an injury to Dos Anjos saw another late notice opponent for McGregor as Nate Diaz stepped in to take on the featherweight king at welterweight. Nate Diaz shocked the MMA world by finishing McGregor in the second round via Rear Naked Choke in what many saw as a major upset.
The immediate rematch was set up as McGregor and Diaz ran it back at UFC 202 in one of the most savage fights of the year. In a back and forth thriller that could have gone either way, it was McGregor who gained redemption, picking up a majority decision win as the fight went the full five rounds.
McGregor finally got the opportunity to become a double champion at UFC 205 as he squared off with then champion Eddie Alvarez at the world-famous Madison Square Garden in the main event of UFC 205. McGregor put on a striking masterclass as he picked Alvarez apart from the first bell, eventually getting the finish in the second round to become the double champion.
McGregor’s career took a change in direction as he turned to boxing in his next contest, facing off with the GOAT Floyd Mayweather in a fight that made both men a substantial sum of money. The fight received a mixed reception from fans with some loving the idea and some hating it. McGregor gave a decent account for himself but eventually succumbed to Mayweather’s superior skills to lose in the 10th round.
A period of inactivity in the MMA world saw McGregor stripped of his lightweight belt (with Nurmagomedov taking the top spot in his absence), which has ultimately lead to this match-up of huge magnitude.
Despite fewer accolades to his name, Khabib Nurmagomedov has looked as close to unstoppable as can be in his 26 fight career to date. Winning all of his fights to date, Nurmagomedov does not just beat opponents, he mauls them!
Coming into the UFC with a 16-0 record, Nurmagomedov made his promotional debut in January 2012, defeating Kamal Shalorus by Rear Naked Choke. Picking up wins over Gleison Tibau, Thiago Tavares, Abel Trujillo and Pat Healy, Nurmagomedov would set up a showdown with future lightweight Champion Rafael Dos Anjos at UFC on Fox 11.
Nurmagomedov’s relentless wrestling style helped him on the way to a unanimous decision win over Dos Anjos, however, the following years would prove indifferent for Nurmagomedov with him having more fights cancelled than he has actually competed in.
Suffering bout cancellations against Donald Cerrone (x2), Tony Ferguson (x4) and Max Holloway, Khabib has gained a reputation as an injury prone fighter, which is a little unfair. The fights that he has competed in over the last 4 years he has dominated from start to finish.
Nurmagomedov outclassed short notice opponent Darrell Horcher at UFC on Fox 19, picking up the win in the second round via ground and pound. He then defeated Michael Johnson in another mauling display as he relentlessly took him down and implemented his smothering style on the way to a third round submission win via Kimura. Johnson did manage to land a big shot in the contest that connected clean on Nurmagomedov’s jaw that slightly wobbled the Russian, the only time we have witnessed him in any sorts of trouble during his UFC tenure.
Dangerous striker Edson Barboza was up next at UFC 219, however, in typical Nurmagomedov fashion, he chased his Brazilian counterpart down, not giving him an inch of space to work his dangerous kicking game. Khabib took his opponent down time and time again, hammering him with ground and pound on his way to a unanimous decision win.
Nurmagomedov was set to face off with Tony Ferguson at UFC 223 in Brooklyn, New York, however once again the fight was scrapped when Ferguson had to pull out with a knee injury. Featherweight champion Max Holloway agreed to step in, but unfortunately, he was also pulled from the card due to issues with his weight cut. Nurmagomedov was finally matched with Al Iaquinta on very short notice, where he would go on to win the lightweight title via unanimous decision.
Dominating the first few rounds with his usual exemplary wrestling style, Nurmagomedov struggled to take his opponent down in the later rounds and he looked a lot more ordinary on the feet as the fight wore on. This did not stop Nurmagomedov completely dominating on the scorecards to pick up the decision win and the lightweight belt in the process.
Keys to Victory:
The keys to victory for both fighters are have been well publicised but are easier said than done.
Conor McGregor has to utilise his reach advantage, creating distance with his jab and straight left, as well as his long legs via much-used teep and oblique kicks. His movement will be crucial in ensuring a successful night as he will hope to circle of the cage, create angles and catch Nurmagomedov walking onto one of his stinging punches.
Everybody is well aware of Nurmagomedov’s game plan going into a fight but very few can stop it. He currently holds the record number of takedowns in a single fight, getting Abel Trujillo to the mat on 21 occasions over 3 rounds. He will look to get the fight to the mat early and attempt to ground and pound, and try to ‘change’ McGregor’s face as he has threatened to do.
It will be crucial for Khabib to close the distance whilst utilising head movement in order to avoid being knocked out cold whilst rushing in. He has a fantastic single leg that he will use whilst in the centre of the octagon, but he does his best work backing his opponent up against the cage and taking them down from there. If he can keep McGregor’s back against the cage fence it could be a long night for the Irishman.
The bookies currently have Nurmagomedov as a slight betting favourite going into the match-up (odds via SkyBet):
This is one of the toughest fights possible to predict as it could literally go one way or the other. We could witness another Aldo type knockout by Conor McGregor as he catches Nurmagomedov rushing in, or we could quite easily see Nurmagomedov putting on a wrestling clinic and mauling the former two weight champion over the course of five rounds.
If the fight goes longer than two rounds I can see Nurmagomedov wearing McGregor down, getting the win via either a late stoppage as a result of ground and pound or a decision and retaining the belt. However, I simply can’t look past the power that McGregor possesses in his hands. We all saw how he pieced up a strong wrestler in Alvarez, maintaining distance and cutting angles to land over and over again before getting the stoppage win.
I can envisage McGregor finding early success in round one before Nurmagomedov gets him down later on in the round, then as the fight heads into the second round I see Nurmagomedov rushing in and walking onto a McGregor left hand that will put him away.
McGregor to win via second round TKO and regain the UFC lightweight title.