It’s finally #UFC229 Fight week, the most highly anticipated fight week of the year so far. Conor McGregor is making his UFC return to make a run at a belt he never lost, the lightweight title, against undefeated Khabib Nurmagomedov. The bout has been talked about for years now, as their collision course has finally met its destination. The UFC 229 Main Card also features arguably the “real” UFC Lightweight champ, Tony Ferguson, who takes on one of the greatest lightweights of all time in Anthony Pettis.
Khabib Nurmagomedov vs Conor McGregor:
This one. Man oh man. This has been the dream fight for UFC fans since UFC 205 in November of 2016. This is the big one. If you’re an NFL fan, this is 2012 Seattle Defense vs 2012 Denver Broncos offense. This is Texas vs USC at the Rose Bowl. This is the 72 win Warriors versus LeBron James and Kyrie Irving. It’s Michigan vs Duke in the 1992 NCAA Tournament. It’s big okay.
Basically, no matter the outcome, people will be talking about this one for a long time. Khabib is 26-0 and rival to the biggest star in the history of MMA, Conor McGregor. They also happen to fight at the same weight class and happen to be two opposite styles with two opposite personalities. It’s a promoter’s dream and it’s happening for real. Once the octagon closes though, it all goes away and it’s two men seeing who the greatest fighter of this generation is.
How They Can Win (And Lose)
Khabib best chance is clearly taking him down early in the first, taking away his best round and making him tired the rest of the fight. When someone wrestles you for five minutes, it gets tiring. When Khabib does it, it gets you exhausted to the point of no return like he did with Edson Barboza. McGregor has faced an elite U.S wrestler before at 145 in Chad Mendes, but it’s not the same as a Dagestani who has been wrestling bears and competing in Sambo since he was 5. People who have fought Khabib testify that it’s just wrestling on a different level than they have ever seen.
McGregor avoids 75% of takedowns thrown towards him, but it’s not his wrestling he defends them with, it’s actually in his stand up before the takedown. His 72″ inch reach gives him plenty of distance between him and his opponents not named Nate Diaz. He can walk his opponent backwards, hit him, and easily not get hit back or counter with a left. This is hard to adapt to, which is why he’s so good in the first round. His opponents have been mostly stand up, but like any fight an opponent will try to measure up their opponent on the feet to start things off. When that happens, McGregor gets an early lead on you and gets in your head. Then, like in the Eddie Alvarez fight, everyone knows a takedown attempt is coming soon after the first knockdown.
When even the fans know a takedown is coming, it usually means its not going to work. McGregor then sees any movement and immediately goes to defend it. When that happens, the opponent is stuck on a loop until the round is over.
This is why Nate Diaz was so dangerous to McGregor, he had a longer reach and wasn’t trying to outwrestle him (like he maybe should of in the rematch). In fact, Diaz walked McGregor down and forced him to try the takedown, getting the submission win. Conor fixed this in the second fight, attacking his lead leg as often as possible making Diaz think twice before stalking him down.
Khabib is going to stalk down McGregor, but not with the intent to box. Khabib is going straight for the takedown, and McGregor knows it, which is his advantage. In every other of Khabibs fights, the opponent has had at least some respect for Khabib’s stand up. I don’t think McGregor does and I don’t think he should. Khabib is not knocking him down with punches, he’s not accurate enough to do so and doesn’t have any advantages boxing wise. The difference between McGregor and Khabib’s stand up is greater than the grappling difference between the two, which doesn’t bold well for a five round fight that starts standing up every round.
This doesn’t mean Khabib can’t dominate on the ground, he can. But for Khabib to get the fight to the ground, he has to do a number of things:
- Deal with Conor’s stand up prior to the takedown
- Work for the takedown
- Keep the pressure on while in dominant position
For Conor to get the fight standing, he has to do the following:
- Wait for the fight or round to start over
The work required to keep the fight on the ground is much tougher than to keep it standing. This doesn’t mean every striker ever will be able to beat every grappler ever, we know that’s not true. But this one is a little bit different. Both fighters are skilled all around and I may be underestimating both of them, just because how good the other is.
At the same time, we’ve seen weakness from both which will actually be the key. Khabib “struggled” to dominate Al Iaquinta in his last fight late in the rounds, against a guy who was preparing for a 3 round fight against a striker. While McGregor has had trouble getting back up after a takedown against Diaz and Mendes. When Mendes was able to pass guard, McGregor was on the ground until the end of the round. The next time, McGregor was able to escape a guillotine attempt after three minutes of ground and pound (knocking him out 20 seconds later).
The X-Factor: Conditioning
If Khabib gets sloppy and tired and McGregor gets gassed after two rounds, that’s when the fight will get interesting. Both fighters go 100% when on the attack, but what happens when neither can finish the other after two? That’s when it leans toward a Khabib decision if he can manage takedowns in three of the five round. But, for Conor, all he has to do is outstrike him the first two and stuff him one more round to get the nod. A decision would be close either way, and would probably give us a rematch no matter who wins.
Historic Grappler vs Striker Match Up
I can’t think of an MMA fight ever that features a better wrestler vs a better striker. The only comparable fight that never even actually happened would have been if Anderson Silva fought GSP back in their primes. Even then, GSP has better stand up than Khabib and Silva has more BJJ skills than McGregor. This fight might truly be the best striker vs grappler match up we will ever see given their levels. Khabib wrestles with Daniel Cormier and Conor boxes against Floyd Mayweather. The skill level in this fight may only be matched by the skill level in DC-Jones. The winner of this is likely to be the top p4p fighter after all.
This is the big one. If Khabib can take Conor down EARLY then it could be a long night for McGregor. If Khabib doesn’t land one in the first round, then he’ll come out with a different approach in the second round, one that won’t do him any favors. I see Conor outstriking him and stuffing a takedown early, rock him in the first round but finally get taken down the last thirty seconds of the round and see Khabib try multiple submission attempts til the round ends.
With Khabib being in unfamiliar territory, I think we see him shoot multiple times in the second and not be able to get a dominant position but still control the round. McGregor will get the fight back on the feet, and start to stalk down a less energized Khabib. The undefeated lightweight will start to try to box with McGregor in the middle of the octagon in the middle of the second, and start to get tagged. He’ll get knocked down, and McGregor will let him stand back up. McGregor waits for him in the middle but Khabib doesn’t shoot or try to be aggressive, and the round ends.
In the third, we could see an anxious McGregor stalk him down once again but keep his distance, and see Khabib try to come in swinging. We then see a flash of a left hand, and McGregor takes out Khabib early in the third. Notorious then says surprise surprise *********** the king never left. End of Pay Per View.
McGregor 3rd Round TKO