Prior to each UFC fight card, Jay Primetown takes a look at some of the key contests at each event. In the latest installment, we look ahead to the biggest fight of 2018 as Conor McGregor returns to the Octagon to take on undefeated lightweight champion Khabib Nurmagomedov in a colossal clash at UFC 229.
Conor McGregor (Record: 21-3, +140 Underdog, Fighter Grade: A+)
The pride of Dublin, McGregor is the biggest star in the UFC. He won his first seven fights in the organization beating the likes of Jose Aldo and Chad Mendes to earn himself the featherweight championship. McGregor jumped all the way up to welterweight to fight Nate Diaz losing by second round submission. It was his first loss in the UFC and first loss overall since 2010. McGregor wasted no time getting back in the cage demanding a rematch; a fight that went the distance that the featherweight champion was able to squeeze out a close win. McGregor then went on to beat Eddie Alvarez to become a rare two division champion. To continue to challenge himself, he took a boxing match with Floyd Mayweather albeit losing by TKO in the tenth round. McGregor tries to reclaim his MMA throne against Khabib Nurmagomedov at UFC 229.
The former featherweight and lightweight champion has one of the best striking arsenals in the sport. His ability is predicated by his southpaw approach. He likes to use a lot of kicks to get inside where he can land his massive left hand to finish opponents. He does an excellent job of pressuring opponents and using cage control to limit his opponent’s movements. Defensively, he is hittable, but he has a really good chin and has never been finished by strikes in his professional career. On the mat, he has shown modest success in top control. Where he’s had the most issues is on his back. He’s given up his back on multiple occasions allowing opponents to sync submissions. This was the case in his first matchup with Nate Diaz. The former champion showed improved cardio against Alvarez and fighting at 155 pounds is probably the optimal weight for him as opposed to the bloated 170 pounds he fought at against Diaz.
Khabib Nurmagomedov (Record: 26-0, -170 Favorite, Fighter Grade: A++)
The fighter with the longest active winning streak in MMA, Dagestani lightweight Khabib Nurmagomedov has yet to lose in his professional career. He rides his 26-0 record into Saturday’s UFC 229 card. It’s the biggest fight of his career and is a true grudge match given the dislike the two fighters have towards each other after the outside the ring shenanigans at the UFC 223 card in which Conor McGregor threw a dolly at a bus window.
A black belt in judo and a two-time world sambo champion, Nurmagomedov may very well be the most dominant wrestler in MMA today. The Russian lightweight is as relentless as they come in this sport in his approach to securing takedowns. Per 15 minutes in the Octagon, Nurmagomedov secures a whopping 5.44 takedowns. That’s nearly two takedowns per round. He chains his takedown attempts brilliantly and his variance in takedown attempts are as good as they come in the sport. When in top control, he’s an absolute nightmare for opponents. He maintains a constant pressure, but doesn’t put himself in positions where an opponent can challenge with submissions. He’s also very good in the clinch and is able to secure many of his takedown attempts from there. His striking is better than people give him credit for; particularly from top control. He’s never been forced into a prolonged striking contest because he’s just so good at grappling and forcing his opponents to the mat. Furthermore, he has a good chin and a great work rate. If there is a weakness, it’s his striking technique. On the feet, he’s a brawler and he uses strikes to setup takedowns. If he struggles at some point securing takedowns in a bout, he may have some problems against a striker. However, that has yet to happen to him during his career.
In what will likely break the UFC PPV record, Conor McGregor returns to the UFC for the first time in nearly two years to take on undefeated lightweight Khabib Nurmagomedov. Despite never having faced each other previously, this has developed into quite a grudge match. Their stature in the lightweight division and two of the leaders in the sport are a big reason for the competitive animosity. Expect to see both fighters at their best at UFC 229 given the stakes in this bout. In the cage, this is a really compelling matchup. McGregor is an aggressive striker that will be looking to finish Nurmagomedov with his left hand early and often in this bout. On the flipside, the lightweight champion is licking his chops at the opportunity to take McGregor to the mat and maul him on the ground. At the opening bell, there will be some tense moments as I expect that will tell us quickly who will win this bout. If McGregor can pressure Nurmagomedov and stuff takedowns, he can win this fight. The more likely scenario is that after a couple minutes on the feet, Nurmagomedov latches on to a McGregor leg and brings him to the mat and begins to beat up McGregor on the mat. The work Nurmagomedov does on the mat in the first round will slow down McGregor and the Irishman just won’t be the same fighter in round two. Expect an easier takedown in the second round and then the rout will be on. Look for Nurmagomedov to really turn it on going for the decisive finish in the middle rounds to retain the title and put himself as a consensus top five fighter in the sport. Nurmagomedov (-170) is the bet to make. He’s just too good on the mat and can nullify McGregor’s abilities there.