Conor McGregor is back! The fast talking, hard hitting Irishman has been stripped of his UFC titles and has come back to reclaim what’s his!
In his way stands the biggest test of McGregor’s career. Not only is the undefeated Khabib Nurmagomedov the best fighter McGregor has faced, his strengths line up perfectly with McGregor’s weakness.
Read on for our UFC 229 preview of that monumental fight and some other interesting betting spots on the UFC 229 main card.
Khabib Nurmagomedov (c) 26-0 vs Conor McGregor (#1) 21-3
Conor McGregor returns to the octagon for the first time since his emphatic KO victory over Eddie Alvarez in November 2016. That victory earned him the lightweight belt and a place in the history books as the first fighter to hold UFC belts in two divisions simultaneously. Due to a lack of UFC activity, McGregor has been stripped of both those belts and he returns to the Octagon looking to reclaim the lightweight title from the mercurial Khabib Nurmagomedov.
McGregor has spent his nearly two years away from MMA wisely. He obviously earned a massive payout in his super fight with Floyd Mayweather and has established himself as the biggest star in the UFC’s history. McGregor rose to prominence with his trash talk, but has firmly backed that up inside the cage. At this point we know what McGregor is about; he’s a phenomenal striker who uses a combination of power and speed to dismantle opponents. He is a devastating counter puncher, but prefers to be the one pushing the action and uses a wide array of kicks to keep opponents on the back foot. He also continues to get better on the feet, his last performance against Alvarez was by far the most complete striking performance of his career and you would have to think training boxing full time only would have improved his timing and power. The question mark over McGregor has always been grappling. But that question is about to be put to bed once and for when he takes on the most dominant grappler the octagon has ever seen.
Lightweight champion Nurmagomedov’s incredible record of 26-0 still doesn’t do him justice. Not only has he beaten every man who has stood opposite him, he has broken and dominated everyone. Dagestani born Nurmagomedov has been training since he could walk and he has the discipline and cold blooded determination of someone who grew up inside the iron curtain. His father, a renowned wrestler and military veteran, was instrumental in his early martial arts development. He has earned an international master of sport (Russian black belt equivalent) in Sambo, Pankration and army hand-to hand combat as well as a black belt in Judo. While McGregor is all about excellent technical striking, Nurmagomedov is all about grinding wrestling. The key to his game is constant forward pressure. He pushes forward to the first tracks on the octagon floor and then forces the takedown. Once he gets on the top, the round’s a wrap. No one gets up from under Nurmagomedov’s top pressure. While he isn’t overly strong with ground and pound or submissions, he completely nullifies his opponent’s offensive and usually earns a late stoppage or clear decision victory. However on the feet, he is wild and sloppy. He attempts to close the distance as quick as possible which often leaves him exposed to good counter punchers. He has eaten a lot of punches in the early stages of fights and so far his chin has stood up. However he has never faced someone with the other worldly punching power of McGregor.
This fight is absolutely fascinating on so many levels. Even without the title and GOAT implications, it is an excellent stylistic match up. McGregor is a remarkable striker who is untested on the ground, while Nurmagomedov is a ground game specialist with major holes in his striking. The fight that best highlights Nurmagomedov’s issues with striking defence is his bout with Michael Johnson. While Nurmagomedov would go onto win that fight by a dominant third round submission, he was getting lit up like a Christmas tree in the early stages by Johnson’s superior speed and technique. Despite the barrage, he never really looked in trouble, but he certainly doesn’t want to give McGregor those openings. McGregor on the other hand has faced only one high level wrestler throughout his career; Chad Mendes. While he also ending up winning that fight in spectacular fashion, early in the first round Mendes got a takedown and was able to dominate for the remainder of that round.
The keys to victory are simple here. If McGregor can keep the fight standing he will win by spectacular KO, and if he can’t, Nurmagomedov mauls him. While it’s incredibly impressive that Nurmagomedov can be so dominate with such a one dimensional approach, it also makes him predictable and easier to game plan for. McGregor is such a cerebral fighter and I have no doubt he and coach John Kavanagh while have concocted something special for this fight. Even if McGregor gets taken down at will, I don’t think Nurmagomedov has the tools to finish him early. So he will at least get a few rounds where he gets to restart on the feet. It’s just how much of a toll the relenting pressure will take on McGregor, who does notably slow down as fights go on. I’ve gone back and forth a lot on this one, but I just can’t back against the Irishman to get a career defining win. McGregor is about a $2.30 underdog and I think that represents good value, also McGregor by KO/TKO is a good shout. But there is a plethora of promotions for this fight and finding one of those will be the best bet. I really like McGregor to win in round 1,2 or 3 at $3.00 with Ladbrokes. If McGregor wins I’m fairly confident it comes early. Conor McGregor by 2nd round KO/TKO.
Tony Ferguson vs Anthony Pettis
This should be a really run striking match up. Pettis is the former lightweight champion and was once thought of in much the same way as McGregor is. However his career has taken a nose dive of late winning only 3 of his last 8 bouts. Had it not been for an incredibly unlucky injury, Ferguson could be the one facing McGregor on Sunday. Ferguson was preparing to fight Nurmagomedov for the vacant lightweight belt and was badly injured filming promotional material the week of the fight. Ferguson is by far and away the better mixed martial artist here, and on paper he has the edge in most facets of MMA. The only thing that gives me pause is the quickness of his injury return - only 4 months since major surgery. However if he is anything like the Ferguson of old I think he takes this one in a clear, but fun fight.
Derrick Lewis vs Alexander Volkov
This fight goes down in the heavyweight division. I like Volkov a lot in this one, more so due to fading his opponent. Lewis has looked terrible in his last few fights, most notably against Mark Hunt and Francis Ngannou. He looked stiff and really gun shy. After both performances he came out and blamed a back injury and I feel like that will plaque him for the rest of his career. Chronic back injuries don’t tend to improve in 33 year, 120kg cage fighters and I’m expecting a compromised Lewis again here. Volkov on the other hand is an impressive addition to the UFC’s heavyweight roster. He is a massive Russian kickboxer and showed off some impressive skills in his last outing against former champion Fabricio Werdum. I think he keeps Lewis at the end of his jab and picks him apart. This is heavyweight MMA, so one punch can change everything, but I like Volkov big in this spot.
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