Who will win the most anticipated fight of the year between Khabib Nurmagomedov and Conor McGregor at UFC 229?
At long last, Conor McGregor will be returning to the UFC to fight for the lightweight championship against Khabib Nurmagomedov in a battle that figures to be a highlight in the career of both men. But who will prevail in the most anticipated MMA battle of the year at UFC 229?
Conor McGregor is the sport’s most famous star and the one whom all others fame is compared against. While there is discontent about the preferential treatment of him compared to the rest of the roster, his numbers speak for themselves. His events are the highest rated and highest grossing in the sport, so much so that his fight with Floyd Mayweather Jr in boxing was the second biggest selling pay-per-view fight in history. All of this considering he has only truly been a pay-per-view star for two years of his fighting life.
Another fact, however, is the cloud of controversy that follows him. The altercation in Brooklyn this past April which he caused injury to Michael Chiesa and Ray Borg remains inexcusable. His racially charged comments in the lead-up to the Mayweather fight soured what was the promotional event of a lifetime. Even when he is not in action, he causes distraction at events to the point that he is reprimanded by officials.
He is not the first athlete to have indiscretions in his career, and the same unspoken rule applies to him as it does any other athlete: Winning takes care of everything. Should he vanquish lightweight champion Khabib Nurmagomedov, it would be a triumphant return that puts him in rarefied air. With previous victories over the likes of José Aldo, Max Holloway, Eddie Alvarez, and Dustin Poirier, a win over Nurmagomedov would be a testament to abilities that are often overshadowed by his larger than life persona.
Khabib “The Eagle” Nurmagomedov has arrived at this point by taking a far different path. Undefeated at 26-0, he has demolished all of his opponents with some of the best grappling ever seen in MMA. But for as much talk is revolving around the magnitude of a McGregor victory, Nurmagomedov needs the fight just as badly to validate the greatness of his own skills. “The Notorious” may only be the first step toward pound-for-pound greatness, but it may be the biggest one when his career is all said and done.
He is a less boisterous personality than McGregor, and this has allowed him to avoid the public condemnation around the more concerning areas of his career. For example, it is known that he used his post-fight interview after winning the title to ask Vladimir Putin to release Ziyavudin Magomedov who is imprisoned in Russia for embezzlement. Magomedov is known to have supported the lightweight champion earlier in his career. When asked to translate his message into English by Joe Rogan, Nurmagomedov side-stepped the deeper politics in his answer.
All the outside factors will take a back-seat to the action on Saturday night. By now, there is nothing new to be said about the stylistic matchup that hasn’t already been discussed. Nurmagomedov figures to have an easy route to victory on the ground. McGregor figures to score a devastating knockout if it stays on the feet.
On a more technical level, Nurmagomedov’s head movement is his most obvious Achilles heel. The threat of the takedown and his forward pressure has kept recent opponents such as Edson Barboza and Al Iaquinta from exploiting it extensively but that does not figure to be the case for McGregor. The Irishman is a fantastic counter-striker with devastating knockout power, and it is expected that he will be able to find his mark if he can create distance on the feet.
On the mat, McGregor has not shown to have great defense off his back. As seen in the fight with Chad Mendes, McGregor struggled to slow down the attack or threaten with submissions of his own. Nurmagomedov is known for being able to smother opponents and constantly improve position to land devastating ground-and-pound.
A victory for both men would cement their place as the best fighter in the weight class. However, that is not to say they will not face tough competition. The winner of the co-main event between Tony Ferguson and Anthony Pettis is expected to be the next in line. Then there is the expected bout between Nate Diaz and Dustin Poirier next month that figures to make things even more complicated when it is all said and done. The only question will be when we will see the winner return after UFC 229.