Here we are. At long last, it’s fight day for UFC 229. Ahead of the biggest UFC card of the year, we take a look at whether the main event is truly the best the UFC has ever made, and what other fight you should keep an eye on.
UFC 229 has been the talk of the MMA world ever since it was announced. Well, the main event showdown between Conor McGregor and Khabib Nurmagomedov anyway. The return of the Irish superstar against the Dagestani wrestling machine is a fight fans and pundits have wanted for ages. Yet beyond the headliner, UFC 229 has a lot to offer.
We tackle that and more in our round table this week, so let’s get to it!
1. Is Khabib vs. Conor the best fight the UFC has ever made? Why?
Jay Anderson: This depends solely on how you define “best.” The stakes? Well a belt is on the line, but that’s nothing new. The rivalry between fighters? This has become quite a grudge match, but then, Tito Ortiz and Ken Shamrock had one hell of a rivalry. There’s one thing that might push this over the top, however: timing. It’s not only a fight many have wanted for the past year or more, it’s also the first we’ve seen of Conor McGregor in nearly two years, at least inside the octagon. It’s a big fight in a year lacking them, outside of Stipe vs. Cormier. Best ever might be a stretch though. I’m really straddling the fence here.
Josh Evanoff: Not overall best match-up ever. But in terms of contrasting styles clashing yes.
Gabriel Gonzalez: In my opinion the José Aldo vs Conor McGregor fight and the Jon Jones vs Daniel Cormier rematch were bigger. Those two had more history, a bigger clash of personalities, and variables that I feel made the events more intriguing. Despite McGregor’s best efforts, and the international rivalry escalated by McGregor being invited by Putin to the World Cup, the simple breakdown that it will come down to McGregor’s striking vs Khabib’s grappling just takes that special extra edge off this one.
Heath Harshman: Khabib-Conor isn’t the best fight the UFC has ever made, but it’s one of the most interesting. The style matchup is exactly what MMA is all about. Throw-in Conor’s long awaited return, Khabib’s undefeated record, and the state of the lightweight title-picture over the last couple of years, and it’s easy to see why this bout is so appealilng. But when it comes to all-time UFC fights, give me Chuck-Tito, Jones-DC, and GSP-Hughes as better overall UFC match-ups.
Jesse Gillette: Khabib vs. Conor is in the running to be the most profitable fight the UFC has ever promoted, pending successful weigh-ins, but it’s not the best fight the UFC has ever made because of timing. The two press conferences to promote this fight have been entertaining to say the least; however the drama reached an all-time high in March when the infamous dolly throwing incident took place. Conor McGregor vs. Khabib Nurmagomedov may even break the PPV record, but there’s something missing from the build-up that keeps this fight from being an all-time classic – even before cage door has closed.
2. Will UFC 229 turn out to be the biggest in UFC history?
Josh Evanoff: I think so, yes. Combine the actual bad blood plus Conor and Khabib’s star power I can easily seeing this card do great numbers, and break the record. 2 or 3 million seems to be pushing the boundaries though, I’d guess around 1.8 million.
Heath Harshman: UFC 229 isn’t going to be the biggest event in promotion history. By any metric. It’s an awesome main event and is generating some solid interest, but when all is said and done, it won’t compare to other major PPV events in UFC history. The two million buyrate Dana White keeps referencing is hilarious, and this card won’t come close to that projection. The build-up to the event has been quick and somewhat muted, managing to somehow creep up on even the most dedicated MMA fan. I can see some of the mainstream attention helping the card gain traction, but it will easily lag behind other top-tier events the promotion has held in recent years.
Gabriel Gonzalez: Despite Conor McGregor now being an even bigger star, there just is a little less buzz for this one. Khabib is an excellent fighter who is the rightful favorite, but his more subdued approach to the pre-fight promotion makes me think this one will fall just short of the historic mark currently held by McGregor vs Diaz 2. MMA fans who only purchase one or two events a year are already buying this one. The history making events are those that pull in casual fans who may not usually watch and those re nearly always events where the biggest stars in palpable rivalries. This Saturday’s event just feels too much as simply “The Conor McGregor Show.”
Jesse Gillette: UFC 229 will be the most profitable Pay-Per-View event in UFC history, so long as both main event fighters make weight. The record likely won’t make it past 2019 though should McGregor decide to return to the octagon.
Jay Anderson: In terms of Pay-Per-View buyrates, yes, it’s more than likely. While Dana White has his P.T. Barnum hat on when he talks about UFC 229 hitting Mayweather-McGregor numbers, he’s likely on the up-and-up about the show trending to be the biggest even ever. McGregor has been out of MMA for two years. Khabib is the opponent, stylistically, that we’ve long wanted to see the Irish star pitted against. And the bad blood between the pair is real. That should all add up to the biggest take ever for the promotion.
3. What main card fight other than the headliner should fans have their eye on?
Gabriel Gonzalez: Tony Ferguson vs Anthony Pettis. Ferguson never lost after claiming the interim title and feels he should’ve been the one in the main event. He has come back from a brutal knee injury in five months with a point to prove that he is the best at 155 despite the two men fighting after him. For Pettis, he has his best chance to get back into the title contention that many doubted he may be able to reach again after having inconsistent performances in recent years.
Jay Anderson: Derrick Lewis vs. Alexander Volkov. Lewis is coming off a less than stellar outing against Francis Ngannou, but that was more on the latter and less on Lewis. Alexander Volkov, meanwhile, is poised to stake his claim as the next title challenger (after, for some reason, Brock Lesnar), in the UFC’s heavyweight division.
Heath Harshman: The co-main event of UFC 229 should have everyone’s attention. Should Tony Ferguson, who never lost his belt, earn another win, it’d be hard for the promotion to not give him the winner of Khabib-Conor. But I’m most interested to see what happens between heavyweights Derrick Lewis and Alexander Volkov. With a new champion (Daniel Cormier) and a wild card title-contender (Brock Lesnar), and the return of Jon Jones, the title-picture at heavyweight has become muddled. Either Lewis or Volkov have the chance to insert themselves into the frame at UFC 229.
Jesse Gillette: Derrick Lewis vs. Alexander Volkov has the potential to be real banger and the winner of this fight will find themselves in the short line of clean fighters waiting for a title shot. If Derrick Lewis’ back issues have been sorted out (which they likely haven’t, because this has been a chronic issue for Mr. Black Beast), then we’re guaranteed a finish in this one. A Healthy Derrick Lewis is must-see TV.
Josh Evanoff: Tony Ferguson and Anthony Pettis is about as video game as a match-up can get. It’s absolutely going to be an entertaining affair. But shout out to OSP and Reyes as a sleeper as well.
4. Is the winner of Volkov vs. Lewis deserving of a title shot?
Heath Harshman: Title-shots at heavyweight are somewhat hard to predict, given the lack of depth the weight class has had of late. But between Lewis and Volkov, the promotion should be able to find a fitting title-contender. Lewis has lost just once in his last nine bouts, while Volkov has won his last six in a row. They both hold impressive recent wins, Lewis defeating Francis Ngannou and Volkov topping Fabricio Werdum. Letting whoever wins in Las Vegas this weekend take-on the winner of DC-Lesnar (whenever that happens) would make plenty of sense. That doesn’t mean it’ll happen.
Jesse Gillette: The winner of this fight still likely needs to remain active in order to secure a title shot because the next 1-2 shots at Daniel Cormier’s title have already been claimed, but a huge knockout could have enough impact to leap-frog a Jon Jones or Brock Lesnar title shot with a little help from the USADA fairy or the Albuquerque police department. These days anyone in the top 5 could receive a title shot or interim title shot at a moment’s notice.
Josh Evanoff: I think so. Derrick Lewis has won 8 of 9 with big knockouts over Travis Browne, Gonzaga and Tybura. Plus his boring, but still win over Francis Ngannou. Alexander Volkov on the other hand is undefeated in the UFC and just knocked out Fabricio Werdum. I’d say the winner deserves the next shot after Lesnar.
Jay Anderson: Yes, more so if it’s Volkov who comes out on top. Lewis has won eight out of nine, but there’s his TKO loss to Mark Hunt and dull showing against Francis Ngannou to consider. That said, a win and you could justify a title shot, even though it’s hard to imagine him overcoming Daniel Cormier. Alexander Volkov, on the other hand? Six straight wins, four in the UFC, and a finish of former UFC heavyweight champion Fabricio Werdum. Volkov’s height and reach could also give D.C. fits. Though if Cormier retires, the winner of this could fight the winner of Blaydes vs. Ngannou.
Gabriel Gonzalez: This may be a case of who is the more impressive, the winner of this one or the winner of Curtis Blaydes and Francis Ngannou in November. Match-ups will come into play here, but I believe the more impressive winner of these two will face Stipe Miocic for a vacant title that becomes available should DC follow his plan to retire following the Lesnar fight.
5. What’s your prediction for Fight of the Night?
Jesse Gillette: I would say Sergio Pettis vs. Jussier Formiga has a real shot at winning this category because we aren’t sure which Derrick Lewis will show up to UFC 229. The flyweights need to make the most of their time in the spotlight given the removal of Sean O’Malley from the featured preliminary bout and give the fans something to remember.
Jay Anderson: Honestly, the main event. Maybe it’s wishful thinking, but I do think this is one of those fights that will live up to the hype.
Heath Harshman: I think the main event, as easy as it sounds, has a good chance at being Fight of the Night. Conor and Khabib are no stranger to impressive performances, and given the stylistic combination of their bout, it could manage to be a fun back-and-forth contest. I also wouldn’t be surprised if the co-main event between Ferguson and Pettis stole the show at UFC 229. A couple of tough veterans with, like the main event, an interesting stylistic match-up, sounds like a great combination for Fight of the Night kind of bout.
Josh Evanoff: Tony Ferguson and Anthony Pettis all day. Two awesome pressure fighters who are rarely in a boring fight, add in both want to get back to the title and it should make for an awesome fight.
Gabriel Gonzalez: Ferguson vs. Pettis. More variables on both sides and stylistically two offensive fighters.