UFC 229: Khabib vs. McGregor is the most anticipated fight of 2018 & is expected to be the biggest MMA fight of all time. The event will be held on October 6, 2018 at T-Mobile Arena. In Part 1 of 2 we look at what we think will be Khabib Nurmagomedov path to victory at UFC 229.
Conor McGregor vs Khabib Nurmagomedov for the UFC Undisputed Lightweight title is that age-old question of which style is better. Of course, then you add the fact that these men seem to have a genuine dislike and point to prove against each other.
Khabib Nurmagomedov has possibly the most sought-after belt in the UFC. With the Lightweight division having a long list of potential contenders, but he has smashed everyone in his path. Now he faces the ‘Notorious’ Conor McGregor in an intriguing, most likely instant classic fight. Khabib looks to extend his professional record to 27-0 doing basically what he has done to every other man who has had the unpleasant experience of sharing the Octagon with him.
Conor is different, much different to any other striker khabib has fought and if the undefeated Dagestani chooses to play Conor’s game it could end up costing him early. Nurmagomedov has faced and dominated high-level strikers before (RDA, MICHAEL JOHNSON, AL AIQUINTA) but few possess the same skill set and mental strength as the Irishman.
The challenge – A point to prove
Khabib is a world class grappler. he is nothing short of dominant when he manages to clinch or take opponents down, but all fights start on the feet and it’s during these moments when he will be in the most danger. He faces a man who is faster, more precise and most importantly has a tendency to put opponents to sleep whenever he lands clean. Conor moves unpredictably, covering distance well and utilizing hard to read angles when attacking, not to mention also having a wide arsenal of strikes to throw.
The undefeated Russian has proved that his striking can and will hurt opponents but usually in the later rounds after he has already pressured and taken opponents down, time and time again. That being said there is no denying that there is knockout power in both hands. Khabib has knockouts on his record such as Thiago Tavares (TKO), but there is a huge technique and speed discrepancy when it comes to striking in this bout, boxing in particular. Conor handles pressure really well, resulting in him being above all else, RELAXED whilst in the octagon, a trait that helps him capitalize on mistakes.
None of that matters if you put Conor on his back, however, and from the sounds of things, Nurmagomedov does not intend to play Conor’s game at all. Instead of opting to take him down, 99+ times if necessary, grind him out and take him to deep waters. a strategy and skillset that looks to be the worst possible matchup for the Notorious. However, Khabib will still have to deal with Conor on the feet at some stage He may have to fill some holes in his striking defense if he hopes to avoid being hit whilst searching for his takedown attempts.
The Gameplan (Deeper waters)
It is generally believed that khabib will waste no time in his efforts to tie Conor up and take him to the ground, it is to be expected when faced with how good he is at just that. He generally doesn’t look for knockouts, instead of using bold and aggressive striking to set up takedown opportunities against the cage. He as a tendency to throw wide looping strikes with the intention of creating chaos and confusing opponents, this, in turn, allows him to either clinch or pressure opponents to the cage where he finds most of his successful takedowns. Khabib often leaves his chin exposed as he throws wide reaction-demanding shots including big flying knees and looping haymaker lead hooks. Doing this has potential to be very dangerous for the Champ, Conor catches most of his opponents with counter shots and is extremely dexterous with both hands even on the back foot.
Conor’s style of fighting baits and punishes sloppy offense but is equally as effective against poor defense. Both men like to pressure their opponents, which means at some stage they will meet at boxing range, it is important for Khabib not to take the back foot. As previously mentioned Khabib usually secures his takedowns using the cage, he has been less successful when shooting in the center of the octagon and if he lets himself get pressured against the cage he gives Conor both the center of the octagon and all the distance he needs to evade both takedowns and power shots.
Khabib might find more success moving to Conor’s right side for a couple of reasons, first off it will help stifle the power and threat of the left hand, whilst also potentially opening up opportunities to grab a single leg due to Conor’s wide and long stance. Conor often leans on his right leg whilst baiting opponents and that leg could be up for grabs, or Khabib could simply use it as a means to enter the clinch. The safest way for Khabib to deal with Conor’s pressure is to not exchange with him, every time Conor throws or extends himself Khabib should look to grab hold of him and stick to him like glue rather than throw punches back. Of course, easier said than done but ‘The Eagle’ has a reputation for being the best at it.
Conor is as outmatched on the ground as Khabib is on the feet without a doubt, and the more time Khabib spends making Conor grapple and defend takedown attempts the better, even if Khabib manages to avoid striking entirely and just make Conor wrestle in the first 2 rounds it would pay off tenfold in the later 3. The longer the fight goes the more it is generally believed that the undefeated Russian will take over, this is due to Conor’s questionable cardio, and the fact that his explosive movements become lesser so in deeper waters.
Those first 2 rounds, however, are critical for Khabib, and he has definite flaws in his stand up Defence. He has a habit of using almost like a lazy man Philly shell defense from time to time, his right hand hovering below his chin whilst his left-hand floats around his body, he also rarely lowers his chin and this has cost him in previous fights with opponents such as Michael Johnson who caught him with both a left hook and a left straight. (who is known for both left hooks and straights?)
Khabib has a tendency to flare his right elbow a lot particularly whilst taking shots from opponents, this leaves his right hand loose and not supported, Conor’s left hook will smash clean through it not to mention that Khabib does not really keep his chin down often in exchanges anyway…
A solution may be to utilize a more traditional boxing style block and keep his hand up and elbows tight whilst entering boxing range, and attempt to make Conor miss or overextend using good head movement, they could be the best time to capitalize on the single leg or clinch/trip attempts.
When the fight hits the floor it is expected that Khabib will be too top heavy and draining for Conor to deal with for long, but it is worth noting that Conor’s ground game (although outmatched no doubt) is very underrated. Conor is very good at sweeping and getting up to his feet, it is also worth noting that so was Edson Barboza. Nurmagomedov has some of the nastiest ground and pound MMA has to offer, how could it not be ferocious when grappling with the likes of Cain Velasquez and DC on a daily basis, and if Conor can’t get up off the canvas in the early rounds that ground and pound might play a vital role later on.
Can the Eagle dominate as he has before?
I am really intrigued by the first takedown attempt, not only to see how Conor defend but to see how Khabib resets or recovers after the possibility of Conor either evading or defending one successfully. He has said that should that be the case he will attack with “99 more”, it sounds idealistic and simple but this is 100% his easiest path to victory.
He should grab Conor at every opportunity, only strike when confident he cannot be hit, clinch him and never give him an inch of space to use his long reach and striking arsenal. With Khabib’s experience in combat sambo, it would not be long before he manages to execute a trip or throw. Better yet an ideal scenario would be for Khabib to pressure Conor against the cage, and rather than look for any strikes just make him consistently defend takedowns. Should Conor get up Khabib’s immediate priority should be to grab him and drag him back down, put all his weight on him and make Conor tired. Few things are more exhausting physically than defending constant takedowns and making Conor’s arms and legs tired takes away some of his explosiveness.
I want to see how Khabib reacts to being hit, what will his game plan be if he gets hurt. I also wonder how well he turned his boxing defense as there was simply not enough time for him to train to Conor’s level, we’ll probably know in the first 30 seconds. I do believe however that if Khabib is smart and uses his jab and good head movement to set up attacks he has the possibility of baiting strikes from Conor, which he can use to time with a takedown, even the possibility of catching one of Conor’s front snap kicks could prove very useful to Khabib.
This fight is dangerous for the undefeated Dagestani champion. But I can honestly see this being a bad night for Conor if Khabib executes his gameplan early on.
If Khabib wins I think it will be in the 4th round via submission or ground and pound.
In part two we take a look at Conor’s path to victory.
Author: Ciarán McConnell,