Nearly two years since he defeated Eddie Alvarez for the UFC Lightweight Championship to become a two-division champion, Conor McGregor is set to make his return to the Octagon. As fired up as ever, McGregor has been dishing out as much smack talk as he possibly can to get into the head of the reigning lightweight champion, Khabib Nurmagomedov.
Since McGregor turned his focus to a faux boxing match against Floyd Mayweather, Nurmagomedov has garnered quite the reputation in the UFC, winning by submission over Michael Johnson on the same card as Alvarez-McGregor, defeating Edson Barboza by decision at UFC 219, and the title against Al Iaquinta’s in April of this year.
This is seen as one of the biggest UFC events of the year, with a fighter who has already secured his legendary status returning to the ring to face a much-feared fighter, one who could forge his own legendary legacy. With a professional mixed martial arts record of 26-0-0, Nurmagomedov has set himself up as an almighty foe, but will McGregor’s speed and striking be able to foil the feisty Russian?
A clash of styles
Source: Conor McGregor, via Twitter
The most discussed aspect of Khabib Nurmagomedov’s game is his wrestling ability. With sambo, judo, and freestyle wrestling in his repertoire, he has the skill set to take down any of his opponents and comes in with eight of his 26 wins coming via submission.
As for Conor McGregor, his most famed attributes are his speedy and powerful striking, particularly his left hook. He can spring out of the gates and deal seemingly untimely knockout blows, but he’s also proven to be very methodical in his approach to tough opponents. He opted to stay at range with leg kicks against Diaz while also winding him up with odd ring movement and eventually rocking him with a big left hand.
McGregor has three losses on his professional record, all three of which have come by way of submission. In the UFC, McGregor’s only loss came in the first fight against Nate Diaz, via a rear-naked choke. While every fight is different, and McGregor has the ability to pull out an incredible flurry of strikes to stop an incoming opponent, this is where the experts see Nurmagomedov coming out on top.
With three losses to submissions and a UFC takedown defence percentage of 74 per cent, Nurmagomedov’s 45 per cent takedown success rate spanning 109 attempts in the UFC sets him as the 8/13 favourite to McGregor’s 13/10 in the William Hill MMA odds. While Nurmagomedov is at 13/5 to win by submission, which he will certainly push for, it’s his constant pressuring which will allow him to control the fight and head for the win by decision at 7/2.
Can striking prevail?
Source: Vicio MMA, via Twitter
We’ve seen it numerous times in the UFC where a sharp, fast, and well-timed punch ends up winning a bout, and McGregor certainly has it in his arsenal to pull off an early and decisive win, but Nurmagomedov also boasts a strong striking game and has a very strong chin.
To Michael Johnson’s own admission, per ESPN, despite everyone picking out his sweet left hand as the move that rocked Nurmagomedov, the fighter claims that his Russian adversary wasn’t hurt or phased by the very good strike. Nurmagomedov has a strong standing game and has managed to avoid 70 per cent of strikes thrown his way. He’s hard to hit, and when he gets hit, he can take it.
With good reason, Khabib Nurmagomedov is the favourite to hold onto his title and defeat the returning Conor McGregor. However, McGregor has shown that he can put in shrewd and calculated performances when called upon. If he can parry the Russian’s advances and deliver some well-timed punches, the Irishman may just find himself leaving the Octagon as the champion once again.