Conor McGregor ends his much publicised absence from the UFC Octagon this weekend against undefeated Dagastani, Khabib Nurmagomedov.
In just under two years the Dubliner has occupied the headlines for a number of extra-curricular reasons – it will be a relief to see him fighting legitimately, and legally, in mixed martial arts again.
For many fans, the relief may to turn to concern when looking at his opponent. Khabib Nurmagomedov is unbeaten, but possibly more importantly, is thought to have the type of game that can trouble McGregor.
Getting a Grip on Khabib
Drilling in to the fighter’s respective numbers is informative.
Conveniently, they’ve both had 10 fights in their UFC career (Pre-UFC: Khabib – 16, McGregor 14), and have both shown consistent strengths and weaknesses. Styles make fights and this match will hinge on who can impose their style on their opponent first.
In the Sambo wrestler’s 10 previous UFC fights, he has won by submission twice, KO/TKO twice, and has seen the judges cards on six occasions. While he took all those decisions unanimously, his tendency to be brought the distance speaks to his strength and weakness.
Nurmagomedov likes to take people down and maul them. His elite wrestling and judo allows him to average 5.44 successful takedowns every 15 minutes. That’s a remarkable five takedowns per round.
The other thing these numbers indicate is the discomfort he has shown in his stand-up game.
The controversial Crumlin man has made a habit of finishing fighters well inside the distance. Seven of his nine UFC wins have come via KO/TKO, and two by decision. None of those seven saw the start of the third round and four of those wins were first round knockouts.
He’s also amassed nine post fight awards for Knockout of the Night (1), Performance of the Night (6), and Fight of the Night (2).
It was on the occasion of McGregor’s first Fight of the Night award that will give his backers pause for thought. His only loss in the Octagon, McGregor v Diaz 1, came at a point of exhaustion and it came through submission.
This is already Nurmagomedov’s blue print regardless of who’s in front of him and all three of McGregor’s MMA defeats have been due to submission.
The Irishman got in trouble that evening because his conditioning wasn’t where it should have been. Added to that, his opponent could absorb punishment and come back with striking of his own.
It’s not yet clear if the undefeated title holder can survive the elite striking that McGregor will bring to bear on the fight.
At a division leading average of 5.82 significant strikes landed per minute, it’s fair to say the Straight Blast Gym fighter holds as much of an edge in striking as Nurmagomedov does in grappling.
If Khabib Nurmagomedov can get hold of Conor McGregor early doors, without taking any damage, then the former two-weight World Champion could be in for a long night. The Russian fighter is 4/1 to win by decision and it’s a fair shout.
However, if Khabib stands in front of McGregor as he did Al Iaquinta, or if McGregor catches him while closing the distance for a takedown, then rounds three, four, and five may never happen.
A sizeable 90 per cent of Conor McGregor’s 19 MMA wins have come in rounds one and two.
At a price of 12/5 – McGregor to win in rounds one or two – is well priced, and looks the bet for this fight.