Conor McGregor, the biggest star in MMA, returns to the cage under the UFC banner when he challenges unbeaten lightweight world champion Khabib Nurmagomedov at the T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas today, Sunday.
Given his formidable record Nurmagomedov is the oddsmakers’ favorite to retain his UFC crown. Nurmagomedov has not only won all 26 of his fights he has not yet lost a single round in his career.
McGregor’s only chance to win is if he can survive Nurmagomedov’s takedowns.
Battles between grapplers and strikers are what makes MMA bouts so exciting. While the early trend in MMA was in favor of grapplers submitting strikers the trend nowadays is for strikers beating up grapplers from distance.
My most memorable grappler versus striker fight was Shinya Aoki’s defense of his ONE Lightweight world title against Eduard Folayang. Aoki tried to take down Folayang and win by submission but Folayang caught him with a flying knee, pushed him against the cage and pounded him mercilessly to win.
McGregor has similar striking power.
Admittedly, McGregor couldn’t knock out Floyd Mayweather in their boxing match. But that was boxing with bigger padded gloves. Not only are the gloves in MMA tiny in comparison but a fighter can also hit with his elbows, knees and feet.
McGregor has knockout power in both hands as well as his feet. In UFC 189 held July, 2015 McGregor hurt Chad Mendes with a kick which led to the fight-ending sequence.
Plus Nurmagomedov’s takedown style is tailor-made for McGregor. Nurmagomedov doesn’t stay out of punching distance and then shoot for a double leg takedown like say Shinya Aoki and most conventional wrestlers. He likes to jab his way in and get into a clinch.
If Nurmagomedov sticks to this predictable style and walks in flatfooted he could get beat to a pulp before he’s able to clinch McGregor.
This is what makes this fight so exciting. Given his striking prowess McGregor could easily win by early knockout. But given Numagomedov’s relentless, tireless plodding style he could just as easily take McGregor down time and time again for the whole five rounds, tire out McGregor and win decisively.
McGregor is no stranger to losing in the cage. And all of his losses have been by submission. He was submitted by Nate Diaz who beat him by Rear-Naked Choke in UFC 196 March, 2016. He lost to Joseph Duffy by Submission through Arm-Triangle Choke November, 2010. He lost to Artemij Sitenkov also by Submission through Kneebar June, 2008.
McGregor won’t be fighting for money because he’s already insanely rich thanks to the Mayweather fight. But more than the money or the fame what drives McGregor is his love of fighting. And that what makes him such a formidable fighter. He likes fighting. He likes training for fights.
So my fearless forecast? McGregor can win with an early knockout. But if the fight goes to the latter rounds I pick Nurmagomedov to win by submission or by decision.
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