It’s the fight that has been years in the making and carries with it plenty of controversies, bad blood, and forgotten history.
Khabib Nurmagomedov defends his Lightweight Championship against the man that forfeited it before him, Conor McGregor, at UFC 229 in Las Vegas on October 6th.
— khabib nurmagomedov (@TeamKhabib) September 28, 2014
With so much noise and narrative around it, it’s easy to forget that these two are arguably two of the finest fighters of their generation. Khabib is the current favourite, but with McGregor, the fight could so easily swing the other way. Let’s assess how they will match up when they enter the Octagon.
What makes this fight so fascinating – and the reason why so many have called for it for so long – is that it represents two opposites colliding. So rarely is it possible to watch a face-off containing quite so diametrically opposed approaches: their strengths, their weaknesses, their tactics – all are very apparent and well-known and yet provide a stark night and day contrast that will be engaging to see unfold.
McGregor, making his return to the sport after his infamous foray into boxing, is the undisputed master of striking. His boxing may have been shown up somewhat by the experienced Floyd Mayweather, but he returns to a smaller pond as a very big fish and his abilities standing up are without question.
In the centre of the Octagon, McGregor brings precision and power that, at his best, is without a match. You only have to watch the stunning 13-second knockout of José Aldo to remember the colossal left hook the Irishman has in his arsenal.
If McGregor can keep Khabib in the centre and on his feet, he is playing exactly how he wants to.
Khabib has never counted striking amongst his strengths. Indeed, for some, he remains relatively unbalanced in that respect for a division champion.
As shown in his bout with Al Iaquinta, he can bring an effective – if awkward – strike game. There is, however, a chasm of difference in doing this versus the master, McGregor.
If Khabib is to ensure victory, he knows he needs to rely on his trademarks.
He needs to force McGregor away from the centre and towards the fence where he can implement his ferocious takedown and ground game.
With 26 victories under his belt – the majority of which came as a result of his grappling ability – there is a no finer wrestler in the sport than the Russian Eagle.
He possesses an uncanny ability to find gaps in any opponents defence for a well-timed takedown.
Once on the floor, he brings a sheer physical power to his ground game that will mean the beginning of the end for most opponents.
McGregor, of course, is not most opponents.
There is every chance that a fighter such as McGregor could rebound from a ground-pounding that would finish off anyone else. The Irishman knows, however, that it’d be a high-risk strategy too dangerous even for Vegas. If this bout is to go his way, he needs to keep matters in the centre where he rules.
Of course, over 2 years since his last UFC fight, there is every chance rustiness may well have set in. If Khabib can unsettle the McGregor gameplan early on, that lack of sharpness may quickly unravel the attributes we’ve seen from the Irishman in the past.
Regardless, this is a battle of two masters in their form trying to impose their dominance on one another. It’s the boxer versus the wrestler: who will force the other to enter their domain?
It is a perfect package that highlights the intricacies of the sport. It’s infighting yang. Both know their opponents’ strategies – there is no room for secrets or hidden tactics with fighters so well-versed in their respective forms. It is simply a case of who forces the other to play the game by their rules.
When you add into the mixture the seething animosity that has grown between the two – something McGregor is keen to spur on in his pre-fight mind games – it promises to be a fascinating collision of worlds.