After UFC 200, the world was ready for Conor McGregor vs. Khabib Nurmagomedov. Yet it just wasn’t meant to be as McGregor took some time off while Khabib failed to make weight for an interim title bout against Tony Ferguson. What the future holds for Conor and Khabib is unknown at this time, but this remains one of the best matchups on the UFC roster and when these two finally meet here is my breakdown of the fight and the best path of victory for both competitors.
Every fight starts on the feet and It would be an understatement to say that this heavily favors lightweight champion McGregor. While possible challenger Nurmagomedov possesses a highly underrated striking attack, trying to kickbox with McGregor would be a fatal mistake. Offensively Khabib is known as a grappler but can be unpredictable, and he has a solid uppercut that he landed numerous times against Michael Johnson at UFC 200. Defensively Khabib uses a stance similar to that of Floyd Mayweather with his left typically protecting the lower body and his right protecting the head. While this works for him sometimes, he is no Floyd Mayweather and shots get through often enough to leave him in trouble against superior strikers.
In the clip above you see Khabib getting blasted with a straight left from Michael Johnson as he moves in. Like McGregor, Johnson is a southpaw fighter so this is the same situation Khabib will find himself in when he shares a cage with the lightweight champ. Khabib’s nonstop pressure breaks his opponents more often than not. But McGregor is great fighting off the back foot and countering fighters who move forward, which could work against Khabib. The power, accuracy, and killer instinct of McGregor gives him a better chance to finish Khabib should he land a strike like the one in the gif below:
This straight left by McGregor started a sequence that would end Eddie Alvarez in the second round. This fight is a great example for the possible Khabib matchup. Like Alvarez, Khabib has a tendency to rush in with his strikes and rarely move backwards as he looks to eventually get a takedown. However, this isn’t all bad news for the undefeated Russian contender. While moving forward and looking for big punches didn’t bode well for former champion Eddie Alvarez it did help him initiate the clinch, where Khabib Nurmagomedov is dominant.
The clip above shows Alvarez rushing in and getting clipped by a punch but ending up with a clinch up against the cage. While Conor was able to effectively defend against anything Alvarez wanted to do in the clinch, he faces a whole new animal in Nurmagomedov. Sure, Khabib can get traditional takedowns from the shot. However, the clinch game is his bread and butter and if Khabib successfully initiates a clinch Conor will be unable to stop him from getting the fight to the mat.
As you see above when Khabib gets Michael Johnson against the fence he ties Johnson’s right leg up with his left leg and launches him to his left side before securing top position with a trip. This is just one of the many tricks that Nurmagomedov can use to get an opponent down from the clinch. The sambo specialist possesses a multitude of trips and slams that form a very technical clinch which is nearly impossible to stop. Michael Johnson is a better wrestler than Conor McGregor and he had nothing for Khabib in that department.
If this fight ends up on the mat then the general consensus is that Conor McGregor will be done. While this isn’t necessarily true for the brash Irishman, Nurmagomedov is a special talent on the ground. Conor isn’t terrible on the mat, as some would suggest. When fresh he was able to sweep a very talented black belt in Nate Diaz. In some ways, Khabib’s advantage on the ground is similar to Conor’s advantage on the feet. Khabib Nurmagomedov is not a bad striker despite what you may hear, but if he strikes with Conor McGregor he is likely to end the fight falling asleep. But if Conor McGregor ends up on his back, in all likelihood he is in big trouble despite his underrated ground game.
A smaller, less powerful wrestler in Chad Mendes was able to take McGregor down and pound on him for the better part of five minutes. McGregor was able to survive that beating and end a tired Mendes in round two with accurate and powerful punches and kicks. This fight showed that on his back Conor McGregor can be controlled and he can be pounded. Unfortunately for Chad his inability to keep that pace saw him too tired to repeat that performance in the next round. Khabib on the other hand has a phenomenal cardiovascular ability.
The impeccable ground attack of Nurmagomedov is relentless. He put a nonstop, hellacious beating on Johnson at UFC 200 by easily outwrestling him and smashing him from dominating positions. It is difficult to believe that McGregor will be able to accomplish on the mat what Rafael Dos Anjos and Michael Johnson couldn’t. Khabib Nurmagomedov was able to thoroughly out grapple accomplished grapplers and he did so with relative ease.
This fight is the classic striker vs. grappler matchup taken to another level. Conor has shown an uncanny ability to out strike great strikers and end his fights in incredible fashion. Khabib has been able to dominate wrestlers in wrestling and jiu-jitsu practitioners on the mat. Whats makes this fight so interesting is the fact that these two are the best at what they do. If these two ever meet in the octagon it all comes down to execution, and more times than not these guys get the job done.
Both of these men have something that make them special. Aside from being able to outstrike his opponents, Conor McGregor has devastating knockout power in his hands. This is his X-Factor when he fights. His confidence comes from knowing that even when he is losing he doesn’t need much more than a few carefully chosen shots to win a fight. You can see it after his tough first round with Chad Mendes. Instead of being frustrated, McGregor laughs in his face and smiles all the way back to his stool. It speaks to his confidence in his fight finishing ability, and so does his 86% knockout ratio.
The X-Factor for Khabib Nurmagomedov has to be his strength. It is all anybody seems to talk about when they train with him. I guess wrestling bear cubs as a child has its perks. When he fights his otherworldly strength is apparent, as you see him manhandling fighters who are generally difficult to bully. His ability to throw around high level wrestlers shows an uncanny level of dominance that is difficult to overcome.
Conor McGregor vs. Khabib Nurmagomedov is easily one of the most intriguing fights in MMA history. Two guys who are so dominant in one aspect of the game creates a true 50/50 gamble. If Conor can successfully use his footwork, speed, timing, and accuracy to find the mark withhis devastating left hand then he will leave with another dramatic, career-defining win. If Khabib manages to secure the clinch position he will take this fight to the mat, and if Khabib gets the fight down his relentless attack, outstanding cardio, and unparalleled grappling will see him walk away the victor.
Are you excited at the possibility of the Irish Lion and the Russian Bear settling their score in the cage one day?