The world will see Conor McGregor in a very different light on the morning of October 7, regardless of what happens when he leaves the octagon after facing Khabib Nurmagomedov the night before.
Prior to his fights with the likes of José Aldo, Eddie Alvarez, and even Nate Diaz to a certain extent, it was hard to picture exactly how a nightmare inside the octagon with any one of them would look for Conor.
Sure, you could assume that Aldo would have chopped down his legs or that Eddie would have embraced the grind before maybe tagging him with a right-hand shot – but truth be told, even those who backed either of those fighters to beat the Irishman would have a hard time in telling you what a perfect night for either of them would look.
Of course, they would. That’s the nature of this game.
The thing about Khabib Nurmagomedov, on the other hand, is that we all know what his plan for McGregor is and it’s pretty easy to imagine how it would play out if he is able to implement it on October 6.
It’s not often that we are presented with a stylistic clash so black-and-white, that most can only see it going in two concrete directions.
Obviously, there’s wiggle-room on that. We don’t know exactly what is going to happen but given what we know about Conor and, in particular, Khabib – it’s pretty easy to confidently paint a picture of how this main-event contest should look.
Innovative jiu-jitsu coach John Danaher was one of the first, if not the first to put forth the notion that this fight should be a complete shut-out – either in Conor or Khabib’s favour.
Speaking on an unmissable edition of The Joe Rogan Experience, the Danaher Death Squad maestro gave his own take on the then yet-to-be-announced showdown:
“With regards Conor McGregor and Khabib Nurmagomedov, the feeling one gets is that if they did fight, it would be a complete shutout in one of two directions.
“It’s either like a man beating up a child on the ground or it’s just a flush knockout – a guy unable to cover distance properly and walking into a left hand just being catastrophically KO’d.
“You feel like there’s potential for it to go in both directions and that’s a fight I don’t believe goes the distance. It’s one way or the other.”
The press conference that went down last Thursday was a slow-burn. At first, it seemed like we were seeing an overly-emotional, agitated McGregor – one that had perhaps been affected by his months of enjoying the fruits of his labour.
As time went on though and the presser sank further into the rearviewmirror, we reflected on every other time we figured that the Irishman had lost his mental edge.
Whether it was when he lashed out at José Aldo after the Brazilian dropped into a karate-stance in an effort to taunt him at the UFC 194 weigh-ins or when he sent cans of Monster Energy hurling in the direction of the brothers Diaz and company, he always returned to his stoic self when fight-night came around.
There’s every chance that we’ll be sitting here on the morning of October 7 digesting something completely unexpected but with the fight, the reaction, and the future in mind, we’re going to have a stab at highlighting the potential best and worst case scenarios for Conor McGregor as he prepares himself for maybe the most significant test of his mettle to date.
Best case scenario
The easy answer here is to say an early KO victory, but if we’re looking at the result – within reason – that would earn him the most credit post-fight, he’s going to have to contend with Khabib’s grappling to some extent.
Proving to the world that the supposed chink in his armour isn’t as glaring an issue as it is made out to be against perhaps the greatest MMA grappler in the game today would be an invaluable win for the Irishman.
And you can be damn sure that he wouldn’t shut up about it for as long as he continues to fight from there on out. Nurmagomedov, while unbeaten, has encountered very little in the way of an answer for his sambo mastery in recent years.
It might not play on the mind of the ‘Notorious’ one to the same extent, but for his most diehard of fans – if Conor can even stuff one takedown attempt before getting the job done it will have a huge effect on the narrative that surrounds his grappling.
In this best-case scenario, of course it will be the left-hand and if we’re going for a 10/10 night for him and his camp, he’ll get it done in the first round – just to maintain the now-legendary aura that surrounds his famous ability to put guys away.
The post-fight will amount to a massive ‘I told you so’ from McGregor and in truth, his victory lap will be a well-deserved one.
He has always been something of a divisive star but with the entire circus that followed his foray into boxing and the complete and utter shit-show that was the UFC 223 media day, his detractors have been having a field-day.
It was becoming increasingly difficult for his fans to defend him – especially given his inactivity – and a win here against Khabib would leave very little doubts about his greatness.
And so Conor would sit atop the lightweight division again.
The PPV numbers would only serve as another reminder to Dana and co. about the increasingly powerful figure they were dealing with and who knows, the UFC may well find itself with its first shareholder-slash-competitor.
From there, the world would well and truly be Conor McGregor’s plaything – for him to do with what he pleases. If you thought he was famous before, expect a rise to another level entirely with an impressive victory.
Worst case scenario
There is so much for Conor to gain in this fight. The opportunity to hand the sport’s most feared fighter his first ever loss would gain him the respect of even the most fervent of his haters.
On top of that, he would also open up the door to pretty much any fight he could ever imagine having his eye on. The welterweight title, a lucrative return to boxing, even a showdown with Georges St-Pierre if he felt like it – his, if he so chooses.
Power is a huge thing when there’s so much money on the table and for a fighter of his incredible marketability and talent, the earning potential is absolutely incredible.
On the flipside, though, the dangers in taking this fight, if they come to fruition, would leave a permanent – perhaps even career-defining – scar on his image.
Unless you’ve got comparable grappling to Khabib Nurmagomedov you don’t just get edged out by him on the scorecards. Like John Danaher said before, this fight should be a shut-out no matter which way it goes and if it does end up going the way of the Russian, it could well be nothing short of humiliating.
When I picture a Khabib victory, I picture all of commonly-held fears about Conor’s weaknesses being realised all at once in a brutally embarrassing sustained beatdown on the biggest stage in the sport’s history.
Like practically everyone he has ever fought, Nurmagomedov will get his man to the ground and this time around, he’ll get it there fast.
Not only would McGregor be positionally outclassed while Khabib rains down ground-and-pound, in this scenario, his gas-tank would be drained drastically every time he leaves his stool at the end-of-round break.
In my view, the worst outcome for Conor in this one wouldn’t be a TKO – where the referee jumps in to save him from a barrage of unanswered strikes. It wouldn’t be a submission – which in contrast looks like a pretty easy way out.
Knowing how diabolical Khabib can be with his mid-fight chatter and considering the bad blood between the two, it’s pretty easy to imagine him taunting Conor as he asserts his dominance.
He’d tell him how the trash-talk now matters little and how he – like each of his other 26 victims – can do nothing to stop what is happening. The difference here, though, will be that a lot has been said on the part of McGregor to make an enemy of ‘The Eagle’.
Khabib famously told another heated rival of his, Tony Ferguson, that he would relish the opportunity to break his arm if the opportunity to lock up a kimura presented itself and judging by the tension that was building last Thursday – I would imagine that he would be looking to make a similarly violent statement.
If Conor’s cardio is an issue going into this fight then in this hypothetical scenario, his opponent’s pressure would exhaust him to the point where he would literally become a plaything for Khabib. Maybe he’d talk to him, slap him around a bit or who knows, he might even let him up just to take him back down again.
If we’re talking about ‘worst case scenarios’ here, the possibilities are endless and to be honest, quite frightening.
A loss like that would give Conor’s detractors more fuel than they would know what to do with.
All that talk would have amounted to one of the most humiliating defeats in the history of the sport and while those who know what Khabib is capable of won’t hold it against him to the same extent – it would be next-to-impossible for him to recapture the shine he once had.
A rematch with Khabib would more-than-likely be out of the question as it was completely apparent how vast a gap there was. He could always fight Nate Diaz again, but even still, his ascent will have come to a very abrupt halt.
Oh, and sales of his Proper No. Twelve Irish Whiskey would plummet.
Cillian Cunningham, Pundit Arena