I take a look at some of the popular narratives that surround October 6’s showdown between Khabib Nurmagomedov and Conor McGregor and give my own take on their validity.
This will be a two-part series – or even potentially more depending on how it goes.
I know full well that there’s no way we’re going to unanimously agree on everything put forward in this piece but just take it for what it is, a bit of fun. If we can’t have fun with a fight of this magnitude, what is the point?
So without further ado, here are a few of the ideas people have about these two guys, their skills and the fight itself and along with them – my own personal take on the amount of weight they carry.
Khabib Nurmagomedov’s record is padded
This is an interesting one. There’s definitely some truth to the fact that some of his pre-UFC wins were against a low level of competition, but is Khabib really at fault for preparing himself for the big-time?
Sure, the sheer number of wins he has is more a consequence of his extended run on the regional circuit but given the skillset he has managed to bring to the table, I’m willing to give him a pass because him taking his time to hone his craft has clearly worked.
Since joining the UFC, he has taken a pretty standard – albeit interrupted – road to his title. He was never handed a title shot, he gradually earned it after a period of several years where he established himself as the most fearsome matchup in the division.
Yes, more than half of his wins weren’t against top-tier opposition but it’s not like Khabib is claiming that they were? He knows, his team knows, we all know.
The important thing is that he has never lost in the UFC.
“But he won the title by defeating the 13th-ranked fighter, he’s not a real champion!”
Sure, but he would have fought Tony Ferguson if it came to it. We’ve seen fighters given title-shots for less than crushing Edson Barboza, Rafael dos Anjos, and Michael Johnson.
Look at Cody Garbrandt, who fought Dominick Cruz for the belt on the back of a victory over the veteran Takeya Mizugaki.
Conor McGregor was stripped of the title and while it should have been a matchup between Ferguson and Khabib that decided the winner, circumstances outside of the Russian’s control prevented that from happening.
The one thing against that is that he didn’t beat a champion to win the belt, but look, if McGregor had retired there and then after fighting Floyd, the belt would be vacant anyway. It doesn’t mean you should disregard what follows.
By that logic, Johny Hendricks, Robbie Lawler, and Tyron Woodley are all undeserving champions because they didn’t defeat GSP.
Khabib Nurmagomedov is a more-than-deserving champion and he did what he had to on an absolutely insane fight-week to win his belt.
Conor McGregor has no ground game
Ok, there are certain levels to this one. There are those out there who completely disregard the fact that he’s a brown-belt in BJJ and has received solid praise from the likes of Eddie Bravo and Firas Zahabi so we can at least agree that the criticism is overstated.
With that being said, though, his grappling is certainly a weaker point in his overall game.
Not everything is as black-and-white as people would like to believe. He doesn’t have to either have it, or not.
The excellent MMA analyst Brendan Dorman made a video recently delving into the grappling of the Irishman – a video that does a good job at pointing out where Conor is useful when the fight hits the mat.
Overall, I would argue that Conor McGregor is underrated on the ground but inferior to some of the fighters Khabib has been able to maul in the past.
“But he tapped out like a chicken at UFC 196”
Oh, so there’s something wrong with tapping now? I guess you might as well add the likes of Dan Henderson, Fedor Emelianenko, Max Holloway and a host of others to that list.
Nate Diaz is a fantastic submission threat and absolutely nobody is claiming that Conor McGregor would out-grapple him – but to say that cardio and damage didn’t play a part in Conor’s desperate decision to shoot in for the takedown is ridiculous.
He didn’t just decide to take Nate down in the second-round and control him like some All-American wrestler.
It was a last-resort shoot when he knew he was in trouble, Nate – being fresher and a superior BJJ fighter, managed to easily control his opponent and get the tap.
I’m not saying it wouldn’t happen if Conor was fresh, but there were more factors in play than many will give credit to.
Khabib Nurmagomedov’s striking is awful
Similar to Conor’s grappling, Khabib’s striking is usually seen in the same narrow-minded ‘black or white’ view. The Russian does take some unnecessary shots, though.
His defence on the feet is a real worry to those who are hoping that he gets his hand raised on Oct 6 and as we’ve seen in the past, it doesn’t take a massive opening for that left-hand to find its mark.
Nurmagomedov’s striking functions as a means for him to implement his overall gameplan, though. To look at his kickboxing alone would be unfairly narrowing down the overall picture he paints.
He’s not some counter-striking wizard or a ruthless power-puncher, but it’s not like he’s clueless on the feet. His game revolves around grappling dominance and where some would use wrestling as a means of implementing and maintaining their stand-up, Khabib’s stand-up is designed to feed into his grappling.
His defence remains a real worry, however.
Their styles contrast too much to allow this fight to be competitive
I’ve heard the likes of the aforementioned Coach Zahabi, John Danaher and even Joe Rogan say this and on paper, it makes sense.
With two guys who are so masterful at what they do it’s hard to see there being much room for closely fought battles.
When was the last time you saw Conor McGregor getting outstruck technically or Khabib outgrappled technically?
I don’t see either of these guys offering enough in the area that their opponent specialises in to make this a competitive fight on paper.
Such things are never set in stone though, we really don’t know anything for certain and that is very, very important to remember.
A link to the second part of this look into the UFC 229 headliner will be made available upon its publication.
Cillian Cunningham, Pundit Arena