For many, the day of reckoning has come for Conor McGregor.
Conor is a great fighter, but there’s no question that the UFC brass steered the most difficult match-ups away from him. It’s odd that, in a division so full of wrestlers, the only one that Conor met was a two-week notice Chad Mendes. A Chad Mendes, I might add, who was beating him convincingly until his gas tank understandably ran empty. A shocking upset by Eddie Alvarez kept Conor from facing the Muay-Thai/Wrestling attacking of Rafael Dos Anjos. Then, he went MIA just as Tony Ferguson and Khabib Nurmagomedov had stamped claims to title shots.
So to see Conor face Khabib on October 6 must feel like divine justice. After all, what is Khabib if not the most dominant wrestler since Jon Jones?
Well, here’s the thing: Conor has the best chance to beat Khabib out of anyone.
Conor McGregor is the UFC’s best counter-striker
Regardless of my personal feelings about how Conor McGregor behaves and panders to lowbrow fans, I genuinely believe he is the greatest counter-striker in UFC history. I mean, the man has a single money punch and lands it consistently against world-class competition. Not just land it, but it consistently knocks his opponents out.
Yes, his resume is full of strikers with questionable defense and/or reach. But virtually ending a fight with the first left hand you land against Dustin Poirier, Jose Aldo, and Eddie Alvarez is quite impressive. Everyone understands that Conor will wait for the whiff and paste his opponent with a left hand counter. Analysts will tell you to watch out for the left. His past opponents will tell you watch out for the left. Future opponents will tell you they have to watch out for the left. But for all but Nate Diaz, it made no difference.
As blasphemous as it sounds, he has notable advantages over Anderson Silva.
Whereas Silva led on offense like an 8th grader trying to get to second base, Conor has good lead boxing. It’s nothing compared to his counter left, but he mixes up the angle of his power punches so he can land something. If he catches opponents swaying too hard, he’ll move them back to center with powerful kicks. Remember, Conor did his real damage against Poirier with hooks around his guard, not the cross.
Khabib Nurmagomedov’s weakness
The destroyer from Dagestan is undefeated in 26 fights, so “weakness” is a relative term. But Al Iaquinta pulled off a miracle in his last-minute replacement title shot by lasting all five rounds, revealing some chinks in the armor.
We’ve always known that Khabib’s striking was … (flaps limp wrist noncommittally) but it never mattered. Khabib is a wrestler who can ground anyone he can catch, which means he’s the most dangerous kind of wrestler. A few swinging haymakers and knees to bring him into clinch range is all he needs. It wasn’t until Iaquinta stepped in that we realized just how average his striking could be.
After repeatedly denying the takedown with his long stance, Iaquinta found that Khabib had no long punches to work with. He had a flicking jab that pulverized Al’s nose, but didn’t transfer a bit of power beyond that. Iaquinta’s low stance may have compromised his own offensive boxing, but he was still slick enough to avoid the long haymakers Khabib tried to compensate with. He even landed a few clean cross counters that got Khabib’s attention, though not enough to win the fight.
One Punch Counter
Most of Khabib’s higher tier opponents have landed some strikes. They just couldn’t land with the type of authority to change the course of the fight. But Conor only lands strikes that all but ensure him the win. Yes, Khabib should be favored. Conor possesses the one tool that can beat Khabib in the entire division and will have at least a couple opportunities to land it.
Khabib should still be favored, but not by much. Don’t be surprised if, after the dust settles, Nurmagomedov is face down on the canvas.