The stars have aligned for what might just be the greatest bout in the history of mixed martial arts.
Khabib Nurmagomedov, a grappling phenom with an undefeated record after 26 professional fights, will defend his UFC Lightweight Championship against combat sports superstar Conor McGregor at UFC 229 on October 6.
The last time McGregor was inside the UFC’s Octagon he famously dominated Eddie Alvarez at UFC 205 to become the UFC’s first-ever two-division champion.
Nurmagomedov also featured at UFC 205 and again added to his ever-growing highlight reel by bashing Michael Johnson before finishing him with a Kimura submission in round three. Then, Nurmagomedov manhandled Edson Barboza at UFC 219 before eventually adding a UFC Championship to his collection when he defeated Al Iaquinta at UFC 223 in April this year.
This is a fight that represents everything great about mixed martial arts. It’s a money fight, but it’s not for the wrong reasons. It’s a money fight because it is truly, absolutely competitive – unlike Brock Lesnar’s potential return to the cage in 2019 – and we are all wondering whether the undefeated monster will come out on top, or whether the Irishman who continually overcomes the odds will do so once again.
As for the fight itself, there are two schools of thought:
– Khabib Nurmagomedov will take Conor McGregor down and maul him
– Conor McGregor will land his powerful left hand and finish Khabib Nurmagomedov
There is seemingly no in-between and pundits generally agree that both outcomes are plausible – no matter their final prediction.
We rounded up many of the predictions we have seen so far and will continue to update this post when fighters or pundits share their opinion on this mega-fight.
Who is picking Khabib Nurmagomedov to defeat Conor McGregor?
Eddie Alvarez gives the edge to Khabib Nurmagomedov
“Styles make matchups. If Khabib does not correct the mistake of sitting back with his chin up and going to the side, Conor is going to put his lights out with his left hand pretty bad, pretty quickly.”
“He needs to correct that mistake, and he needs to learn to relax in the pocket and know that he’s safe. Until he does that, he’s always in danger of getting beat by a guy with knockout power like Conor McGregor.”
“But Conor McGregor on his back, from the past, I don’t feel like he has a strong spirit for fighting on the ground. Some guys have a really strong spirit, and they can stand up all day for 5-10 rounds, as long as they’re standing up, but when it goes to the ground their spirit weakens. I don’t think Conor has strong enough spirit to be able to withstand Khabib’s ground attack over and over and over. I have to give the edge to Khabib because I feel like there will be takedowns, and Conor will not get up; I don’t know if he has the spirit to stay in the fight in a ground fight with Khabib, where Khabib can control him for 15-20 minutes of a 25-minute bout. I have to give the edge to Khabib.”
Dustin Poirier is leaning toward Khabib Nurmagomedov
“I’m kinda leaning toward Khabib. I just don’t know if he’s going to stop Conor or whatnot, but I’m thinking he’s going to get the victory.”
As for Conor McGregor’s chances, Poirier explained that “he has a huge chance.”
“He’s got great timing, great judge of distance. We’ll just see if the takedown defense holds up and the cardio holds up. That’s all he has to do. The openings will be there, but he just has to stand the test of the wrestling and the conditioning, the physical part that Khabib’s going to put on early in the fight.”
Georges St-Pierre would bet on Khabib Nurmagomedov
“If I had to put my house on it, I would choose Khabib over Conor. Khabib has never lost. Conor has lost before. He has lost on the ground, and that’s where Khabib is good. That’s what Khabib is most competent at.”
“However, Khabib is sometimes a slow starter. He didn’t look good in the beginning of the fight with Michael Johnson. He has some problems closing the distance, but once he has you in the clinch he is very good. I believe the odds go in Khabib’s favor, maybe 60-40.”
Frank Mir says that Khabib Nurmagomedov is a safe bet
“My safe money is on Khabib.”
“Out of 26 fights, I did see Michael Johnson land one straight left and kinda hurt him. If Conor lands that same straight left, Khabib is going to go to sleep. That left that Conor has, that straight left, it puts everyone to sleep. Maybe it doesn’t knock out Khabib but it’s going to hurt him, and that can really change the outcome of a round and cause some problems.”
“That being said, you gotta think that Khabib knows that the straight left coming down the middle is the only shot that Conor really has to win the fight, and early. That’s a lot that Conor has to hope lines up. If I was Khabib, just grind him at first. Avoid him, clinch him, don’t even take a shot, walk him against the cage, make it ugly if you want, grind him, because we know that Conor has high-octane anaerobic type musculature which allows him to be extremely powerful and quick but he burns out, we’ve seen it in fights before.”
“If he gets in those grinding fights like he did in the second fight with Nate Diaz, in that third round he was backpedaling and looked about ready to fall on his face. Nate Diaz can’t put the same amount of pressure that Khabib can put on him. If we thought that was bad, it’s gonna be worse.”
“It’s a pretty safe bet to say that it’s a Khabib fight. Conor does have that one puncher’s chance, if anybody has it it’s him.
Fabricio Werdum believes Khabib ‘will kill’ Conor McGregor
Can Conor McGregor defeat Khabib Nurmagomedov?
Dan Hardy believes we’ll see a different version of Conor McGregor
“Khabib’s main vulnerability in this fight is that he has got no footwork. He only knows how to go forward. He has no idea of cutting off the Octagon until he actually has his hands on someone.”
“That’s where Conor gets into this fight. He’s very intelligent. He’s going to be good at circling off and walking Khabib onto that left hand. I think this is going to be a very different version of Conor than we’ve ever seen. I think we’re going to see a lot more lateral movement and more footwork. I think he’s going to come in slightly lighter and better conditioned. I think he’s going to expect to be taken down at least a couple of times.”
“The quick turnaround of this fight, to me, tells me that he’s thinking that if he can get Khabib to be mainly focused on his weight cut for the fight and overconfident in doing what he always does, then Conor can predict what he’s going to do when he is in there and set him up.”
“I think he is probably going to have to get back to his corner after the first round and get back to his feet a couple of times. I think he will find a place for that left hand at some point. Maybe the late second or early third and I think Khabib will walk onto it. We’ve seen him slow down in the Al Iaquinta fight, and it was the first time we’ve seen him do five rounds. He did slow down. There were points where we started to think to ourselves, if he was fighting Conor here and there was that sharp left hand in the toolbox, he would be in trouble.”
Kevin Lee can see Conor McGregor winning by KO/TKO
“I think everybody is kind of saying the same thing. Either Khabib is going to get slept, or he is going to maul him. I’m more on the Khabib is going to get slept side.”
“He’s doing the same things he has been doing for years, and he is making the same mistakes. You’re making the same mistakes, and if you’re not evolving, someone is going to take advantage of it, especially a smart fighter.”
“Is Conor the smart fighter that can do it? I mean, I don’t know. I tend to think so. It’s an interesting fight. I’m leaning more toward Conor is going to sleep him, but it can go the other way too.”
Urijah Faber says Conor McGregor’s power will be too much
“I think the odds are in Conor’s favor because it starts standing every round. Unless Khabib can take him down over and over again right off the bat, I think the power is going to be a little much.”
“I could be on the fence for this one because Khabib could take him down 100 times too. Mystic Mac has beat Chad Mendes, Jose Aldo, Eddie Alvarez, and those guys don’t get knocked out often.”
Brendan Schaub predicts Conor McGregor to win
“Despite Khabib being a nightmare stylistic matchup for Conor, I have Conor winning this fight. With his movement, his striking – when I look at the way these two athletes are. I look at the movement of Conor, his angles, the quickness of his hands, the dynamics he has on his feet, and I look at the ways he can win compared to the ways that Khabib will win.”
“I think Khabib will get him down. I think Conor will get back up. I think it’s a matter of time that Khabib starts to get tired from the takedowns and Conor lets his hands loose.”
Darrion Caldwell says Conor McGregor has the ‘it factor’
“My prediction is Conor McGregor’s going to win. That’s just me. I’m not really biased against Khabib. I know Khabib, he does his thing, he has like 900 takedowns. He’s nice, he’s legit. But I feel like Conor’s got an It factor that Khabib probably does not have.”
“As a wrestler, you control the pace of the fight by keeping it on your feet or taking it to the ground, but I believe Conor has good enough takedown defence. He’s an athletic dude. So he’s not going to be held down like Edson Barboza. You assume Conor McGregor will have a little better standup like Al Iaquinta did as opposed to a guy who’s going to go down and get beat up on. I expect Conor McGregor to go out there and beat Nurmagomedov, personally.”
“I’ve bet against Conor McGregor for a long time and he continued to prove me wrong. Anybody that can prove me wrong, I’m not going to continue to bet against. Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice, you know.”
Undecided / No Prediction
Tyron Woodley expects an even fight
“I think that Khabib is such a machine. It’s very difficult for anyone to stop him from applying that pressure. But Conor McGregor is known to be stoic, really relaxed, and we saw Jose Aldo came in and got cracked. I think if anyone can sneak a shot in, it’s Conor McGregor.
He had that sleeper hand against Chad Mendes, and Mendes’ reach isn’t as long as Khabib’s, and he’s definitely not as aggressive with the takedown. I think it’s an even fight, to be honest.”
Bas Rutten says Conor McGregor has a puncher’s chance
“I love that Conor took this fight because it’s a very dangerous fight. The reason I’m saying this is because just look at the fight he had with Chad Mendes. Chad Mendes took him to the ground immediately. Khabib Nurmagomedov is as good of a wrestler, he’s maybe even better; he’s from Dagestan, and they’ve only got wrestlers, it’s in their heart. They grow up there, it’s their culture.”
“If there’s a takedown, it could be big trouble for Conor McGregor. I don’t know what Conor has been doing in the meanwhile, but still, if you fight a guy whose father is one of the most famous trainers out there and started wrestling when he was about three-years-old, you can’t learn that in a year, even if you train every day. Yeah, you can stop some takedowns, but once the fight is there and once punches are being thrown and there are little movements and feints it’s very hard to stop a takedown.”
“I think Conor has a puncher’s chance. The good thing for Conor is that he has incredible timing and incredible accuracy. So, if he can land a punch, although Khabib has never been knocked out, but he’s never been hit by Conor McGregor. We know this because everybody he hits he destroys. It’s a big fight for him to stay away from the ground for five rounds. In the Nate Diaz fight, you see it once it went to the ground. I applaud him for taking this fight.”
Kenny Florian says Conor McGregor is unappreciated
“You have Khabib Nurmagomedov, who is an absolute Dagestani juggernaut, a guy that when he is focused on taking you down and beating you up, he can do it. And he can do it against anybody, I believe, all the way up to 170 pounds most likely.”
“And, you got Conor McGregor who just might be the only guy at 155 lbs who can expose that striking weakness in Khabib Nurmagomedov and actually make him pay for it. He has the ability to land that shot that you don’t see. He has the ability to counter you, he has the ability to move off that center line and land that fight-ending shot, unlike anybody in that division.”
“And I don’t think that Conor McGregor is as appreciated as you think. He’s appreciated because of the kind of stuff that he says and that the star that he is, but as far as his fighting technique, he’s just not appreciated in mixed martial arts as he should be. He’s such a technical striker. Are people forgetting that he just destroyed Jose Aldo in 12 or 13 seconds? The fact that he beat Max Holloway? The fact that he came back to beat Nate Diaz not at 155 lbs, which was an option for him, but I’m going to rematch you at 170 lbs and I’m going to beat you? And he did that. Against a massive and dangerous style matchup in Nate Diaz. So, this is a guy who is very dangerous.”
“Does he have something to offer him on the ground? Probably not. For Conor, if he gets taken down he’s going to have to go into survival mode. I think if there are ways to counter Khabib, they are few and far between. There are certain things you can do, but you better be very high level and elite in the Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu world, Conor isn’t that yet. However, I think he can stop a few takedowns, get him tired, and he will not stop. We’ll have to go back to that Chad Mendes fight where he was getting taken down, he was exhausted, he had a terrible knee injury, one of the most brutal weight cuts by dropping down to 145 lbs and he went out there and got the finish.”
T.J. Dillashaw says Khabib Nurmagomedov is ‘slow’
“When I heard it a while ago and I think it’s going to happen, my money was on Khabib. After Khabib’s last performance against Al – I know Al is a good fighter too – I just don’t think his stand-up’s there. Conor’s just got that left hand, he’s fast, he’s going to be able to use his angles, his crazy kicks. And I’ve always underestimated the guy. Like Eddie Alvarez, ‘Alvarez is going to run through him.’ BOOM! Jose Aldo, ‘Oh, Aldo’s going to beat him.'”
Teammates, Coaches, and Family
Javier Mendez says Khabib Nurmagomedov can’t stand with Conor McGregor
“Look, Khabib will go after him, and if he misses 99 takedowns, he’ll go for 100. As long as he’s standing, he’s looking for the takedown. There’s no gameplan here, per se. How we attack the game plan, yes, that’s going to be another story in itself, but what our plan is? We can’t stand with him! I mean, we’re going to lose that one for sure. Khabib can hurt him in the stand up too. But doing what he needs to do, not standing with him. If he stands with him, we’re losing that all day long. We’re not winning that one at all.”
“I don’t think he’s [Conor McGregor] a subpar wrestler. I think he’s really good. The problem is he’s never met anyone like Khabib. Anybody within his weight, he mauls everybody. He always has since he’s been with me. So to me, it isn’t that Conor is not a good grappler, it’s that Khabib is phenomenal. That’s what it comes down to. It has nothing to do with Conor’s not good. It has to do with Khabib is that good.”
John Kavanagh sees Conor McGregor knocking Khabib Nurmagomedov out
“I do think the immovable object and the unstoppable force are on a path to meet each other. When you’re facing somebody with the type of stopping power that Conor has in his hands, if you stand very much upright and just walk towards somebody to get a body lock, that’s a risky strategy.”
“Barboza’s a great kicker, but trying spinning kicks on somebody who closes the distance quickly like Khabib who has a body lock-heavy grappling game is maybe not the best idea but, for somebody who can make people overextend themselves and who has genuine one-punch knockout power – and we’ve seen Khabib be wobbled by Michael Johnson, for example, I find it hard to visualise anything else other than Conor knocking him out.”
“I think it’s an ultimate striker vs grappler matchup but, of course, they’re well-rounded in all areas. Conor’s striking and his submission game as well would cause problems. Long story short, I would think within two rounds Conor would knock him out. I think it would maybe be like the Eddie Alvarez fight and he’d stop him in the second.”
Khabib’s father, Abdulmanap Nurmagomedov, predicts an easy win
“Physically and tactically, Khabib is stronger than Conor. Khabib has better cardio than Conor and 100 percent Khabib has better wrestling and grappling. we will choke him out when we decide to do it. Of course, Conor’s left hand is very dangerous and he can throw the right uppercut. That’s all. Nothing else.”
“Let’s put together the best wrestling coaches from Dagestan, Japan, USA, Turkey . . . even they will not be able to prepare McGregor for this fight in three months,” Abdulmanap said. “No one can help him. You can’t do that in such a short time. He needs to start studying it from the beginning. To improve his wrestling in several months, it’s impossible.”
“[Conor is dangerous] for 8 to 9 minutes, no more. After the first clinch, Khabib will take him down. We will finish this fight when we want. We respect our fans. If they want to watch all five rounds, we will fight all five rounds. But after two rounds, he has nothing to do on his feet. After two rounds, he will not be able to do anything. We don’t want to lose even one round. Khabib has never lost a single round.
“Only a referee can protect Conor, that’s why he will be in the cage.”
Dillon Danis says people will be surprised by Conor McGregor’s grappling
[Ariel Helwani] – “Will Khabib score one takedown?”
[Dillon Danis] – “I don’t believe so, but you never know. It’s a fight. What’s a takedown? It’s not the end of the fight. Look what happened when Chad took him down, he was still off his back hitting elbows. In a street fight, or a fight to the death, a takedown means nothing.”
“I think people will be surprised. If you put Conor McGregor and Khabib in a grappling match, I think a lot of people would be surprised. I think Conor could beat him in a grappling match. I’m talking like an ADCC match or IBJF match. If Conor pulls guard, Khabib isn’t going to do anything to him. I think a lot of people are going to be surprised. Conor isn’t a slouch on the ground.”
“Chad Mendes is a better wrestler than Khabib. What credentials does Khabib have in wrestling? Michael Johnson caught Khabib, and he’s not the level of Conor McGregor. Everyone said Eddie was going to take him down, or Eddie was going to do this, and then all of a sudden Eddie was against the fence and couldn’t come close to taking him down.”
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Jake is The Body Lock's Editor in Chief, based in Tasmania, Australia.