By Kieran Cobley
What may be the biggest MMA fight of the decade goes down in Las Vegas, as former UFC Lightweight champion and pop-culture mega star Conor McGregor (21-3), returns to the Octagon after a two-year absence to take on undefeated Lightweight champion Khabib Nurmagomedov (26-0) for the Lightweight belt.
The bad blood between the two is no secret and not new. “The Notorious” and his crew from Ireland attacked the bus of Nurmagomedov earlier this year at UFC 223. This was after the current champion cornered McGregor’s training partner, Artem Lobov, in a hotel corridor for comments Lobov made about him on Russian TV.
As if the bout needed any more drama, McGregor is technically the lineal champion going into the fight. The Irishman has never lost the Lightweight, but was stripped due to inactivity and not defending the UFC belt.
The war of words and antics has been prevalent for months leading in the lead up to the title fight. Sam Boult, a Sheffield based MMA fighter, believed these tactics wouldn’t be effective, stating: “I don’t believe in all that.It’s like if I was in a race with Usain Bolt, I don’t think anything I would say to him would affect how he runs. I think it’s more for the public to be honest.”
This match may be decided not in words, but in fighting style. Nurmagomedov’s stand up is his weak point, something displayed when he was rocked by Michael Johnson in 2016. McGregor has 18 wins via knockout, including a 13 second knockout of Jose Aldo in 2015.
On the flip side though, Nurmagomedov’s biggest strength is McGregor’s biggest flaw. The Russian’s grappling is unparalleled. He holds the UFC record of 21 takedowns in a single fight. That ability to hold his opponent down and maul them with strikes until the referee steps in to end the fight, may prove too much for McGregor.
The punters are backing Nurmagomedov’s ability. He is favoured 4/7 going into the brawl.