Thu, Oct 4, 12:15pm by Staff Writer
It’s fight week and in it’s 25 year history, the Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) is set to stage the biggest event in its company history, financially.
Set at the T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas, Nevada this Sunday (AEST), the star studded card will be headlined by what is considered the most anticipated fight in Mixed Martial Arts (MMA) history.
Lightweight champion Khabib Nurmagomedov (26-0) will take on former champion Conor McGregor (21-3) over five championship rounds.
This fight will mark Khabib’s first title defence after claiming the vacated title in April this year where he fought late replacement Al Iaquinta at UFC 223, cruising to a dominant five round unanimous decision victory.
The fight will also mark the return of Conor McGregor, the holder of four of the top five main event billing MMA pay-per-view buy records.
McGregor is the one name in MMA that members of the general public would be aware of and it’s almost undisputed he has been the biggest name in the sport for the past few years.
The Irishman returns to MMA action for the first time since his November 2016 two round TKO lightweight title victory over champion Eddie Alvarez. His title was subsequently stripped at UFC223 due to inactivity which enabled Nurmagomedov and Iaquinta to do battle for the vacant title.
During his time away from the sport, McGregor took part in a high profile boxing bout against ring legend Floyd Mayweather last August, which saw Mayweather stop the MMA champion and professional boxing debutant in the 10th round of their scheduled 12 round bout.
The biggest controversy surrounding this bout occurred in fight week of UFC 223 where McGregor and his entourage proceeded to attack the bus carrying Khabib at the Barclays Center in Brooklyn, New York. Part of the attack saw McGregor throw a metal trolley which broke a window of the bus, causing numerous bouts to be cancelled for the event.
This controversy has been heavily utilised by the UFC to promote this bout, despite the appalling nature of the incident, which is expected to propel the United States pay-per-view sales in excess of 2 million buys for the event, unchartered territory for the sport and rarefied air in the world of pay-per-view sporting events.
Looking at the contest between the two fighters, reigning champion Khabib will enter the bout a clear $1.62 favourite, with challenger McGregor rated a $2.30 chance.
However, if you have followed any of the pre-fight media coverage of this bout you would think the odds were reversed as many media pundits have been lauding McGregor’s ‘mental warfare’, which was seemingly on display at the first pre-fight press conference on September 20.
As combatants, Nurmagomedov has carved out an outstanding fight resume led by a supreme wrestling and grappling background, which has seen him adept at acquiring takedowns and finishing opponents with devastating ground and pound.
His stand up fighting has been questioned with his defensive capabilities attracting criticism with many pundits speculating it is ripe for the picking by a top level MMA boxer in McGregor.
McGregor, is lauded for his ability to dissect opponents defences when standing up, with quick hands and impeccable timing. His performance against Eddie Alvarez in UFC 205 was that in full flight in a title fight at the Madison Square Garden.
He did the same 12 months prior at UFC 194 when claiming the featherweight world title against Jose Aldo in only 13 seconds, the impact of his left hand reverberating across the world of combat sports.
The main question mark of McGregor is his ability on the ground. One point of reference is his three defeats in the sport coming via submission. This appears the likely road to victory for Khabib, who if he is able to negate the dangerous stand up game of McGregor and land a takedown, the win could be a mere formality for the Russian.
UFC 229 is also complemented by a terrific overall card and in particular, pay-per-view card, which is opened by the strawweight contest between Michelle Waterson (15-6) ($2.05) and Felice Herrig (14-7), the $1.75 favourite.
This will be followed by a heavyweight clash between Derrick Lewis (20-5, 1 No Contest) ($2.41) and $1.57 favourite Alexander Volkov (30-6).
Light heavyweights Dominick Reyes (9-0) and Ovince Saint-Preux (23-11) will then do battle with the undefeated Reyes an overwhelming $1.38 favourite with Saint-Preux available at $3.07.
The co-main event to the promotion is a perfect complement to the main event, with the lightweight bout pitting former interim champion Tony Ferguson (23-3) returning to the octagon who will square up against former champion Anthony Pettis (21-7).
Ferguson was the reigning interim lightweight champion after defeating Kevin Lee at UFC 216 during McGregor’s absence from the sport. However, after injuring himself a week prior to UFC 223 where he was set to fight Khabib for the full version of the UFC lightweight title, his interim champion status was removed.
Pettis held the UFC lightweight title between UFC 164 (claiming the title against Benson Henderson) and UFC 185, where he lost the title to Rafael Dos Anjos.
Ferguson will enter the bout a decisive $1.27 favourite, with Pettis rated a $3.82 underdog.
Despite his relative absence from the top-tier of the division in recent times, Pettis will fancy his chances here against a Tony Ferguson whose return to the octagon has come sooner than originally expected.
Khabib Nurmagomedov v Conor McGregor is a fight that has captivated the imagination in the world of combat sports. The styles of both fighters bodes for an intriguing bout that is difficult to predict.
Both fighters have predictable modes of fighting which they have an ease of duplicating from fight to fight. What has proven more difficult is for their previous opponents to negative their respective modes of attack.
What can be said is that McGregor has tasted defeat before, three times in MMA and most recently in professional boxing. Can these lessons learnt from defeat galvanise him to deliver the performance of his career? Can he overcome a lengthy period of inactivity from this sport, nearly two years?
What also doesn’t attract discussion is McGregor’s mental game when things aren’t going his way. In UFC 196 and against Mayweather, he was perceived to have looked for a way out of the contest. What can’t be denied is that in UFC 202, in his rematch against Nate Diaz, he dug deep in the championship rounds to earn himself a narrow split-decision victory. How will McGregor respond to adversity here?
The Conor McGregor hype train is in full motion and a win here for the Irishman will go down as one of the greatest in the sport’s history.
That being said, Khabib’s mental game has been undersold and provided he can keep his poise come the closing of the cage door, he looks the likely winner here.
As far as method of victory, Khabib to execute his relentless ground and pound game to secure a TKO stoppage.
Suggested Bet: Khabib Nurmagomedov to win in Round 3 @ $8.50
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