Ever so seldom in recent times have we been able to enjoy the circus that is a Conor McGregor fight week. You have to cast your mind back to the 12th November, 2016, when the Irish assassin last stepped foot in the octagon, bludgeoning a below-par Eddie Alvarez to win the UFC Lightweight Championship, thus making him the ‘Champ Champ’.
Since then, we’ve had coaching hijinks in Poland, bus-smashing strops in Brooklyn and threats from the Irish mafia on the head of Mystic Mac. Just a standard couple of years in the life of the biggest star on the UFC roster, and possibly combat sports.
Now, a fresh challenge presents itself in the form of the undefeated Russian grappler Khabib Numagomedov. Having an unprecedented record in MMA, Khabib currently holds an unblemished 26-0 record, disposing of, amongst others, Michael Johnson, Edson Barboza and more recently Al Iaquinta in devastating fashion.
Khabib’s wrestling dominance could prove problematic
The old adage of “styles make fights” could not be any more relevant than this bout, with the classic faceoff between arguably the best grappler in the game against the best striker. McGregor hasn’t faced anyone near the calibre of Khabib when it comes to grappling, close-quarters wrestling and the relentless takedown threat that the Russian offers.
Perhaps only in the Chad Mendes fight have we seen Conor really put to the sword in terms of having to fight off of his back, and despite how that fight ended, comparisons can’t really be made between Mendes and Numagomedov when it comes to wrestling. McGregor has only been taken down six times in his UFC career, with four of them being against Mendes. Khabib is a different animal.
The Russian boasts an average of 5.44 takedowns per 15 minutes, comfortably the highest in the entire UFC, including all weight classes. Despite only landing around 43% of attempted takedowns, the sheer pressure and volume attributed to his persistent style of fighting makes him a nightmare for anyone who wants to stand and bang.
Conor’s KO power has to be considered, but you can’t punch off of your back
There’s no doubt about it, Conor McGregor’s overhand left is one of the most terrifying single techniques in the game. As shown against Marcus Brimage in the infancy of his UFC career, later against Diego Brandao, Dennis Siver, the second fight against Nate Diaz and in the Alvarez fight – it’s devastating when he times it like he does.
Khabib is susceptible to head strikes. He was against a lesser-level of striker in Johnson and he will be against McGregor for short, sustained periods of time when Khabib shoots for takedowns. Conor has landed an average of 2.21 knockdowns per 15 minutes in the octagon, quite a staggering stat. What’s more, is that he’s knocked his opponent down at least once in eight of his last 10 appearances.
That’s all well and good when facing an opponent who believes they can stand and trade with McGregor or is a sloppy wrestler. Khabib is neither of those. I believe that McGregor’s almost two year hiatus from the UFC will play a sizable factor in how this one plays out, and despite McGregor stuffing 73% of takedown attempts, he can’t do it against Khabib.
As we edge closer to the fight, the public and ill-informed punters money will continue to be placed on McGregor, thus shortening his odds and lengthening Khabib’s. At the time of writing, Khabib is best priced $1.62 to win via Bet365. That’s a 4 unit bet if I’ve ever seen one, although we are going hunting for value to accompany it.
As I’m completely split on whether Khabib grabs an arm, takes McGregor’s back or ground and pounds him against the cage – I’m betting 2.5 units on Khabib to win by TKO/KO or Submission at 1.95. I’m also on Khabib to wear and tear McGregor in the first, and then finish him in the second. Second round finish for Khabib is best priced $7 with Unibet – I’ll have 1 unit on that, please.