Conventional wisdom states that if Conor McGregor beats Khabib Nurmagomedov, it’ll be via knockout, sometime early in their UFC lightweight title fight. If it goes late, Nurmagomedov is bound to win by TKO, submission or decision. That’s what pundits have been saying.
Al Iaquinta, on the other hand, is not sure if that’s how the UFC 229 main event will really play out Oct. 6 in Las Vegas. As someone who has been in the Octagon with Nurmagomedov, Iaquinta isn’t really embracing the scenarios that outsiders are.
“The worst-case scenario, I think [Nurmagomedov] takes a few shots from Conor and just keeps coming forward,” Iaquinta told MMA Fighting. “I mean, Conor obviously has the power to put him out, but I don’t know. Does he? I think a lot of people think he does, because he’s knocked a lot of people out, but Khabib is tough. He sees things, he’s got a little awkward style, which is different. It’s tough to adjust to, because it’s so different, standup-wise.”
Nurmagomedov beat Iaquinta by unanimous decision at UFC 223 in April. The bout was initially supposed to be Nurmagomedov against Tony Ferguson for the lightweight title in Brooklyn, but Ferguson injured his knee a week out of the planned encounter. Max Holloway, the UFC’s featherweight champion, stepped in, only to be forced to withdraw due to a bad weight cut on the eve of the card.
So, in stepped Iaquinta, who was supposed to fight Felder at UFC 223. Iaquinta took the fight with Nurmagomedov on about 24 hours notice. The Long Island, N.Y., native wishes he had a standard amount of time to prepare for someone the caliber of Nurmagomedov.
“I think if I have a full training camp, it’s a totally different ball game,” Iaquinta said. “Totally different.”
While Iaquinta doesn’t think it’ll be impossible for McGregor to win at UFC 229, he still leans heavily toward Nurmagomedov — and a finish for the Dagestani.
“I think he could just get after him,” Iaquinta said of Nurmagomedov. “Get after him, keep the pressure on him. Conor, he’s quit before. He’s given up. Against Diaz, it gets a little later rounds. I think he’s a pretty fighter. If the fight is pretty and it’s going good for him … [Chad] Mendes took that fight on no notice. He had zero in the gas tank going into that fight. If it’s five rounds of that, I think Conor is finding a way out.”
Iaquinta, 31, was hoping to fight Ferguson, Anthony Pettis, or Kevin Lee next. Ferguson and Pettis are now booked against each other at UFC 229, which leaves Lee. ESPN’s Ariel Helwani reported this week that the UFC has discussed Iaquinta vs. Lee for later in the year.
No matter what happens, Iaquinta believes his stock would be raised if he does better against Nurmagomedov than McGregor does. So, for that reason “Raging Al” is rooting for Nurmagomedov to win in violent fashion.
“I hope he does,” Iaquinta said. “It would look good for me — if he beats the shit out of him more than he beat the shit out of me on a day’s notice. It’d look real good. So, I hope Khabib f*cking knocks his ass out, makes him quit and rearranges his face like he says he’s gonna do. I think it’s gonna happen — I hope it happens.”
With his first-hand knowledge, Iaquinta thinks McGregor is going to have a tough road. It won’t be an easy first-round knockout, Iaquinta believes.
“Khabib has been in there with [Edson] Barboza,” Iaquinta said. “I hit people, I’ve hit everybody. I had a tough time hitting him, and when I did hit him, it didn’t have much of an effect on him. He’s got a different style. Like, Dustin Poirier has more of a conventional boxing style. When someone is doing conventional things, you kind of know what’s coming. With Khabib, it’s a little different.”