As UFC 229 fast approaches, discussions surrounding the potential outcome of the main event between Conor McGregor and Khabib Nurmagomedov have intensified. Fight fans seem to be split into two ardent and opposing groups. One group believes that McGregor will land his patented left to end the fight, while the other group maintain that Nurmagomedov will take McGregor down and dominate him.
For the second theory to be correct, we must assume that McGregor’s grappling isn’t up to scratch. But what do we really know about McGregor’s ground game?
Since all of McGregor’s defeats have came via submission, it is easy to label his ground game as a weak spot and it is something that McGregor has been eager to remedy in his career. In this article, we will examine the coaches tasked with getting McGregor’s grappling on point ahead of his match with Khabib.
The man at the helm of team McGregor and SBG Ireland is John Kavanagh. Long before McGregor was a star, Kavanagh stumbled into Matt Thornton, the head of SBG, in a strip club in South Africa. It was this chance encounter that would lay the foundations of what would eventually become SBG Ireland, but Kavanagh’s grappling steel would be forged on the mats in Ireland in grueling sessions with Irish MMA stalwarts which included Dave Roche, Peter Lavery and Andy Ryan. They would go on to form Team Ryano later in his career.
As an athlete, Kavanagh peaked in MMA and had some decent success in competitive grappling, which was highlighted by a European title at purple belt. In all honesty, Kavanagh’s personal record is not that remarkable, but as a coach his students have always excelled. Gunnar Nelson is one of the most gifted grapplers in Europe and young athletes like Lee Hammond and Joey Breslin have made it to the podium at a number of major tournaments.
In MMA, SBG fighters such as Paddy Holohan and Aisling Daly have excelled as submission stylists. While following the UK MMA scene over the last decade, I have rarely seen a SBG fighter without a strong positional grappling game.
Sergey is the man with the unenviable task of preparing McGregor to wrestle with Khabib. Pikulskiy has been a part of team SBG for 10 years and is instrumental in preparing Conor, while finding suitable training partners for the Irishman to hone his wrestling skills with.
Pikulskiy hails from the (barely) landlocked nation of Moldova and has wrestled since an early age in one of the toughest wrestling areas in the world. Sergey is well versed in both Greco-Roman and Freestyle wrestling, where his competitive career culminated with a seven-year stint on the Moldovan national team. As wrestling coach at SBG Ireland, Pikulskiy has been a key factor in recruiting an array of talented Eastern European wrestlers to make the trip to Ireland and enrich SBG’s wrestling ecosystem.
Soccer has Pele, basketball has Michael Jordan, and jiu jitsu has Marcelo Garcia. The fact that Danis received his black belt from one of the greatest grapplers ever should be testament enough to his skills, but Danis’ grappling acumen exceeds that what you would expect from a normal black belt. Danis has won the Nogi Pan American Champions in his division and in the absolute class, along with winning the World Championships in the gi and nogi.
Danis is legitimately one of the top ten guys in the world in his weight class at submission grappling and his abilities will be truly invaluable in preparing McGregor for his fight with Nurmagomedov. Danis’ ability to create scrambles could be an important tool for McGregor to incorporate into his game ahead of his fight at UFC 229.
In reality, McGregor’s team are solid and well equipped to prepare for most grapplers. The problem with Khabib is that he is not most grapplers. So far nobody has really been able to deal with Nurmagomedov’s grappling, so all eyes will be on team McGregor to see if they have prepared their man to deliver Khabib his first ever loss.
UFC 229 goes down this Saturday, October 6th, in Las Vegas, NV.