All eyes will be on Las Vegas on Oct. 6 when Khabib Nurmagomedov defends his lightweight title against Conor McGregor in the main event of UFC 229.
One interested party who will certainly be watching is MMA legend Georges St-Pierre. Whispers have long linked the former two-division UFC champion to a potential fight against the winner of Nurmagomedov vs. McGregor, and St-Pierre himself has voiced interest in the matchup. Although he has never competed at 155 pounds, St-Pierre recently told MMA Fighting that he is currently hovering around 183 pounds, a walk-around weight lower than many UFC lightweights. And when it comes to UFC 229, St-Pierre expects to see an entertaining affair whose result could reveal itself within the opening stanza.
“It’s going to be early,” St-Pierre told MMA Fighting. “We’re going to see early in the first round what’s going to happen. If Conor can land, it’s going to be crazy, he can cause damage and end the fight early with his big left hand. Everything else is like a setup. All his kicks, all this stuff is a setup. His main weapon is the big left hand. Everything else, the trash talk, the kicks, the punches, it can hurt but it’s all a distraction. The left hand is the one that hurts every time. He’s a sniper. He’s very good at it. Everybody knows but nobody — it’s very rare, the people who have been able to avoid it. And that’s what Khabib needs to do.
“On the other side, if Khabib is able to put Conor on the ground or against the fence and smother him with ground-and-pound, that’s his game. So it’s going to be early. We’ll see in the first half of the first round how the fight goes. It will give up the idea of how the fight will end, I think.”
McGregor has not competed in mixed martial arts since capturing the UFC lightweight title with an effortless victory over Eddie Alvarez in Nov. 2016. The win made him the UFC’s first simultaneous two-division champion and propelled him into a blockbuster boxing match last year against Floyd Mayweather, which McGregor lost via 10th-round TKO. McGregor’s featherweight and lightweight belts have since been stripped, and close to 23 months will have passed between MMA fights for the Irishman once UFC 229 kicks off.
That will mark the longest layoff of McGregor’s Octagon career, but St-Pierre is no stranger to long layoffs himself. The 37-year-old future Hall of Famer returned from a four-year hiatus last November and seized the middleweight title with a stunning victory over Michael Bisping at UFC 217, and St-Pierre believes McGregor is cut from the same kind of cloth when it comes to returning from a lengthy break straight to a high-profile spot.
“I think the pressure will [help],” St-Pierre said. “I perform my best under pressure. I always do. Some people crash, but me, it ignites me. It makes me even better, so I love it. And I think Conor is the same. He does his best under pressure. That’s when he’s [on his game].”
St-Pierre also is curious to see how McGregor’s infamous trash-talking approach affects the normally stoic Nurmagomedov. St-Pierre has dealt with trash-talkers before in past title fights against Nick Diaz and Bisping, but McGregor’s strategy is often to dial things up to the maximum, and St-Pierre is interested to see whether Nurmagomedov will be able to keep his emotions in check once fight night arises.
“Some guys [get affected],” St-Pierre said. “We’ll see how Khabib reacts, whether [it affects] Khabib to disrespect and put pressure on him.
“Jose Aldo made a big mistake when he fought Conor — he rushed him and he opened himself up and he made a mistake, and I thought Conor was able to capitalize very early in the round. So, we’ll see if Khabib will make the same mistake.”