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UFC 229: Khabib Nurmagomedov vs. Conor McGregor staff predictions

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The Bloody Elbow staff has submitted its predictions for UFC 229: Khabib vs. McGregor, and because this is a major show, we’ve divided these posts to main event, main card, and preliminary card. This one is dedicated solely to the main event. Khabib Nurmagomedov may be the betting favorite, but the BE staff is leaning towards Conor McGregor winning back the UFC lightweight title. Of note is the fact that Fraser Coffeen believes this fight will go the distance.

Note: Predictions are entered throughout the week and collected the day before the event. Explanations behind each pick are not required and some writers opt not to do so for their own reasons. For example, if Phil Mackenzie entered all of his predictions on Wednesday without adding in any explanations, he has no idea if he’s going to be the only one siding with one fighter for any given fight.

Khabib Nurmagomedov vs. Conor McGregor

Anton Tabuena: Most talking points seem to be centered on “Striking vs Grappling” but I believe the bigger factor here would be cardio vs chin. With the gap in their striking games, McGregor will probably land his share of strikes, so the bigger question to me is can Khabib’s defense and durability hold up not if, but when that happens? McGregor’s distance management helps his (underrated) takedown defense, and he will surely be able stuff a couple takedowns. But Khabib doesn’t care if his first attempt is stopped, he will pressure and he will relentlessly chain those takedowns. Can McGregor survive with that pace as he stuffs takedown after takedown? Can he immediately stand up and scramble the moment he gets put down, while also finding his spots to use his footwork and timing to land quality shots? He’s shown dips in cardio even in bouts that he was controlling, so will he be able to keep that up against this style? Will Khabib’s chin hold up until that possible dip? Tough to tell with complete certainty, but I’m leaning with the former champ regaining his belt. Khabib normally takes a while before he can get people down in the opening rounds, and I think that’s very dangerous spot to be in against McGregor. I think he uses his footwork and will get some good shots in. Khabib has shown durability, but I’m guessing like everyone else not named Diaz, his chin eventually fails him before that predictable dip in cardio happens. Conor McGregor by TKO.

Mookie Alexander: I’ve only picked against McGregor in the Mendes and second Diaz fight. Everyone else inside the Octagon has been a Conor win for me. I was pretty confident Khabib would win even after the Iaquinta fight, but stewing it over and giving it more thought, I’m leaning towards McGregor. In some ways the fight does have a two-way outcome that’s largely dependent on how the opening round goes. Either Khabib gets his takedown and puts a hurtin’ on McGregor that takes a lot out of him and saps that power threat, rendering the rest of this fight somewhat inevitable, or McGregor outstrikes him, hurts Nurmagomedov, and forces him into bad decisions and potentially sloppy takedowns that Conor can stuff. Contrary to popular belief, McGregor is not a horrible defensive wrestler, nor is he a hopeless grappler. He’s better on the ground than many may think, it’s just that it’s hard to see him coping with Khabib’s strength and positional dominance, combined with that ground-and-pound. However, Khabib relies heavily on the fence to operate. That’s a big deal to me, as I think McGregor will be the one looking to stand his ground and use his footwork to make things more difficult for Khabib to just freight train him. In space, McGregor has a much better chance of getting his offense to flow and his combinations to string together. Khabib is not a terrible defensive striker or really an awful offensive one, but he’s not very good in either respect and can often be sloppy.

I think McGregor is aware that he has a 10-12 minute window to win this fight, and he’s going to make the most of it. We’ve never really seen Khabib deal with real adversity, whereas McGregor has on multiple occasions. If Khabib handles it well then fair play to him, but I think he’ll leave himself too vulnerable in striking exchanges, and those few moments are all McGregor needs to put you away. I wouldn’t be surprised if this fight played out similarly to McGregor vs. Mendes 2, and that means Conor McGregor by TKO, round 2.

Ram Gilboa: The general wisdom seems to be, this is pretty much a binaric fight; either McGregor times and significantly tags Khabib early, and capitalizes on that, or the Irish is in for a pretty hard night. The divide seems to be on which of these two outcomes is more likely to transpire. I agree. It’s going to be McGregor early, or Khabib a bit later. Khabib isn’t here to stand one unnecessary second, and I don’t think McGregor is athletic enough to stuff the Dagestani takedowns, with anything other than a cosmic punch, or savvy and durable enough to survive under him for full five rounds. So, probably, in most of the universes out there Khabib Nurmagomedov by submission, round 2.

Fraser Coffeen: As I type this, the score is 7-2 McGregor, which I must admit gives me pause. I anticipated most going with Khabib because history has shown us that it’s easier to get the takedowns then it is to consistently stuff them. And nothing in McGregor’s game has shown me he can consistently stuff them. But 3 fights keep coming to mind. 1) McGregor vs. Aldo, which tells me McGregor can end this suddenly. 2) McGregor vs. Mendes, which tells me the same thing, and that McGregor can get that KO even after being outwrestled for a bit. 3) Silva vs. Sonnen I, which tells me that a great striker can get taken down and dominated (I’m ignoring Silva’s last second Hail Mary win here, because I don’t see that being a viable path to McGregor victory). So which of those 3 is most relevant here? I had come in thinking it was McGregor vs. Mendes, but have convinced myself it’s actually Silva vs. Sonnen. Khabib Nurmagomedov, Dec

Tim Burke: I always pick against Conor and I’m always wrong. I am still deeply hurt by what he did to Jose Aldo. This time though, I’m…picking against him. Mauling time! EMBRACE THE GRIND! Khabib Nurmagomedov, submission, round 4

Lewis McKeever: “I showed you my hands. No weapons. The first thing I did when I showed up at the bus was I showed him my hands to let him know, ‘I come here unarmed. No weapons.”

This one is personal. It should have been settled on the street. Conor McGregor launched a dolly through the window of a bus, all because Khabib intimidated Artem Lobov in a hotel. No one beats the Irish. Don’t expect Artem Lobov to sit by whilst Khabib attacks his teammate on Saturday night. All hell will break loose inside that Octagon. Khabib Nurmagomedov, DQ.

Eddie Mercado: Khabib overreacts to strikes routinely, and Conor is a master of feinting you into his left hand. Conor is by far the heaviest puncher and arguably the most precise striker that Khabib has faced to date. This is the most important factor in this fight for me with everything else coming second. Conor McGregor by KO in rounds 1 or 2

Victor Rodriguez: It seems to me that the larger problem for Khabib will be setting up his approach to bodylocks and chaining takedowns. Sure, he can use all the feints he wants, but there’s not much flimflam he can kick out that McGregor won’t be ready for. Also, he knows that’s the obvious way for Khabib to impose his will, and will have trained to react to takedown attempts from inside of striking range off of punches. But McGregor can only keep the fight at mid-range and shuck off takedowns for so long. For as much as I believe in his ability to drop Khabib and put him to sleep, Khabib is one of the smartest fighters out there, and everyone he’s faced has had a hard time dealing with the consistent pressure of one takedown entry turning into another and yet another. That’s where eventually a lot of people will probably get this wrong. Conor’ has to keep this at range, but has to also conserve his energy against a guy that doesn’t really need to pace himself as much and runs a relentless grappling game with exceptional top pressure and a good chin. I kind of want to see Conor win, because all fights start standing and it makes sense that he catch Khabib early enough with heavy off-beat punches. I gotta go with the grinder that happens to pose the worst stylistic matchup for him until now. Khabib Nurmagomedov by TKO via ground strikes, round 4.

Staff picking Khabib: Ram, Dayne, Fraser, Tim, Lewis, Victor
Staff picking McGregor: Bissell, Nick, Harry, Mookie, Phil, Stephie, Anton, Eddie

Poll

Khabib or Conor – Who wins the UFC 229 main event?

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    Khabib by stoppage

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    McGregor by stoppage

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    Khabib by decision

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    McGregor by decision

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    Draw/NC/DQ

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