He’s been out of the Octagon for almost two years and MMA has missed him massively but now Conor McGregor is back and he’s taking on the pound-for-pound most feared champion Khabib Nurmagomedov. Conor is aiming to be considered one the best ever and Khabib is shooting for superstardom.
Supporting the main event is the fight to become the next challenger to the lightweight crown between Tony Ferguson and Anthony Pettis, the heavyweight humdinger between Derrick Lewis and Alexander Volkov, and veteran light heavy Ovince Saint Preux against rising star Dominick Reyes.
KHABIB v McGREGOR
There’s been no world tour and no build-up bonanza because Conor decided he didn’t want to, but when the lightweight rivals finally came together at last week’s press conference it was clear that McGregor has been storing up all of his crazy chat.
It was reminiscent of when Muhammad Ali scared the bejesus out of Sonny Liston by acting insane, and like that episode I think McGregor’s act was pure performance – including swigging the Proper No. 12 (other whiskey brands are available).
Whether some of the press conference was lost in translation or not, Khabib only started to get mildly irritated towards the end and Paddy keeps the Dagestani as a fairly strong 8/13 favourite.
Khabib’s 26 pro wins is the longest unbeaten streak in MMA and every opponent so far has been absolutely mauled. The SAMBO MMA style based on judo and wrestling was taught to him by his old man when he was still in nappies and Nurmagomedov Sr remains his head coach.
‘The Eagle’ has the UFC record of 21 takedowns in one contest – and that fight was only a three rounder – but ‘Mystic Mac’ will be aiming to walk Khabib on to something, and he’s got the power to finish it with one blow.
Two-weight champion Conor has won by KO in rounds 1-2 in six of his last seven contests, and that result is priced at 9/4 this time, while current owner of the lightweight gold Khabib has been victorious on points in five of his last seven, and that can be backed at 9/2.
Khabib knows that all three of McGregor’s losses have been by submission and that the Irishman has only completed three rounds or more on two occasions. If the ‘beast from the east’ paces the fight right and avoids getting caught he will think he can submit Conor late.
Because ‘The Notorious’ has such a phenomenal KO ratio the rest of his game gets overlooked. He’s been a pro over 10 years now and he’s a student of MMA, and that has resulted in a great takedown defence and excellent mat skills when he needs them.
You needn’t worry about McGregor’s ring-rust or motivation after becoming a bazillionaire, or even if he’s gone a bit doolally – Conor has been orchestrating a way to win the biggest bout in MMA history for months and it was a masterful stroke to force the fight at eight weeks notice against a guy who struggles to make weight.
I think the first few rounds could begin tentatively and that’ll mean there’s little time to squeeze out a finish. #WhatOddsPaddy has a great bet for all punters but I think it’s going into the later rounds, when the Irish southpaw’s excellent control of distance will position him to drill a frustrated Khabib.
Bet of the bout: McGregor KO in round 4 at 25/1
FERGUSON v PETTIS
The UFC know how to build a story and having the high level lightweight bout between Ferguson and Pettis as the co-main provides a nice little subplot for the headline fight – while also providing a fit and firing replacement if one of the main protagonists pulls out.
Ferguson and Khabib have already been scheduled to fight a whopping four times before, twice for the title, but almost all conceivable, and inconceivable, issues have stopped them from meeting.
In the last six years Ferguson might be the most improved competitor in the UFC and he’s on an impressive 10 fight winning streak. On the opposite side of the Octagon is the returning-to-form former champ Pettis.
Both are slick strikers and wizards on the canvas, and I don’t think that Ferguson deserves his big favourite tag after 12 months of inactivity and looking dead at the weight. I am backing Pettis to win – which would be a huge upset and, more importantly, return me 11/4 on my money.
Another contest with both men ranked in the top ten of their division is Lewis-Volkov. Derrick ‘The Black Beast’ Lewis is determined to take on and take out the best in the heavyweight division, while Volkov has the size and the skills, and at 29 he’s still improving.
The Russian’s weaknesses are that he doesn’t really possess one-punch power and he gets tagged too often. Lewis might take a few but I expect him to switch off Volkov in round 2 at 7/1.
For Reyes his contest with Saint Preux is the litmus test. The young American is unbeaten in nine bouts and if can win he’s on his way to the top of the rankings in double-quick time. The trouble for Reyes is that OSP still has lots to give. The skills are quite equally matched in this one and I am sitting on the fence by backing the fight to go the distance at 7/2.
*All odds correct at time of posting
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