HYDEN BLOG: Early thoughts on Nurmagomedov vs. McGregor

Frank Hyden, mmatorch contributor

Conor McGregor (photo credit Adam Hunger © USA Today)

In what will surely be the biggest event of the year for the UFC, Conor McGregor makes his return as he faces lightweight champion Khabib Nurmagomedov at UFC 229 on October 6, 2018.

They’re already billing this as a Hollywood-style blockbuster, The Lord of the Cage: The Return of the King. Or something like that, it’s too early to get too hyped up for this fight. A lot can happen between now and UFC 229, especially considering Nurmagomedov’s past injury history. I’m extremely pumped for this fight and I can’t wait for it, but I can’t let myself get too excited for it just yet. I want to, but I’m trying to stop myself.

Nurmagomedov is undefeated with a record of 26-0. Ten of his wins have come in the UFC, two by TKO, two by submission, and six by decision. He’s a wrestling machine who blankets his opponents and grinds them down to a nub. He has seemed nearly unstoppable.

He’s facing a man whose record is 21-3. McGregor also has ten fights in the UFC, seven wins by TKO, two by decision, and one loss. He’s the former featherweight and lightweight champion, holding both belts simultaneously. He’s done some amazing things in the cage and his presence alone will bring in more attention than Nurmagomedov has ever had to deal with. I don’t think that will even really be an issue, though.

The biggest issue for Nurmagomedov is going to be the one-punch knockout power McGregor has. The trash talking and head games, the bravado and showmanship, that stuff affects people in moments of mental weakness.

Considering the injury history of Nurmagomedov and how much time he spent rehabbing injuries, I doubt he’s going to be affected by the talking and boasting of McGregor.

That power, though, that is a major issue. That’s why I think this fight could end up being monumentally boring and disappointing. Nurmagomedov is going to look to take McGregor down and keep him there. He’s not going to stand and trade with him, that would be lunacy, especially considering how good his wrestling is.

This fight comes down to something very simple. Nurmagomedov is going to try to take McGregor down as quickly as he can and keep him there, and McGregor is going to try to stuff the takedown and knock him out. That’s the goal, everyone involved knows this. It’s easier said than done on both sides, but that will surely be the main objective. McGregor has good enough takedown defense that he could stymy Nurmagomedov a few times and knock him out. Nurmagomedov has good enough wrestling that he could take McGregor down and pound him out or blanket him for five rounds.

I favor Nurmagomedov just a bit in this fight because he’s been so dominant, but how can you pick against McGregor?

McGregor has made a habit out of defying expectations and making the seemingly impossible possible. And that left hand is fully capable of shutting off the lights and making this a quick fight.

Nurmagomedov doesn’t have the technical striking that McGregor does, or the footwork, the head movement, etc. This is your classic wrestler vs. striker fight so they each must be careful.

Nurmagomedov needs to be aggressive with his takedowns so he doesn’t get lit up on the feet, but he can’t be reckless, or he’ll get put to sleep. McGregor needs to be careful to not overextend and get out of position or else he’ll get taken down and mauled.

This is an incredibly intriguing fight. Not just because of what could happen inside the cage, though that’s obviously the main reason, but also because of the buildup and potential buyrate of the card.

The UFC will surely promote this as the biggest challenge McGregor has ever faced, giving Nate Diaz another thing to complain about as well as causing boxing purists to snort in derision.

Nurmagomedov has never tasted defeat in MMA, McGregor has never refrained from trash talking his opponents and guaranteeing victory and making sure his swag level is over 9000, so we’re in for a treat.

This is going to be one of the biggest fights in MMA history. My initial thoughts are that this card does break the buyrate record. McGregor hasn’t been in a UFC cage in two years, so anticipation will be high for his return. He’s fighting an undefeated opponent who’s been incredibly dominant, and recent UFC pay-per-views haven’t been doing great buyrates.

I’ve been on record many times talking about how poorly I believe the UFC has been at promoting their fighters and building interest. There’s been a lot of fantastic fights that should have drawn way more than they did, and I blame the UFC for that.

Well, that’s not going to matter this time. McGregor will do the UFC’s job for them and promote the hell out of this fight, any by proxy he’ll be promoting the hell out of himself. So even when they drop the ball, as they inevitably do (see the recent Till-Woodley poster for proof of that, or the utter lack of buildup for Demetrious Johnson vs. Henry Cejudo 2, and on and on and on) McGregor will be there to pick it up and score a touchdown for them.

October 6th can’t come soon enough.

NOW READ THIS: HYDEN BLOG: The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly from UFC 227

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