Earlier this week, we gave you an idea of what it feels like to fight Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) lightweight champion Khabib Nurmagomedov. Heck, I even picked “The Eagle” to retain his crown in the UFC 229 main event, which takes place tomorrow night (Sat., Oct. 6, 2018) inside T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas, Nevada.
So in the interest of fairness, we’ll also take a closer look at how Conor McGregor can usurp the throne from his Dagestani nemesis and recapture the lightweight crown he lost earlier this year as a result of his prolonged inactivity.
After all, it only takes one punch, along with a false sense of security.
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“What was unique about fighting him, something I maybe haven’t felt before, was he has this calmness that kind of hypnotizes you into feeling calm, and safe,” former opponent, Eddie Alvarez, told ESPN.com. “So, rather than going in there and moving like I normally do, I feel his calmness made me feel like, ‘Oh, I’m not in danger. He feels fine, I feel safe.’ He does this good job of hypnotizing you into this relaxed state, and then striking quickly.”
Striking quickly is what led to a 13-second knockout — and the 145-pound title — at the expense of former featherweight champion Jose Aldo, a stunning defeat that legitimized his come-from-behind win over Chad Mendes earlier that year.
“I think Conor is smart,” Mendes told ESPN.com. “Conor knows he’s a good fighter, but I think he also knows he has weaknesses — and by portraying himself as someone who has endless amounts of confidence, it makes those weaknesses fade away to some people. I think he does a very good job of that.”Former opponents will talk about not understanding just how difficult it becomes to grapple with “The Eagle” until he’s inside the cage on top of you, and the same can be said for striking with “Notorious” once the cage door closes.
“Conor’s timing is different, his shots land at a different cadence,” Dustin Poirier told ESPN.com about his UFC 178 loss to the Irishman. “He just has a different timing and a different rhythm. I think what will end up beating Khabib is good scrambling, the ability to threaten with jiu-jitsu off your back to create space and get back up. Awareness, fight IQ. There’s a lot that goes into it.
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McGregor (21-3) has 18 knockouts in 21 wins, including seven under the UFC banner. Nurmagomedov is not the first ground fighter to oppose “Notorious,” as Mendes — a two-time Division-1 NCAA All American — scored four takedowns (with two passes) when they battled at UFC 189 and ended up losing by technical knockout anyway.
Simply put, the former two-division champion has defeated both outstanding strikers and world-class wrestlers. There’s not much Nurmagomedov can show him that he won’t be prepared for, and unfortunately for “The Eagle,” every fight starts on the feet.