The UFC hosted its 25th anniversary press conference on Friday afternoon, where they announced their upcoming schedule, as well as a number of main events moving forward. At the end of the event, a bombshell announcement – Khabib Nurmagomedov will defend his lightweight title against former champion Conor McGregor at UFC 229 in Las Vegas on October 6th. The bout is unquestionably one of, if not the biggest fight in the history of the sport.
To say that the lightweight division has been in shambles during the Irishman’s near two-year absence would be putting it mildly. Following the circus that was Mayweather-McGregor, there were questions as to whether McGregor would ever step foot inside the Octagon again. Let’s not forget, he collected a modest $100 million for the bout, so why bother getting punched in the face by the murderer’s row in the lightweight division?
The UFC booked the highly anticipated bout between interim champion Tony Ferguson and Khabib in Brooklyn at UFC 223 for the undisputed title, in an attempt to right the ship.
That went well… Right?
Khabib would ultimately claim gold that weekend after defeating Al Iaquinta, a short-notice replacement.
Ferguson was stripped of his interim strap and began his lengthy rehabilitation process. As for Conor, there were some things he needed to clear up before putting on the 4 oz. gloves again.
Still with me? Have I lost you yet? If not, congratulations! Your reward? The fight between Khabib and Conor is actually happening!
After all the bad blood stemming from the infamous Brooklyn attack, the notion of a Russia vs. Ireland type atmosphere in Sin City, what could possibly be better than that?
We know Khabib is the best lightweight on the planet. There is very little argument against that.
26 fights. 26 victories.
There have been very few moments where the man has even looked remotely vulnerable.
His smothering attack, not to mention his chilling in-fight trash talk is the stuff of legend. The ‘Eagle’, a man who very nearly retired from the sport a few short years ago, now sits atop the mountain, looking down at his adversaries with nothing but laser-like focus. He is cold, calculated, and fearless.
However, he has never faced anybody like Conor McGregor.
Over his five-year UFC run, McGregor has shown an ability to get under an opponent’s skin like no other. He has broken the unbreakable. He earned his first taste of UFC gold by angering the great Jose Aldo so badly, the Brazilian rushed in, and was stopped in an action packed 13 seconds.
He has told the world time and time again that there is no fighter like him. He has backed it up every single time.
If there is any fighter that can get into Nurmagomedov’s head before or during the fight, it is McGregor. Even if he doesn’t pull it off, fans and critics alike are in for a treat during the pre-fight promotion.
McGregor also brings an element of uncertainty to the table. By the time October 6 rolls around, it will have been 694 days since the former two-division champion’s last Octagon appearance.
If one were to go by his Instagram posts during his self-imposed hiatus, it appears as though the young man has been enjoying spending his fortune with his young family.
As the old saying goes, looks can be deceiving.
It’s hard to conceive of a scenario where McGregor, knowing he would ultimately return to the lightweight fold and face such high-level competition would take a fight without staying in the gym. The question isn’t whether he has been in the gym. One year removed from a nine-figure payday, it’s not like he’s coming back because he needs the money. It isn’t even worth discussing.
The real question revolves around the evolution of Conor McGregor. We knew his strengths, we could see his weaknesses (thanks, Nate and Floyd).
There have always been questions surrounding his grappling abilities. Chad Mendes had success early in their contest. Nate Diaz did Nate Diaz like things in their first meeting.
In both the second Diaz fight and the Mayweather fight, cardio became a major factor. Against Diaz, McGregor still managed to pick up a win. He wasn’t so lucky against this generation’s greatest boxer.
What has he done to improve on those aspects of his game, and how will he look to implement those changes against such a dominant grappler in the new champion Khabib?
At the end of the day, nobody has the answers right now. But don’t worry, you aren’t dreaming. This fight is really happening!
Get your popcorn ready, we’re all about to go on one hell of a ride!