Conor McGregor vs Khabib Nurmagovmedov headline the main event Saturday at UFC 229 PPV in Las Vegas.
Return of the King?
The UFC and MMA fans around the world are rejoicing this week as the long 23 month hiatus of the sport’s biggest star will finally end Saturday night in Las Vegas as Conor McGregor makes his return to the octagon headlining UFC 229 PPV. His opponent and ‘current’ 155lbs lightweight champion Khabib Nurmagomedov is an absolute ‘bear’ of a fighter, but make no mistake the excitement, hype, and intrigue of this bout is because of “The Notorious” McGregor. There are a number of other fun fights on this PPV but the promotion could have filled it with unranked no-names and the main event alone is worth your hard-earned PPV dollars. I also bring back the Burger-meter to get fans ready for the few tasty fights on the card. The Burger meter will look at the fight matchup (how good is it, how important, how entertaining) and associate it with its hamburger equal. I’ll breakdown the main card by relating it to its “burger form” and offer some fight predictions to hopefully help your bank accounts. Let’s get to the card
(100% Imported Kobe Beef Burger): Ridiculously luxurious & best of the best
Lightweight Title Fight
Khabib “The Eagle” Nurmagomedov (Champion) vs Conor “The Notorious” McGregor (#1 Contendner) (Lightweight Championship 155lbs)
Preview: It does not get better than this in MMA, period. The biggest star, first two division champion, and all-time great fighter McGregor making his return to the Octagon vs a merciless, undefeated champion looking to legitimize his claim as the best 155lbs fighter alive. Sprinkle in a dash of tribalism: Ireland vs Russia and a feud stemming from the now infamous ‘dolly hurled at a bus incident’; gives fans a recipe for a potential all-time great fight. The most exciting part of this fight however is once you breakdown how much of a clash between two men at the elite levels of polar opposite fighting styles. McGregor is the quintessential highlight reel striker with the rare combination of speed, footwork, and power to hurt his opponents with not only his hands but his feet too. Nurmagomedov unlike McGregor prefers to destroy his opponents with his superior wrestling as he smothers and smashes them from a dominant position. The first round is going to answer some fascinating questions as to whether McGregor has shored up his take down defense to keep Khabib in his domain or can Nurmagomedov’s chin and standup defense can withstand an assault from a world-class striker. McGregor’s gas tank has always been a little bit of an issue as his work rate in the early rounds is so high he has a tendency to slow down if opponents can get him in the later rounds. We saw him struggle at times in his fights against Nate Diaz and his foray into boxing against Floyd Mayweather. Conor has a tendency to load up on his strikes making him a devastating striker but someone who struggles with how to keep his work rate from gassing out his cardio. Nurmagomedov’s style is one that grinds and wears out his opponents along the cage& mat which forces his opponents to expand lots of energy in defending Nurmagomedov’s mauling takedowns. Khabib is right around 50% takedown success rate; so McGregor knows even if he stuffs one or two tries, there will be a third, fourth, and fifth coming for the entire fight unless he can make him pay. This leads me to think we can expect to see an aggressive McGregor from the opening bell. He knows he cannot afford to have his cardio drained off his back in the first couple rounds when he is at his most dangerous. McGregor showed in open workouts this week, several counter-combinations meant to punish Nurmagomedov’s takedowns. He used a lot of uppercuts and step back flying knees to counter a wrestler attempting to change levels or shoot for his legs. These counters are both high risk and high reward because if McGregor does not time it correctly he’ll be flat on his back with a monster on top of him but if he connects fans could get treated to another ‘Aldo-like’ knockout or stoppage. Michael Johnson had some success against Nurmagomedov in the first round as he took a minute to get used to Johnson’s speed and power. The two biggest wild cards in this fight are: how much ring rust will McGregor’s long absence outside of the octagon affect him & will Nurmagovmedov’s thin resume of fighting top-tier fighters have him struggle vs the best opponent of his career? I suspect we will get answers to those questions in that first 5 minutes of round 1.
Odds: Nurmagomedov (-165) vs McGregor (+145)
Prediction: How the heck do you pick against an undefeated fighter and one of the greatest MMA fighters of all-time? I wish I could say there is some scientific method that would give me an accurate picture but if I’m being honest either man winning is not going to shock me nor should it shock anyone watching. In such a toss-up fight I try to find like opponents, how fighters fared against similar style their opponent will bring, and intangibles like emotion, big stage, or poor weight cuts that may affect a fighter’s mental state or game plan once he enters the octagon. There is no question McGregor is the master of pre-fight trash talk; the Muhammad Ali of the MMA hype world. McGregor has gone about his psychological warfare similar to his bout with Jose Aldo, trying to provoke or get a reaction from the usually reserved Nurmagomedov. Similar to Aldo, Nurmagomedov has a deeply held country & religious pride that McGregor has chipped away at insult by insult. He appeared to finally upset the reserved Khabib at their first press conference getting him to respond back to McGregor’s insults with some anger of his own. Some fans may call it trolling, or disrespectful but Conor’s insults serve a purpose. He wants Nurmagomedov angry and aggressive. Nurmagomedov like Aldo is a methodical fighter but if he’s looking to punish McGregor like he claims he will now do this could lead to an opening if he tries to get too aggressive just like Aldo. I also like that McGregor put his foot down about not having to promote in a cross continent tour like so many of his previous fights. This lets me know that he understands he’s fighting the toughest opponent of his career and he wants his focus on the fight & not the promotion. The 23 month absence from the Octagon & Conor’s takedown defense or lack thereof are my biggest concerns with picking ‘The Notorious’ one. My concerns with Khabib are his resume or lack thereof. Some of this is Nurmagomedov’s own fault due to his inability to make weight multiple times and some of this is just bad luck of having to fight last second replacement fighters due to unfortunate injuries vs tougher opponents. His best and really only legit champion level type victory came four years ago vs a then prime Rafael Dos Anos in a close but relatively uneventful unanimous decision victory. McGregor is the best he’s ever faced and that’s a tough thing to mentally prepare for in the biggest fight of his career. Is he mentally prepared to recover from an early blast from Conor that buckles his legs? Does his chin hold up against a barrage of punches or knees? How does his weight cut go? A man of history of missing or having tough cuts could potentially play a factor in how he enters the cage Saturday night. Also, the rumors of Khabib potentially retiring if he wins the fight have me worried about how mentally is he engaged for this fight if he’s already contemplating retiring? In the end the analysis is very simple and everyone knows it; if Khabib can take Conor down it’s a long & painful defeat for McGregor. If McGregor can stay on his feet Khabib is in a world of hurt and could get stopped against a world-class striker. I’ve been wrong picking against McGregor in the past both in his first fight with Nate Diaz and his win over a young Max Holloway; I’m not going to let him do it a third time by picking against him. I think we get a special kind of finish late in the first round after he catches an overly aggressive Khabib. A McGregor win will solidify his legacy as one of the two or three best MMA fighters to ever walk this earth. The king has returned, long live the king!
(McGregor by KO or TKO (+145)) / Bonus Play Over 2.5 rounds (+100)
(In& Out): Lives up to the Hype & always worth it
Tony “El Cucuy” Ferguson (2nd) vs Anthony “Showtime” Pettis (Lightweight 155lbs)
Preview: In a fun fight that has kind of gone unnoticed as the lead in to the tremendous main event fans will get Tony Ferguson vs Anthony Pettis. Ferguson who is making his return after a freak knee injury costing him his shot as Khabib likely feels he not Khabib should get to fight McGregor if his luck was different. Instead, Ferguson gets a tough top 10 fighter looking to make one last run towards the top 5 in Anthony Pettis. Ferguson should have the advantage against Pettis both on the ground but also in how he’s able to pressure a precision striker like Pettis who has a tendency to get uncomfortable fighting aggressive opponents who don’t let him find a rhythm in his bouts. Pettis isn’t intimidated by Ferguson and will likely want to test how Tony’s surgically repaired knee holds up in the early rounds giving him an opportunity to damage or find that rhythm to his striking he needs when he’s successful in the Octagon. However, he will have to find away around Ferguson’s 4 inch reach advantage and get his opponents respect early to keep from winding up on the mat or against the cage. I think Ferguson may try to put on a show or statement to the UFC about why he should get the winner of the main event. Feguson typically fights aggressive and angry to begin with so this isn’t anything new for him style-wise. The only major question mark is his surgically repaired knee. Ferguson is 34 years old coming back relatively quickly off a major knee surgery to fight a very skilled striker who can move very well around the Octagon. If his knee has made him a step slower or causes him issues in the fight it could end up being a nightmare return to the Octagon for El Cucuy.
Odds: Ferguson (-330) vs Pettis (+270)
Prediction: Ferguson believes that belt at 155lbs is rightfully his despite not actually fighting for it on Saturday night. I expect him to come out looking to make a statement against Pettis. If Tony is completely healthy I think he finds a way to submit Pettis in the 2nd or 3rd round. (Ferguson by submission (+175))
(Home Cooked Burger): Solid, reliable, and hits the spot
Derrick “The Black Beast” Lewis (2nd) vs Alexander “Drago” Volkov (5th) (Heavyweight): This is my sneaky pick for fight of the night bonus if McGregor vs Nurmagomedov is a one-sided affair. Two big powerful heavyweights who can take what they give will go toe to toe until one of them can’t take it anymore. Volkov remains undefeated since joining the UFC and has only gotten better in his four fights leading to a huge knockout victory over Fabricio Werdum only 5 months ago. Derrick Lewis is looking to get another chance at a title shot as he looks to rebound from a disappoint win vs Francis Ngannou. While he won the fight, both men were ridiculed for their lack of activity in an extremely boring fight. Lewis knows he can’t expect a boring decision win against a man like Volkov, so I expect some big time fireworks from this fight.
Prediction: I can easily see both men being wobbled or in trouble at times during this fight. However, I’ll take the younger Volkov who appears brimming with confidence and has more ways to win than Derrick Lewis who really needs to knock his opponent out to win. (Volkov to win -183 via late TKO stoppage)
Ovince Saint Preux (7th) vs Dominick “The Devastator” Reyes (12th):
I know why they put this fight on the main card, to get Reyes eye balls as a young up & coming 205lbs fighter. The Light heavyweight division is so empty now the promotion is trying to find new blood and I understand it. However, I just would have preferred to see him against a more interesting opponent than OSP. The promotion likely wants a highlight reel KO or finishing and they’ll likely get one here so it’s not a bad fight for fans.
Prediction: Reyes is the hot prospect at 205lbs and OSP is now a gatekeeper for the division. (Reyes by KO)
Michelle “The Karate Hottie” Waterson (8th) vs Felice “Lil Bulldog” Herrig (9th) (Women’s Strawweight 115lbs):
This is a fun scrap between two 115lbs strawweight’s who likely will never challenge for a belt but always come ready to fight and can win in many ways. Michelle Waterson is one of the more versatile strikers for the women’s division but struggles at times with women who crowd her along the cage or force her to work off her back. Felice Herrig doesn’t do anything elite but does a lot of things well making her a tough draw for anyone she faces. I anticipate a back and forth fight between these two likely ending in a very close split or razor-thin unanimous decision.
Prediction: I like that Waterson can score with her strikes and keep her distance from Herrig who will have to walk through shots to get her hands on Waterson. (Waterson to win +110 by Decision)
(Waffle House Burger): It won’t kill you but high quality it is not
(Gas Station Burger): Hello darkness my old friend
Prediction Record since 2016 to Date (72-49-1) (+$1640.50)
- Record & predictions based on Win vs Loss predictions only. Unless specified otherwise I use increments of $100 (for + odds predictions) & $110 (for – odds bets) as hypothetical wagers for each prediction.
- Predictions & Records are for entertainment value only
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- Stats provided from http://UFC.COM & http://www.fightmetric.com/
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