Return Of The King

Daithi O’Donnabhain examines the recently announced UFC bout between Conor McGregor & Khabib Nurmagamedov. 

Irish UFC star Conor McGregor takes on undefeated Lightweight champion Khabib Nurmagamedov on October 6th,at the T-Mobile arena in Las Vegas.

The fight is the culmination of two years of increasing tension. They had to be separated backstage in 2016 when on the same card and Khabib begged Dana White for the fight mid performance. Then earlier this Khabib uploaded a film of himself with a group friends bullying Conor’s friend, training partner Artem Lobov in a New York hotel corridor. After seeing this, Conor flew his own group of friends to NY to confront Khabib, eventually finding him on a bus, and subsequently smashing its windows to get at him. But this isn’t the most interesting part of the match up, its the stark contrast of styles that made the UFC famous, and will make this the largest MMA match ever until Conor's next fight.

Conventional wisdom plus some selective MMA math all combine to make Conor the underdog going into this, after a near two year break from the octagon. He is coming back against someone that under his father's tutelage wrestled bears as a child (there is film online of this) and is so consistent he hasn’t lost a round in the UFC. And the MMA math so favoured of basement dwelling experts is that since Khabib rag dolled the fighter Dos Anjos, who rag dolled Nate Diaz, who once beat Conor, the relation Khabib>Dos Anjos>Nate>Conor should hold as true as Thermodynamic Laws.

For a long while I too thought the fight would go this way because there is such ferocity and domination in Khabib’s style, its hard to see how anyone could withstand it. Perhaps Conor doesn’t need to.

Khabib’s Combat Sambo style is broken up into four main stages, he shoots in, establishes contact, transitions to a body lock/underhook, then some trip to take it to the floor. All this ideally takes place behind the black lines, so if Conor is pushed from the center of the octagon, and is near the fence, Khabibs chances of chaining shooting for a takedown greatly increase.

Khabibs mortality is seen in his standup where he has shockingly low level striking, and his distance control where he lunges at opponents with his chin up unprotected. These two characteristics have been present in every fight he has had in the UFC, but have not been exploited effectively by any opponent, and often the commentary afterwards tends to focus on brutal aesthetic of his grappling.

The title Khabib wears was stripped from Conor for not defending it during his box’n’birth hiatus, he won it in May this year defeating Al Iaquinta, then ranked 15th in the division. This was Khabib's first five round fight, and he laboured the match such that his corner was telling him during every round break to follow his ‘fathers plan’, and not to try and box Iaquinta as he was doing.

In the post-fight interviews he claimed that watching old Muhammad Ali videos that week had convinced him to try and jab his way to victory instead of using the base that got him there. I found an admittance of such petulance shocking, he dropped the game plan devised by his coaches, and turned a mismatch into a unnecessary contest. Not one MMA journalist that I followed queried this, or its implications for his touted discipline, tiramisu aside.

Now that Khabib is champion, his social media contributions since being include being filmed with his entourage encouraging homeless American beggar types to complete exercise drills on the street for money whilst they film and laugh, and berating the youth attending a Dagestani rap concert for the Saudi sounding crime, countering the promotion of public virtue. His issue was that they were there at all, not what they did there. This caused such a backlash from his nominal support base he felt forced to issue some additional quaranic verses as further “authority” for his judgement. For mocking the vulnerable in society, he has yet to be properly confronted about it. No doubt the process would have been expedited if he had been a ‘spray champagne up er gash’ type Western businessman, the type that often frequent the octagons front row perhaps.

For all his ferocity, Khabib doesn’t finish or submit many opponents, seventy percent of his bouts go to decision (compared to Conor’s eighty three percent finish TKO/KO finishes), and only one fight of the night bonus, which doesn’t tally the way he spoken about in the media. He can hit people multiple times while riding them, but his strength is not that fast twitch muscle type for explosive, short, concussive bursts. Or maybe he has pillow hands? Before writing this, I thought back to the bear wrestling videos. Have we been missing stuff there too in our bid to make ourselves part of something: the witness to a Russian beast? Now it seems clearer, the bear's teeth have been pulled, and its claws blunted, there is no risk to the young Khabib in that match. He fought an opponent beaten before the match started.

Khabib boasts he will re-arrange Conor's face, that he wants to punish him for five rounds and will shoot for a hundred take downs until one works on Conor. But in his hubris he forgets he needs to be conscious after the first one to do so. Conor doesn’t need to withstand being grinded for five rounds (I doubt anyone could and still win), he needs to catch Khabib on his entries in. He needs the confidence to commit to shots when Khabib is in range, which he can control with his longer reach. In other words, he just needs to do what he has done in every other fight before this, and he needs Khabib to do the same.

So we ask for nothing more than his usual elegance in despatching this orc back to Mordor.

Daithi O’Donnabhain  is a regular commenter on TPQ.

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Anthony McIntyre

Former IRA prisoner, spent 18 years in Long Kesh. Free Speech advocate, writer, historian, humanist, and researcher.

3 comments to ''Return Of The King"

  1. nice one daithi - u know ur stuff. i think if they were to fight twenty times khabib would win 19 of them. but becuz mcgregor is lucky (as well as talented - dont get me wrong) he will win the first one of those hypothetical 20 fights - which is the one that counts. but saying that, i dont care. he was a shit throwing that trolly at the bus - cud have seriously wounded/maimed one of those fighters - but becuz he is poxy like i mentioned, he got away with it. if i had done that id be in americas toughest jail now sharing a cell with a 20 stone psychopath who dusnt like irish guys.

    saying all that - if he isnt lucky he will get the bating of his life and khabib will turn him into a kebab. either way - mega pay day for conor and thats what makes him happy. and then therell be an offer for a rematch - another 30 million or more. so hats off to him.

  2. grouch, I wouldnt begrudge him making a bit of money, many great fighters who built the sport
    left with just a thankyou, and now have traumatic brain injuries.I hope the money doesnt
    distort it the way it has with football (which I find unwatchable now-too many funny haircuts and dedications to allah)
    In terms of Conor as avatar of implicit Irish identity, its huge, how many have heard the Foggy Dew because he walks to it?

  3. ur right daithi but becuz im a grouchy grudge holding irish bastard i was pissed off with him when he wore the poppy. at the end of the day he's a great entertainer and i get a kick out of him. fair play to him. in one of his first interviews after he joined the ufc he said he was here to make as much money as he can in the shortest possible time and get out before he gets injured. respect. paddy the hooligan houlihan was great too.
    im sure uve seen this before but here is the greatest three minutes of fighting i have ever seen. no one comes close to these two -


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