The meeting between the lightweight champion Khabib Nurmagomedov and Conor McGregor has been polished appropriately with all the garlanding and attributes of a contemporary UFC title fight, but just over a month after the 25th anniversary of the inauguration of the promotion, there is also a clearly nostalgic event. dynamic in the game.
During that earlier, non-regulated era, the early UFC sold its product as a platform for specialists to set up their respective disciplines against each other, eventually determining which martial art was supreme.
And although those attacks may seem somewhat coarse compared to the extraordinary standard of today's struggle, they were not just as gladiatorial, but the first bloody flicker of what is now a sporting phenomenon.
The respective styles of Nurmagomedov (26-0 MMA, 10-0 UFC) and McGregor (21-3 MMA, 9-1 UFC) are no secret. All those years ago, their lightweight title match at UFC 229 would certainly have been billed as a rush. grappler match-up.
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The prevailing consensus for their showdown on Saturday at the T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas seems to be that anyone who can dictate the conditions for engagement – the Irishman who keeps it going or the Dagestani takes things on the mat – will be victorious. emerge.
Mark Henry, the only coach who tries to control the downfall of both men, understands this line of thought but believes that it is somewhat limited.
"I think it may have become too simple," Henry told MMAjunkie. "Because Conor is one of the best strikers to have ever fought in the UFC, if not the best, and Khabib is the best wrestler ever in the UFC, so the other things these guys may have overlooked Khabib has some strength and occasionally I have seen some good struggles from Conor, like in the Max Holloway fight. "
Henry was in the corner of Eddie Alvarez when McGregor appropriated him as the lightweight champion in November 2016 on UFC 205, and even then Nurmagomedov decided last year unanimously on Edson Barboza at UFC 219.
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Of their 20 combined UFC performances, the battles in question are perhaps the most striking examples of their respective abilities. Henry, the man who also led Frankie Edgar to the lightweight crown of the UFC, reminds them all too well.
"It is not only the power of Conor that Khabib has probably never seen, but also his speed," said Henry. "You just do not see his bar, it's so fast, the combination of Conor's strength, speed and precision is just a very different stronghold, and that's what Conor Conor has made.
"I screamed for Edson (against Nurmagomedov) not to give him his back, and Khabib said just now:" Do not worry, Mark, I will not take his back ", then casually returned to what he he was just hanging around and having fun, which is pretty crazy and pretty dangerous. & # 39;
Compelling McGregor was dramatically counterproductive on Alvarez and Jose Aldo, but Nurmagomedov, especially when he is looking for a takedown, simply tends to walk. As a coach who studies countless hours of fighting material, Henry thinks that Nurmagomedov should be inspired by the early appearance of McGregor's earlier fights.
"I love the way Chad Mendes has done (takedowns)," explained Henry. "Chad waited for Conor to throw, and that worked better because Conor is better than anyone to counter the right hand, and if you try to chase him with the right hand, he'll come back and bite you, Khabib will have to be methodical, have to use a lot of feints and try to get Conor inside. "
Of course, McGregor won a second-round knockout over Mendes, who had taken the fight at UFC 189 for just over a week, after which the featherweight champion Aldo withdrew with a rib injury. However, Mendes did four of the seven takedown attempts, a statistic that Nurmagomedov probably wants to collect against McGregor.
Henry thinks, now that the former Sambo World Champion champion has a title to defend, Nurmagomedov leaves nothing to chance when he tries to get McGregor on his back, a position he has not generally succeeded in.
"Boys like Chad and Frankie can slip and get lost in one fell swoop while Khabib's striking defense goes back, so it's hard to shoot," said Henry. "But Khabib has so many ways to get a fight on the ground, he will know what his bread and butter is in this fight because he has played in other battles, like Michael Johnson, when he wanted to strike more."
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If he were to advise McGregor, Henry would instruct him to diversify his output, be more evasive and disrupt his opponent's incessant rhythm.
"If I'm Conor, I'll keep it in the middle of the octagon, and I'll kick more," said Henry. "The Conor kicks are very good, but he did not throw them so much and they could throw Khabib out of his pace." The more things Khabib has to worry about, the better for Conor.
"And do not forget that Conor has a lot of kicks, from the straight-front, the spins and the low kicks to the side, but I just think Conor is making less and less movement, feints and steps, so it's getting easier to beat him. . "
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A quick look at McGregor's record is all you should know is that he works best in the first two rounds – two are already 21 career victories ahead of the last bell. His endurance, or lack thereof, has been questioned more than once and, as seen from the third round in his second chance with Nate Diaz, the cruelty of his punches may diminish.
For Henry, the fight should last all 25 minutes, a distance that every man has gone once, the first fighter ever to lord over two UFC divisions to Dublin without the belt.
"He will not make a decision for the full 100%, but Conor could knock him out in the first round, and you can not be surprised," said Henry. "He has done it so often, he has that ability, so it would not be a shocker.
"If it's not halfway through the third round, it does not happen, Conor is still strong in the second round, but … As soon as Khabib feels he's exhausting, I think he'll put it in a different gear and finish it. If you're there and he's right in front of you, you just see how filthy Khabib is. & # 39;
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