UFC superstar Conor McGregor is set to make his octagon return at UFC 229 and he will do so against perhaps the most formidable opponent he’s ever faced inside the cage.

McGregor will challenge the undefeated Khabib Nurmagomedov for the latter’s UFC lightweight title. It can be recalled that this is the same title McGregor won in his last UFC appearance. Interestingly, the Irishman will try to win back a belt which he never lost in the first place.

Winning the UFC lightweight belt gave McGregor a piece of history. He became the first fighter in the history of the UFC to simultaneously hold two world titles. A year earlier, McGregor won the UFC featherweight champion with a 13 second knockout of Jose Aldo. Although the Notorious One was subsequently stripped of both belts because he failed to defend them, McGregor will always be remembered as the first fighter with two belts at one time in UFC history.

But a lot has changed since McGregor made history. Tony Ferguson became interim champion and he was supposed to fight Khabib thrice. But injuries to both sides have prevented that fight from happening. Ferguson was the latest to be injured and he was stripped of his interim title. Khabib fought Al Iaquinta at UFC 223 to become the new 155 pound king. Now McGregor is back and wants what was once his. But can he get it?

Nurmagomedov has opened as the favorite at -160 while the Irishman came back at +120. As of 9/15/18 at Betway, The Dagestani combat sambo world champion is still favored at -163 while the Notorious King from Ireland is still the dog at +130. In 9 out of his previous 10  UFC bouts, McGregor has been the favorite. The only time he was an underdog was when he fought Dustin Poirier at UFC 178. He starched Poirier in one round.

But while McGregor being an underdog has been rare, there are many reasons why the Irishman has been booked as such.

A Very Long Layoff

The last time Conor McGregor fought inside the UFC octagon was on November 12, 2016 at UFC 205 where he captured the UFC lightweight title by knocking out Eddie Alvarez so it’s been a long time since the Notorious One has competed in MMA. To be exact, McGregor will be returning to the octagon after a 693 day absence. That’s too long, I think.

It can be recalled that Khabib Nurmagomedov also fought at UFC 205. The Eagle submitted perennial contender Michael Johnson in 205’s Fox Sports 1 Preliminary card. Since then, Khabib has fought twice, defeating Edson Barboza via a one-sided unanimous decision at UFC 219 on December 30, 2017 and then winning the UFC lightweight title with another dominant unanimous decision beat down of Al Iaquinta at UFC 223 last April 7, 2018.

So while Nurmagomedov hasn’t been really busy the last two years, he’s put in the needed rounds by going the distance in his last two bouts. In 10 UFC bouts, Khabib has gone the full route six times although he’s fought just once in a five round bout( against Iaquinta). Four out of his last sx fights have heard the final horn so when you talk about stamina and conditioning, you can’t argue with Khabib Nurmagomedov.

Fighting Past Round Two

The same cannot be said about Conor McGregor because in 24 total MMA fights, the Irishman has gone the distance only twice. Both fights were five rounders and he won both. The Notorious defeated current featherweight champion Max Holloway via unanimous decision in 2013 and he defeated Nate Diaz by majority decision during their rematch at UFC 202. McGregor has fought in eight five round bouts but only one of them went past round 2 and that was his second fight with Nate Diaz.

Aside from his two wins by decision, McGregor has 18 wins by knockout and one by submission. 13 of those knockouts came in round one and none after round 2. None of his three losses also came after round 2. So if we summarize Conor’s resume, 22 out of his 24 fights ended prematurely and all of them ended within two rounds. So not only will McGregor enter UFC 229 after a 693 day layoff, he will do so having gone past round 3 only twice before.

The Stamina Factor

Stamina was an issue with Conor McGregor against Nate Diaz. Remember him starting like a house on fire in their first bout only to slow down in the second round before getting submitted by Diaz? Remember that McGregor was a natural featherweight before that fight but had to agree to 170 pounds because Diaz had little time to make weight. Maybe the extra muscles slowed Conor down. Regardless, we also saw him slow down during the middle rounds of their rematch. He did win that fight, but barely and had it not been for the early knockdowns he scored against Nate, the verdict could have gone the other way.

The Khabib fight is at 155 pounds so you can say that Conor is going back to his natural weight and that should be good for his stamina and conditioning. But how will his body respond to going back to a lighter weight? We’ve seen more fighters succeed moving up rather than moving down in weight. That’s because the older they grow, the bigger they become naturally. We don’t know what McGregor’s weight is right now because he hasn’t fought in two years. However, it should be noted that against Mayweather, he tipped the scales at 153 pounds. But didn’t he fade late against Floyd too?

Can McGregor Beat Khabib?

We talked about the factors why Khabib is the favorite here. But because we talked about many items, it doesn’t mean that McGregor cannot defeat Nurmagomedov. While our reasoning here won’t be as lengthy, it’s very valid and McGregor does have an equal chance at winning this fight.

Khabib has the edge in grappling and may have the advantage if this fight goes past round 3. But remember that every fight begins with both fighters standing up. Khabib looked phenomenal when he grappled with Iaquinta. He looked amateurish when he tried to strike against Raging al. Replace Iaquinta with McGregor and you have a striking mismatch. McGregor is one of the best strikers in the business. If Khabib is lured to a striking match, there’s no way he can win this.

Khabib is unbeaten so we can’t talk about how he loses fights. But he’s never faced a powerful striker like McGregor before. Can he take McGregor’s left hand shot? Nobody can take that punch according to Conor. I agree. If McGregor lands flush, I think the Eagle is going down.

Betting Prediction

I think Khabib wins this fight because of McGregor’s long layoff. I think Conor has a chance to win this fight by knockout or decision (he may turn to point fighting on his feet) but knowing Khabib, he’s going to take McGregor down one way or the other. McGregor’s takedown defense is 73% while Iaquinta’s was 77%. Khabib took Iaquinta down seven times. He doesn’t need that many to stop McGregor on the ground.

I’m putting my money on Khabib here.Winner Prediction: Khabib wins at -160..

Place Your Bet Here

If you want better value though, whether you’re betting for McGregor or Khabib, Betway has a prop bet on the METHOD OF VICTORY and all options have plus money:

What’re the Odds?

Khabib to win by KO/TKO/DQ                     +400

Khabib to win by submission                      +220

Khabib by decision/technical decision       +350

McGregor to win by KO/TKO/DQ                 +162

McGregor to win by submission                +2200

McGregor by decision/technical decision  +900

Draw/technical draw                          +5000

(from Betway 9/15/18)

Many like Khabib to win by submission. That’s because Conor doesn’t have good submission defense. Personally, I think Khabib is going to take Conor down and punches him with the ground and pound until the ref stops it. So that would be Khabib by KO/TKO/DQ at +400. I don’t count the possibility of Khabib winning by decision (+350) but I don’t think McGregor can take a beating for 25 minutes.

For more prop bets, head to Betway and the other top sites. There’s a handful right there now and you can expect more to be added as fight night continues to draw closer.

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