UFC 229: Khabib vs. McGregor Preview
A preview of Saturday’s UFC 229 card, set to take place in Las Vegas.
Updated: Oct. 4, 2018 • 5:16 PM ET
Conor McGregor is looking to continue his reign as the UFC's biggest star.
UFC 229 will take place this Saturday in Las Vegas and mark the return of the Conor McGregor. The casual pay-per-view purchaser will also return, as McGregor challenges undefeated lightweight champion Khabib Nurmagomedov for his belt.
McGregor won the lightweight title in his first attempt, defeating Eddie Alvarez via second-round TKO in November 2016 at UFC 205, but he hasn’t fought in the UFC since. He opted for a crossover boxing match with Floyd Mayweather last August instead of defending the lightweight title, and the UFC rightfully stripped him of the belt.
Despite the losing effort against Mayweather, the fight made McGregor a legitimate worldwide star. And with how lucrative the fight was for the Irishman, MMA fans wondered if they would ever see McGregor fight in the UFC again.
Nurmagomedov was scheduled to fight Tony Ferguson at UFC 223 in April for the lightweight title that the UFC stripped McGregor of. Ferguson dropped out due to a freak injury just days before the bout, and the promotion scrambled to keep the fight alive. Featherweight champion Max Holloway stepped in, but was forced to withdraw due to complications making weight.
The UFC then looked to other lightweights on the card, such as former champion Anthony Pettis, Michael Chiesa, Paul Felder and Al Iaquinta. In the end, it was Iaquinta who gained the approval of the UFC, which booked the main event. Nurmagomedov ultimately defeated Iaquinta by unanimous decision, but just days before his victory that claimed the vacant title, the infamous bus attack happened.
McGregor and his goons stormed the backstage area of the Barclays Center in Brooklyn at a UFC 223 press event where a bus occupied by Nurmagomedov and other UFC fighters was. McGregor threw a dolly through the bus window and later fled the scene. But the moment that dolly crashed through the window, the ultimate storyline for a matchup between the Russian champ and the Irish challenger was written.
McGregor attacked the bus in response the Nurmagomedov having a physically confrontational meeting with McGregor’s training partner and UFC fighter Artem Lobov a few days prior. Sure, McGregor will likely suffer financially for the incident, but he avoided jail time and any type of punishment from the UFC.
The UFC’s biggest star is back and right in the middle of a fan-pleasing narrative involving a hate-fueled fight against the undefeated champion.
Nurmagomedov is 26-0 (10-0 in the UFC) and has defeated notable fighters such as Iaquinta, Edson Barboza, Michael Johnson and Rafael Dos Anjos. He has never lost a round in his UFC career, but he’ll finally face one of the two fighters that some in the MMA world believe can beat him on Saturday. The other fighter is No. 2 ranked Ferguson, who has been scheduled to fight Nurmagomedov four times, but none of the encounters happened due to last-minute injuries and cancellations.
The 30-year-old from Dagestan, Russia is arguably the best grappler in the UFC, an area that McGregor has shown weakness in fights against Chad Mendes and Nate Diaz. It’s hard to imagine that Nurmagomedov wants to keep the fight on the feet for long, as he has never faced a precise striker on McGregor’s level. Fighting to his advantage and not trying to prove that he can stand with McGregor would likely work best for the champion. The question is, how long can McGregor shake off his takedowns, if at all?
Like most of his fights, McGregor has predicted that he’ll finish Khabib early.
“Domination, his head bouncing off the canvas,” McGregor said at the first UFC 229 press conference. “All his pony talk is gonna be put on blast October 6. As long as it takes, I believe one (round). He’s a glass jaw…I know he is afraid of a smack.”
The 30-year-old Irishman burst onto the UFC scene in 2013, captivating fans with his brash trash talk and bold predictions. McGregor began his UFC career as a featherweight and as he worked his way through opponents, he began psychologically stalking then champion Jose Aldo. The UFC booked a fight with Aldo, but an injury just two weeks before the fight forced the champ to withdraw. Chad Mendes stepped in on short notice and McGregor, like he predicted, finished Mendes in the second round at UFC 189 in July 2015 to capture the interim featherweight title. Mendes did show holes in McGregor’s grappling, but he ultimately didn’t have enough for McGregor.
McGregor and Aldo finally met at UFC 194 in December 2015 in one of the most anticipated fights in history. Yet, it took McGregor only 13 seconds to finish Aldo with a picture-perfect left hand heard ‘round the world. After Aldo, McGregor participated in consecutive fights against Diaz, which he split, and was then granted an opportunity to win a second belt against then lightweight champion Alvarez.
Once again, McGregor shocked the world, as he completely dominated Alvarez and finished him in the second round at UFC 205 in 2016 at Madison Square Garden. With the victory, McGregor became the first fighter in UFC history to simultaneously hold belts in two different weight classes. McGregor never defended either title, and the UFC inevitably stripped him of both belts, which has put him in his current position of once again challenging for the lightweight title.
A win for McGregor on Saturday could set up a third matchup with Diaz, but it’s always hard to predict who McGregor will fight next.
"I'm certainly considering a few options,” McGregor recently said on Ariel Helwani’s MMA Show. “There's many things on the horizon, so we’ll see what happens. There’s a few opponents about to compete; there’s this fight and the co-main (Tony Ferguson vs. Anthony Pettis).
“Of course then there's boxing ventures. There’s a lot of things I might set up, so I’m very excited about that.”
When asked if Mayweather fits into any future plans, McGregor said, “Yes, of course. If he has the bottle to come over and do it like he said he would, like he said he has, so we’ll see. I don’t necessarily think he does, but we can see what happens. I’d also box him again.”
McGregor continued, “Everything is being discussed. I feel if it's not an MMA bout, then I don't want to know. It's either a straight MMA bout or a straight boxing bout. If they come looking for modified rules, I would rather just box the kid again. If you don't want to deal with it, just don't deal with it and stop going on like you're doing."
McGregor also offered other possible future opponents.
“Anderson Silva would be a great one,” he said. “I’d be interested in an Anderson Silva bout at some stage, I swear to God. Anderson is a legend in the game. What's the difference between him and Georges (St-Pierre)? Same damn thing. I'm going to do fights that interest me or that have meaning."
As for how he feels about Diaz, McGregor said, ”Nate Diaz will always have a rematch off of me. No matter what happens, I will always give that man his rematch. He gave me a rematch, I give him a rematch. That's the way it is. When it will happen, I don't know. Whether it will happen next, you just don’t know. We will complete that trilogy, no doubt about it."
The card is trending to break the record for UFC pay-per-view buys, previously set by Diaz vs. McGregor 2. All of the makings for a great storyline are in place, but how many casual fans will make the purchase come fight day? There are plenty of other great fights on the card to convince them.
Saturday’s co-main event will be a lightweight fight between former interim champion Tony Ferguson and former champion Anthony Pettis. The 34-year-old Ferguson, the No. 2 ranked lightweight, hasn’t fought in a year and is coming back from knee surgery sooner than many expected. In his last fight, he defeated Kevin Lee by third-round submission at UFC 216. He injured his knee during media obligations ahead of UFC 223, where he was supposed to face Nurmagomedov for the title.
Ferguson has won 10 straight fights and hasn’t lost since 2012. Since that loss, he has defeated fighters such as Lee, Barboza, Dos Anjos and Josh Thomson. If he can pick up his 11th straight win on Saturday, it would be difficult to deny him a title shot, regardless of who wins the main event.
Pettis is coming off a win over Chiesa by second-round submission at UFC 226 in July. He’s 3-5 in his last eight fights and even tried his luck at featherweight by challenging champion Max Holloway for the then interim title at UFC 206 in 2016. Pettis, though, has looked more comfortable since returning to lightweight.
Since losing the title to Dos Anjos at UFC 185 in 2015, Pettis has been inconsistent; but a win over Ferguson would prove that the 31-year-old can still fight at a championship level. He has defeated fighters such as Chiesa, Jim Miller, Benson Henderson, Gilbert Melendez, Donald Cerrone, Joe Lauzon and Jeremy Stephens.
The rest of the main card
A light heavyweight fight between No. 7 Ovince Saint Preux and No. 12 Dominick Reyes will also be on the main card. Saint Preux is coming off a win against rising prospect Tyson Pedro by first-round submission in June. He has won four of his last five fights and has defeated fighters such as Pedro, Corey Anderson and Mauricio Rua. The 35-year-old needs a win against Reyes, though, to keep his title aspirations alive.
Reyes is 3-0 in the UFC and last defeated Jared Cannonier by first-round knockout in May. He has finished all three of his UFC fights in the first round and holds a 9-0 overall record. Saint Preux represents his biggest test to date, and a win could announce the 28-year-old’s arrival as a serious title contender.
A heavyweight fight with major title implications between No. 2 Derrick Lewis and No. 5 Alexander Volkov will also take place. Lewis has won eight of his last nine fights and is coming off a unanimous decision win over Francis Ngannou at UFC 226 in July. The rankings say he should be one win away from a title shot, but the future of the top of the heavyweight division is at a stalemate. Who champion Daniel Cormier fights next is uncertain, but Lewis could call for the matchup if he wins.
The 33-year-old New Orleans native is 20-5 overall (11-3 in the UFC) and has victories over Ngannou, Gabriel Gonzaga, Roy Nelson and Travis Browne. He has only had two of his 14 fights in the UFC go to a decision.
Volkov is a former Bellator champion and is 4-0 in the UFC. The 29-year-old from Moscow last fought in March and defeated former champion Fabricio Werdum by fourth-round TKO. He also has wins over Stefan Struve and Roy Nelson. He, like Lewis, could be one win away from a potential title shot. Volkov stands 6-foot-7 and has great striking and Jiu Jitsu, making him a dangerous opponent for anyone in the heavyweight division.
A strawweight fight between No. 8 Michelle Waterson and No. 9 Felice Herrig will round out the main card. Waterson (5-2 in the UFC) is coming off a split-decision win over Cortney Casey in April, while Herrig (5-2 in UFC) is coming off a split-decision loss to Karolina Kowalkiewicz a week prior to Waterson’s win.
Flyweight fight - No. 2 Sergio Pettis vs. No. 5 Jussier Formiga
Welterweight fight - Vicente Luque vs. Jalin Turner
Women's bantamweight fight - No. 9 Aspen Ladd vs. Tonya Evinger
Lightweight fight - Scott Holtzman vs. Alan Patrick
UFC Fight Pass Early Prelims
Women's bantamweight fight - No. 12 Lina Lansberg vs. Yana Kunitskaya
Lightweight fight - Gray Maynard vs. Nik Lentz
Welterweight fight - Ryan LaFlare vs. Tony Martin
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