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Monday, 10 December, 2018

Conor McGregor in big trouble if Khabib takes him down

Irishman the underdog on UFC return

UFC lightweight champion Khabib Nurmagomedov faces-off with Conor McGregor
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UFC lightweight title
BT Sport 1, from 1am Saturday night

It's been almost two years since 'The Notorious' Conor McGregor entered the Octagon when he became the first fighter to simultaneously hold two UFC belts, and no one can accuse him of taking an easy fight on his return as a 6-4 underdog to beat Khabib 'The Eagle' Nurmagomedov in Las Vegas.

McGregor is the biggest star in the UFC's history, featuring in four of their five highest-grossing pay-per-views, and he has proved his combat skills are every bit as good as his superstar status by starching featherweight champion Jose Aldo in 13 seconds before obliterating lightweight king Eddie Alvarez. 

He then accepted $100m to join the circus and fight Floyd Mayweather in a boxing match, leading to him being stripped of his belts due to inactivity, and many thought his MMA career was over as he had no financial incentive to keep fighting. But they were wrong.

McGregor is back to reclaim his lightweight belt, but a new top dog has emerged in his absence and he will need a career-best performance to get it back. 

His opponent is in many ways the opposite to McGregor. While Conor is brash and arrogant Khabib is quiet and humble with a cold, icy glare, and their fighting styles are also like chalk and cheese. 

McGregor is a stand-up striker and possibly the best boxer in the UFC - although he lost to Mayweather it was certainly no disgrace to go ten rounds with the greatest boxer of all time on his debut in the sport. He has incredible timing and movement, and his left hand can put anybody to sleep at any time. 

But Khabib is possibly the best wrestler and grappler in the UFC. He likes to drag his prey down to the mat where he controls them like an anaconda and uses a wide array of ground and pound and submission techniques to break them. 

Growing up in Dagestan, Russia Khabib began wrestling as soon as he could walk into his father's gym, where his unusual training methods included fighting bears.

He became a double world champion at Russian martial art sambo and earned a black belt in judo before embarking on a career in MMA, where he has 26 wins from 26 fights, including ten straight victories in the UFC. 

Not only is Khabib undefeated in MMA, he has never lost a round in his entire career. 

The likely, although not inevitable, conclusion is that while the fight remains standing McGregor has a huge advantage, but if Khabib takes him down the Irishman could be in massive trouble. 

It may play out differently but for the purposes of picking a winner we should not look past the obvious.

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The other major factor could be stamina. McGregor is always at his most dangerous in the early stages - only two of his 24 MMA fights have gone past two rounds.

But he has gassed out in the past and he blamed his submission defeat to Nate Diaz on an 'inefficient use of energy', whereas Khabib takes his time to grind down the opposition round after round. 

If McGregor can connect with his left hand on Khabib's chin it may be over in seconds, but the bad news for McGregor fans is that he has faced an elite wrestler before and was taken down with ease. 

In 2015 he faced Chad Mendes and was put on his back repeatedly and beaten up on the ground. And Mendes is much smaller and lacked proper conditioning after accepting the fight at short notice. Khabib is bigger, better and has had a full training camp.

McGregor's mind games have won him fights against the odds before, and it would be no surprise if he goaded Khabib on to a big left hand and turned his lights out.

But Nurmagomedov seems as strong mentally as he is physically and he looked largely unfazed by McGregor's loudmouth antics during fight week, although he will need all of hits wits about him from the first bell if he is to avoid the same fate as Aldo. 

McGregor has much more than a puncher's chance, but if Khabib gets him to the mat all his weapons will be nullified and the longer the fight goes on, the harder it will be to see the underdog emerging victorious. 

McGregor by KO at 15-8 or Khabib by submission at 11-4 are worth considering in the betting, but the Eagle has been the distance six times in his ten-fight UFC career and backing him to win via decision after five rounds at 9-2 looks the best value.

K Nurmagomedov by decision
1pt 9-2 Betfair, Paddy Power, Sky Bet

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Not only is Khabib undefeated in MMA, he has never lost a round in his entire career
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