As a longtime friend and coach of Khabib Nurmagomedov’s at the American Kickboxing Academy, Daniel Cormier had plenty of stake in UFC 229’s main event.
Cormier was cageside to witness firsthand Nurmagomedov’s blockbuster victory over Conor McGregor earlier this month in Las Vegas. In perhaps the most impressive performance of Nurmagomedov’s career, the undefeated Dagestani champion dominated McGregor from pillar to post before submitting McGregor with a fourth-round neck crank to defend his lightweight title in a fight that shattered the UFC’s previous pay-per-view record. And although the post-fight brawl between Nurmagomedov’s and McGregor’s teams may have overshadowed the event, when it came to what actually mattered, Cormier couldn’t have been more proud of the way his teammate dispatched the sport’s biggest star.
“I thought Khabib fought beautifully,” Cormier said Monday on The MMA Hour. “I thought he implemented the gameplan that he wanted to implement, fought the way that he wanted to fight and did exactly what he needed to do. I thought he fought beautifully.”
The fight itself was never really in question. According to Fightmetric stats, Nurmagomedov spent over 12 minutes of the 18-minute bout in a controlling position. He completed three of his seven takedown attempts and spent a majority of the contest dominating McGregor on the mat. Nurmagomedov even earned a rare unanimous 10-8 scorecard from the judges for his work in the second round.
But despite the lopsided nature of the contest, Cormier still came away impressed with how McGregor handled Nurmagomedov’s otherworldly grappling acumen.
“Honestly man, that first takedown, I was like wow, he really made [Nurmagomedov] work for this takedown,” Cormier said. “Because this is what we say at AKA — we try to get you lost in the sauce. We want to get you lost in the sauce, right? Like, when we’re on a leg, we want to give you one [takedown attempt]; okay, you’ll defend; two, you’ll defend; three, then you start going, ‘okay, wait a minute,’ then you start to get lost. You get lost in all the different transitions, from to move to move to move, and eventually we get you down. And once we get you down, obviously it’s very difficult to get back up.
“[McGregor] didn’t get lost in it. Like, Khabib had to go to level four to get that first takedown. He went high crotch, he went crackdown, he went ‘try to get the angle,’ he tried to run the pipe, then he actually had to go to his knees, look across the back to get to a double just to get Conor down the first time. Conor didn’t get lost. He really did a good job, and that’s why if you’re Team McGregor, there’s cause for concern, because I don’t know if he could do that any better and he still got beat in the way that he got beat.
“That’s why, I think if you’re Team McGregor, you’d be concerned about a fight with Nurmagomedov, because I don’t think he could defend any better,” Cormier continued. “I thought was as good as [he could do], because he did a good job and I don’t know if he could do it any better … because then [Nurmagomedov] is going to go to level five, and he going to go to level six, and he’s going to just keep putting different things behind each other until eventually you kinda can’t keep up. That’s what Henry Cejudo does. That’s what he did to DJ a couple times to get those takedowns.
“You know who did it really good was Tatiana Suarez. Tatiana shoots a double leg on Carla Esparza knowing Carla was going to defend it. She knew. Like, ‘There’s no way I’m just going to take this girl down. She’s been wrestling too long.’ She shot a double leg, not for that first shot. She shot that double leg to get Carla to defend, drop her hands, and when Carla dropped her hands, arm drag, now Carla’s on the bottom. The first shot was never the intent. That’s why my takedown offense is like 45 percent. I don’t care, I’m just throwing shots at you until eventually I’ll grab one of them. I’m just throwing different things at you until I get the reaction I want, then I can go to my true finish.”
As for the post-fight brawl that captured worldwide attention, Cormier can relate.
In many ways, the rivalry between Nurmagomedov and McGregor mirrored Cormier’s own fiery rivalry with Jon Jones, simply in terms of how vitriolic it became as fight night approached. Cormier and Jones had their own infamous extra curricular moment in the lobby of the MGM Grand, but Cormier noted there was one big difference between his beef with Jones and Nurmagomedov’s feelings toward McGregor.
To varying degrees, Cormer, Jones, and McGregor all understood they were playing a game and contributing toward the greater good by promoting a money-making endeavor, whereas Nurmagomedov never once bought into that idea.
“I think, Conor, he was building a fight, and there was just a little bit of a difference in the approach,” Cormier said.
“When he was building the fight and kinda going home going, ‘Okay, yeah, I think that might’ve gotten him a little bit,’ or, ‘that got under his skin,’ the whole time it’s causing this guy (Nurmagomedov) to just go, ‘God, I hate him. Man, I can’t stand this dude. I want to hurt him,’ then going back to the gym and training harder and more. So, that’s where the difference lies. It’s like, we (Jones and I) never regretted anything we said to each other or about each other, and it was okay if it just continued to escalate.”