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UFC 229: Pros predict Khabib Nurmagomedov vs. Conor McGregor

LAS VEGAS — The moment is nearly upon us.

On Saturday night at the T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas, years of bad blood will culminate in a fight that very well could be the biggest in the history of mixed martial arts. UFC 229’s main event, a blockbuster meeting between UFC lightweight champion Khabib Nurmagomedov and former two-division beltholder Conor McGregor, pits two of the most domineering forces in the game against one another. Nurmagomedvov, the undefeated sambo savant from Dagestan, testing his mettle against McGregor, the boisterous Irishman who redefined what it meant to be a rockstar in MMA — it is a legacy defining fight in every sense of the phrase, and one way or another, history will be made this weekend in the desert.

Will Nurmagomedov’s vaunted grappling arsenal be enough to silence the unsilenceable? Or will “The Notorious” announce his return to the game with another thunderous left hand shot? We asked the pros at UFC 229 for their thoughts, and the answer was anything but unanimous.

Anthony Pettis: “Honestly, before I came here, I wasn’t making a pick. Then I was like, you know what, f*ck it, I’ll make a pick: Conor. I gotta say Conor by knockout. If Khabib gets hit — Conor, if he hits you, you get put to sleep. But I like knockouts, so that’s why I’m going Conor.”

Tony Martin: “I think Khabib’s going to win. I think that if he sticks to the mindset of, ‘Hey, can you stop 100 takedowns?’ — when he said that, I was like, listen, Khabib’s going to win. Because when he says that, he’s like, ‘Listen, I’ll give it to you, your striking’s going to be way better than mine. That’s fine. This isn’t a striking fight though. This isn’t a boxing fight, kickboxing fight. It’s an MMA fight, and we’re going to find out how good your wrestling is. You could stuff my first 30 shots. We’ll see if you can stuff the next 70.’ So, I think if he goes in with that mindset, it’s an easy win for him. But Conor does have a really good left hand, really good counter-striking, which is very dangerous.

“And the more I watch Conor, I’m like, this is some really high-level shit. You could say whatever you want, ‘Oh, he hasn’t faced wrestlers,’ and that’s fine, but that’s elite-level striking. Like, it’s elite elite. He could go in there against a guy like Anthony Pettis and easily put Pettis away. Right? Pettis has elite striking, but there’s just another level Conor has. It also comes from his confidence. His confidence is so strong, where he truly believes he’ll kill you in one shot, which makes him a very, very dangerous fight. But I’m going to go with Khabib as long as he sticks with that mindset of, ‘We’ll see if he can stop my takedowns.’”

Jussier Formiga: “Khabib by decision. I think he’s going to dominate him.”

Dominick Reyes: “I’m gonna have to go with Conor. I think Khabib’s going to take him down, yes, and I think he is going to batter him a bit, but Conor’s going to make him pay every time he comes in, and eventually I think that’s going to add up and he’s going to finish him.”

Michelle Waterson: “It’s funny because I really enjoy how entertaining Conor is, both inside and outside of the Octagon. Conor is a master at range and distance and accuracy, and it only takes one punch to end a fight. Sometimes Khabib can be reckless coming in for his shots, but once he gets ahold of you, there’s no turning back. It’s a five-round fight, and I suspect that Khabib is going to come out ahead in the fight and win.”

Jalin Turner: “I’ve been saying I’ve got Conor in the first three rounds by knockout, and then if Khabib gets out of the first three rounds, Khabib is going to maul him and probably TKO him in the fifth, something like that. But I’m kinda leaning a little more towards Conor just because I like the dude. I like him as a fighter, I love his style. But you can’t deny Khabib’s grappling, and he’s impressive too. I mean, he’s undefeated, an undefeated lightweight. He’s really impressive. So dude, I’m torn between the two. But I’m siding with Conor just a little bit more.”

Nik Lentz: “I think Conor’s going to catch him. That’s what I personally think. I think Khabib’s a little too emotionally invested, and I think the way you beat Conor is to not play his game. Don’t talk to him. Ignore him. Kinda just step back from the situation and let him burn himself out. So stay away from him, know that he has too much power in the first couple rounds to be trading with him. Make the first fight, make him chase you, shoot low — do all these things and then really drag him down into the later rounds and win that way. I think Khabib is definitely [capable] of doing that, I just don’t know if he can keep him emotions in check enough to do it. Conor’s a special guy like that. He gets in people’s heads.

“This is the reason why probably I’ll never fight Conor McGregor. If I fought Conor McGregor, I would take my phone out and throw that shit away, and no one would be able to get ahold of me, and every time I saw him I would put like NASCAR headphones on and shit so I couldn’t hear what he said, and I would just laugh at him. Be like, ‘Bro, you can talk all day because I can’t hear f*cking hear you.’ Because trying, it’s like you’re going to try to combat the best in the world to ever do that. Right? He even got Mayweather. Like, just don’t engage him in that. Sometimes you win the fight by not fighting, and that’s what you would do. Don’t go against where the guy is the absolute best. Just step back and let him kinda burn himself out.

“If you ever need an example of that, you can look at other things. Let’s use the rap game for example, like Eminem. Right? He went after Trump and Trump just ignored him, and Eminem looked like complete disaster, begging for his attention, and he won. Then he goes out and talks about a couple rappers, they come after him and he just smashes them, he just obliterates them. So if you would’ve just stepped away and just let him go, he’s so mad you ignored him, he makes himself look stupid. I think that’s what you have to do against Conor. I think you just have to ignore him, but nobody’s been able to do that.”

Ovince Saint Preux: “Man, I don’t know. Conor’s got a good left hand. Khabib’s wrestling is next to none. He probably has some of the best wrestling in MMA. But at the end of the day, Conor’s mental game is totally different. I don’t think Khabib has been fazed by it, just as far as from what I’ve seen he hasn’t been fazed by it at all. So, I don’t know. The only reason I’d probably give a slight advantage to Conor is because of his mental game. The way he mentally gets prepared for stuff, it’s next to none, so it’s a slight advantage. But if Khabib won the fight, I wouldn’t be surprised at all.”

Scott Holtzman: “I think rounds one and two McGregor, rounds three, four and five, Khabib. That’s why it’s gonna sell so well, because nobody knows. I don’t think decision at all. I think three, four, five, submission or KO for Khabib, and one and two has gotta be a knockout for Conor.”

Ryan LaFlare: “It’s really hard to say, because you don’t know if Khabib is gonna be able to close the distance and take him down. I’d like to see Khabib win. I also like what Conor does for the sport, almost don’t want to see him down. It’s just interesting. If I have to put money on it, I’m going Khabib, though.”

Aspen Ladd: “If Khabib gets him to the ground, it’s over. If Conor clips him, it’s over.”

Vicente Luque: “It’s a hard one to predict. I think on paper, Khabib is the favorite. Khabib is the guy that, he’s more complete. He has the wrestling that is unstoppable. People can’t defend that — it’s crazy. He has the gas tank, as well. So he can push the ground and pound and the wrestling for five rounds at a rhythm nobody can do.

“But you can never count out McGregor. Those two first rounds, I think McGregor will be dangerous. Khabib has to take care. If he connects, I think McGregor has the power to knock Khabib out. But the further it goes, I think Khabib is the favorite, for sure.”

Tonya Evinger: “I think Khabib’s got it. I think he’s gonna take him down. If he gets him down, I think it’s over.”

Tony Ferguson: “Double knockout. I’m gonna keep saying it the whole entire time: I hope these bitches knock each other out. They talk enough shit. F*ck it, man. I hope they deal with what they gotta deal with and squash that shit. This is a man’s sport.”


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