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Dan Hardy breaks down Khabib Nurmagomedov vs. Conor McGregor

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Khabib Nurmagomedov and Conor McGregor
Khabib Nurmagomedov faces Conor McGregor at UFC 229.
Esther Lin, MMA Fighting

There are two basic schools of thought on how things will go down when Conor McGregor and Khabib Nurmagomedov square off for the UFC lightweight title at UFC 229.

One line of thinking has it that Nurmagomedov will take McGregor to the mat at T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas and bludgeon him.

Others subscribe to the theory that McGregor will tag the champion with his devastating left hand, and that will be all she wrote.

The thing that makes this an argument which will be debated vigorously right up until fight time — and indeed what makes the fight itself so intriguing — is that both takes are backed up with ample prior evidence. Both fighters’ records are littered with names who either fell prey to Nurmagomedov’s relentless swarm or McGregor’s lethal left.

All of which is why even an analyst as perceptive as Dan Hardy is having a hard time coming up with a winner.

“I think everybody is right and you can’t argue like you know for sure because nobody knows for sure,” Hardy said on a recent edition of The MMA Hour with Luke Thomas. “We could get Conor switch him off in 13 seconds with a sweet left hand. Because we know he could do that. And we know that Khabib is going to come forward because that’s we we’ve seen from him for 26 fights now and that’s what we expect from him.”

The UFC color commentator and former welterweight title challenger from England says he tries to visualize the fight over and over, and as he does, his brain settles on a pattern. First, he sees Nurmagomedov getting out to a fast start.

“The other alternative is that we see Khabib just maul him for however long it takes, maybe five rounds, maybe not,” Hardy said. “Honestly I’ve played this fight out probably 300 times a day in my head, and the more I get, I come to the same conclusion, which is, Conor loses the first two rounds, he gets taken down, he gets beaten up, he gets bloodied, Khabib shows dominance, he’s talking to him, and I think there’s a couple rounds with Conor being down on the scorecards 10-9 maybe even 10-8.”

But, Nurmagomedov has also slowed down in later rounds, most recently in his championship-winning effort over Al Iaquinta at UFC 223, where a battered Iaquinta memorably gave his Russian opponents fits against all odds in the fifth and final round. And Hardy can envision a scenario in which McGregor comes on as his opponent slows down.

“The third round comes about and I see the same Khabib we saw in the first and second rounds comes marching forward, and Conor is able to use his superior footwork and walk him into a left hand,” Hardy said. “Unless we see development in Khabib’s footwork, Conor’s got five opportunities to knock him out with a clean shot.”

One area where there seems to be a general consensus is that McGregor has better striking than Nurmagomedov. Hardy agrees with this assessment. However, he also believes the champ’s methods of striking are effective for what he’s looking to accomplish in the cage, and that we shouldn’t rule out the notion he’s working on something we’ve yet to see.

“I think Khabib’s striking is developing,” Hardy said. “I will say that. He’s very elementary in the way he goes about it. His fundamentals are really good. His lead punch is very unorthodox ... it’s like he’s in a left hook position but he lifts it up with the chin. He knocked out Thiago Tavares with that punch. He’s got elementary striking. He’s got at what he does but ultimately it has the purpose of getting inside so he can get his hands on him. We may see developments in his striking in this fight, he may be working on things specifically for that we’ve not really seen. He’s developing between fights, but we don’t know if it will come to the level of Conor McGregor’s striking.”

Likewise, McGregor’s wrestling has been slagged over the years, but Hardy believes the former lightweight and featherweight champ has a better ground game than he’s credited for.

“I think Conor McGregor’s takedown defense is okay. I think his gas tank struggles when he is under pressure, and I have not seen anything that will prove me otherwise,” Hardy said. “But what I will see is I do think we underestimate his ground game. The Max Holloway fight, I think he was very smooth in his transitions on the ground, the same against Dennis Siver as well, passing out to mount. His understanding of the ground is very good.”

And the end of the day, Hardy gives a nod to the passion of both fan bases. No matter how much arguing is done, the issue won’t be settled until Oct. 6.

“I’m a massive fan of both of these guys, please don’t let anyone think I’m picking on one side over the other I’m just going based on evidence,” Hardy said. “If you go back and watch Khabib’s fight against Michael Johnson, we saw him get hit and hurt. I’d say we’ve seen Conor hit harder than Michael Johnson just based purely on what we’ve seen him doing in the UFC. So that would be that argument in my case.”