On 6th October at the UFC’s now spiritual home, the T-Mobile Arena, Las Vegas, Conor McGregor will step back into the Octagon for the first time in nearly two years. In that time, he has been stripped of the UFC lightweight championship he took from Eddie Alvarez, made a ton of money through his boxing match with Floyd Mayweather and generally caused mayhem in the way that only Conor McGregor can.
McGregor divides opinion, but it’s difficult to criticise him for his risk-taking. His willingness to go up weights, his desire to take on great fighters rather than beef up his record, and even his decision to fight Mayweather all point to a man who believes in his talents. Sure, he netted some big paydays along the way, but you can’t fault his ambition.
Fight incredibly difficult to call
Falling into that category is his decision to take on Khabib Nurmagomedov at UFC 229. The Russian, who boasts the longest unbeaten streak in the history of MMA (26 wins), is an incredibly tough proposition for McGregor, with plenty believing Khabib is ready to take McGregor’s crown as the face of the sport. The fact that the lightweight championship is also on the line just adds to the occasion.
The latest markets to bet on McGregor vs Khabib all favour the Russian. He is best-priced at 8/11 with Betfair to win (by any means), but he is as low 8/13 with some bookmakers. McGregor, in the unfamiliar role of being the underdog in the Octagon, can be found at 11/8 with Bet365. Check most fans forums and they will tell you the same thing – it’s Khabib’s time to shine.
McGregor’s striking is best pathway to victory
It’s interesting, however, to look at the betting markets from a point of view of the fighters’ different styles. McGregor’s best hope is to win on strikes, possibly early. He is given a 17/10 chance to win by KO/TKO/Submission by Bet365. On the other hand, Khabib is given odds of 3/1 for a submission victory – many think the fight’s over if he gets McGregor on the ground – and 4/1 by decision.
So, have the sportsbooks called it right? Would it be any different if McGregor had not been out of action over the past two years, boxing ‘spectacles’ aside? It’s hard to say. Khabib’s star is certainly on the rise, but people tend to forget that McGregor became UFC’s biggest star for a reason, and it wasn’t just all down to his sharp tongue. Indeed, an argument can be made that intensive boxing training for the Mayweather fight could have improved McGregor’s most potent weapon – his powerful strikes.
Nothing to prove for the Irishman
McGregor doesn’t really have much to prove against Khabib, but if he does walk away with the belt, taking down the sport’s hottest commodity in the process, it will be counted among his greatest achievements. Both fighters, of course, are young enough to bounce back from any defeat, McGregor is 30-years-old and Khabib a year younger, but the Irishman has already climbed to the top of the mountain several times and proved his doubters wrong while doing it.
Indeed, McGregor does not need to prove his greatness inside the Octagon, he just needs to reaffirm it. If, as is quite possible, he is standing with his arms aloft at the end of the fight, we will all once again feel foolish for doubting him in the first place.