Khabib Nurmagomedov vs. Conor McGregor is one of the most intriguing matchups of the modern-UFC era, and fans expect to see a clash of opposing styles at UFC 229.
Khabib, who has never lost a round in his 26-fight career, is a ferocious wrestler with an unbreakable will. McGregor, the former UFC featherweight and lightweight champion, has arguably the best striking in the sport and the ‘touch of death’, as coach Firas Zahabi calls it, in his vaunted left hand.
Although it’s an incredibly tough fight to predict, many fans expect Nurmagomedov to shoot for the takedown from the get-go and keep the striking exchanges limited.
But, according to coach Javier Mendez, who has been working extensively on Khabib’s striking at American Kickboxing Academy in San Jose, California, ‘The Eagle’ is not afraid to engage with McGregor on the feet.
“Khabib’s striking has come along really well,” Mendez said in a recent interview with MMA Fighting. “I put him in with pro boxers - he handles it really easy, no problem. A lot of people underestimate his standup, and they will see that he’s got really good standup. But, that doesn’t mean that we’re gonna go in there with that attitude. Not with a great striker like Conor. But that doesn’t mean Conor should go in there thinking that he’s just gonna wrestle. Oh no. He’s gotta watch out.
“He has to, he has to stand up with him,” Mendez said when asked if Khabib would be willing to engage McGregor on the feet. “You can’t just go out and take Conor down. Conor’s a master, too. He’s a great fighter for a reason, so we know there’s gonna be some standup. There has to be. There’s no way around it.”
Khabib was happy to demonstrate his improved standup against Al Iaquinta at UFC 223, outboxing ‘Raging Al’ and sometimes landing up to two, three, and four successive jabs to his opponent’s face. Nurmagomedov was criticized by the commentary team for not sticking to his usual gameplan, but the Dagestani dominated his opponent and showcased a new tool in his arsenal - the jab.
Whether that jab will be as effective against an opponent of Conor McGregor’s caliber remains to be seen.
UFC 229: Khabib vs. McGregor takes place a week on Saturday, on Oct. 6, at the T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas, Nevada.