How will Khabib vs. McGregor play out? We asked some of the biggest names in MMA Media

Arguably the most anticipated and biggest fight in MMA history goes down this weekend at UFC 229 in Las Vegas. It will be reigning UFC lightweight champion Khabib Nurmagomedov (26-0) defending his title for the first time against former two-weight UFC champion Conor McGregor in the latter’s first MMA bout since 2016.

With the height of this bout only days away, everybody has their two cents on how they see this one fight playing out and have changed their mind a million times in the process. To get a brighter, broader perspective on how UFC 229’s historic main event will play out, our own Sean Sheehan brought some of MMA’s best analysts in for a roundtable to get their thoughts.

Ariel Helwani – ESPN

“As far as the fight is concerned, I wouldn’t be surprised if Conor attacks him in a very similar way to the Chad Mendes fight. He came flying out when everybody thought he would stand back. I wouldn’t be surprised if he tries to be as aggressive as possible. We know how aggressive he does like to be, taking the centre of the cage.”

“Many people might think it won’t be in his best interest to rush right out of the gate as he would be opening himself up to an early takedown, but he’s defied that over the course of his career. I strongly believe Khabib isn’t as bad of a striker (as people like to think). People are pointing to his fight with Al Iaquinta and saying his striking is amateurish. There’s a part of me that believes Khabib was playing possum in that fight, trying to lure Conor into taking a fight against him, knew that he was watching, showing elementary like striking (to make Conor think) ‘one left hand and we’re done’.

“I’m really curious to see Khabib’s striking, because if he really is that stiff, then this could very well be an early night. We’ve seen far better strikers succumb to Conor very early on. The one thing I do feel confident in saying is that if this fight goes past the third round, it’s Khabib’s fight to lose.

“If the fight ends in less than three, I’d say Conor. If it goes longer, it’s Khabib’s.”

Luke Thomas – MMA Fighting

“I’ve thought about this a lot as have many, but my hunch is that this looks more like a Khabib fight than a Conor fight. For the record, I did pick Jose Aldo to beat Conor which was not a smart move, but I did pick Conor to beat Eddie Alvarez. So I came around on him a little bit.”

“I’m expecting Conor to probably hurt Khabib early, but not enough for that to matter in terms of stopping the takedown. I think Khabib finds the takedowns and even more in the second round. I feel the third round is where this will all come to life. One way or the other I don’t think we’ll know until then.

“I don’t think Conor needs a lot of time to cause a lot of damage. I don’t think Khabib’s chin is bad, but I don’t think it’s legendary either as nobody has put a ton of pressure on him in that regard. In terms of how it ends, you could make a great argument about either guy and I’ve been wrong about Conor in the past. If you told me he will win convincingly, I could easily accept this.

“The only way I’m going to predict this is to say, historically with style match ups and discussions in the past, it does tend to favour Khabib, but since then there is a lot we don’t know. There are a lot of variables.”

“If you’re a bettor,stay far away from this one.”

Patrick Wyman – MMA analyst

“If you’d have asked me this a couple of months ago, I would have said Khabib. I think that Khabib still is the favourite and I lean toward him very slightly because, at the end of the day, this fight is about who is going to be able to seize the momentum and move forward more. I feel Khabib is going to get his fight more than McGregor is going to get his. ”

“I don’t see any reason to think that Khabib’s chin is cracked. He has taken some hellacious shots from guys and it has barely seemed to stop his forward momentum. Obviously McGregor is a different beast, but I think you can trust Khabib’s chin. If that’s the case, even in a long drag-out fight, I think you have to see it favouring Khabib. If the fight goes into the later rounds, he’ll have the gas to do what he needs to do.

“McGregor’s footwork has made some drastic improvements, but I don’t think he’ll ever be comfortable fighting off of his backfoot. That’s just so counter to his personality and the way he approaches fights and that if he’s consistently pressured back, he’s going to make mistakes.”

“He’s going to find options in there. He’s going to find ways to hit Khabib. He’ll have moments where he seizes initiative and moves forward, but at the end of the day, I don’t think you can overlook how uncomfortable McGregor is on a really basic level when he does not have the initiative.”

“He’s going to have tricks and he’s going to have things he’ll be able to do to minimize that, but that’s the basic dynamic. Khabib will be more comfortable moving forward than McGregor will be. I think Khabib, as long as he makes those breaks where he’s circling in the centre and throwing his jab to get his gas back, as long as he keeps those brief and doesn’t get sucked into doing that for an entire rounds, I think Khabib is more comfortable doing that than McGregor is fighting off the back foot.”

“So with a lot of caveats, I think my pick will be Khabib by late knockout or submission.”

Peter Carroll – MMA Fighting

“I’ve been going back and forth the entire time. However, I’m expecting Conor to come out explosively and to just try and back Khabib up as much as he can. It all depends on if Khabib can weather that storm from Conor. If he can, I think it’ll be a long night. If he can’t, it’ll be a very short one. I’m stuck between that, I’m not sure what happens. I was talking to Neil Seery and he said whoever wins, in theory, it will be a one-sided victory because they are both so weak in each other’s strengths.”

“I’m still leaning towards Khabib. I have big questions whether Conor is coming in at one hundred percent. I mean, he’s been less visible than we’ve ever seen him even though he looks in fantastic nick. I just feel like we don’t have a good sense of the camp than we usually do. This might just be purely a performance decision, but usually he’s far more visible in terms of the media he’s been doing and social media output.”

“He has this incredible power to make people believe in him.”

“With that said, though, I’m still leaning towards Khabib though but I’m definitely not sure either way.”

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Shout out to Padraig Foran for the video editing