The UFC fight news that many MMA fans have been calling for has come to fruition as the former two-division champion Conor “The Notorious” McGregor is back in action to stand toe to toe with Khabib “The Eagle” Nurmagomedov at UFC 229 in Las Vegas this Saturday on October 6. The current lightweight champion, Khabib, is a -170 favorite with the former titleholder coming back at +140.
McGregor has closed as the favorite in all of his fights except for his featherweight title fight against then-champ Jose Aldo – we all know how that worked out. Meanwhile, Khabib has closed as a -200 favorite or better in each of his last eight fights. The fighters have a combined 19-1 record inside the UFC and a 47-3 combined record overall.
The UFC has put together a fantastic card for this event and I have a breakdown and pick for each of the fights on the main card.
|Straight Up||Picking Favorites||Picking Underdogs|
Breaking down McGregor
McGregor (+130) has won many of his scraps before he even stepped into the Octagon with his relentless verbal jousting and an “I can conquer anything” mentality. “The Notorious” brings the fight to his opponents and seeks an opening for his deadly left hand for the knockout. The Ireland native has finished six of his 10 UFC fights by T/KO and 18 of his 21 victories overall have been by knockout. The southpaw tries to push a suffocating pace, averaging 5.82 strikes per minute while absorbing 4.55 significant strikes per minute.
McGregor’s three losses have all come by submission, mostly due to his suspect cardio letting him down as in the first Nate Diaz fight. Conor’s wrestling defense has been in question as well, as he was taken down four times in his Chad Mendes fight at UFC 189, although he had a torn ACL going into that fight. The former champ is coming off a two-year layoff from the cage. Of course, he had his massive boxing match with Floyd Mayweather last year, but ring rust is a thing and his cardio has already been questioned.
Breaking down Khabib
Nurmagomedov (-160) has cardio for days and he puts relentless pressure on his opponents that they eventually just cave to, and he has his way for the duration of the bout. “The Eagle” has freakish strength for the lightweight division and that is seen in the eyes of his foes when he gets his hands on them. The Dagestan native has outstruck his opponents by an average 116.75 strikes over his last four scraps. That’s not a typo; I repeat: outstruck his opponents by over 100 strikes. The orthodox fighter has a tremendous 70 percent significant strike defense, absorbing just 1.55 significant strikes per minute while dishing out an average of 4.34 strikes per minute. Much of these strikes came via a swarming ground and pound.
His main attack is his elite-level wrestling. He averages 5.44 takedowns per 15 minutes and is constantly backing his opponent down in search of getting his hands on them. This was on full display when he took on Abel Trujillo at UFC 160 when Trujillo was dragged to the ground 21 times through their three-round bout. Khabib did show a penchant for getting hit in his last fight against Al Iaquinta at UFC 223, as he was tagged 43 times in the bout, the most strikes he’d absorbed since 2013.
How will McGregor and Khabib play out?
Styles make fights and this is a perfect example as you have the hard-hitting Conor McGregor clashing with the all-out wrestling attack from Khabib Nurmagomedov. The Ireland native will look for the early strike to reclaim his UFC lightweight belt that he never officially lost, but if this fight goes long, the momentum quickly swings in Khabib’s favor. McGregor has tremendous footwork and will have to play the matador role as the charging bull of Khabib seeks to take him down. Khabib’s chin will be tested but he is also going to be the bigger man in the bout and if he realizes early in the fight he can handle McGregor’s power, this will be a long return to the Octagon for “The Notorious.”
Prediction: Khabib Nurmagomedov (-160) via T/KO
For a more in-depth odds analysis, check out Joe Osborne’s article.
Main Card Breakdowns and Predictions: Tony Ferguson vs Anthony Pettis
UFC 223 was supposed to be headlined by Tony “El Cucuy” Ferguson vs Khabib “The Eagle” Nurmagomedov, but just days before the fight Ferguson tripped over a TV cable and tore a ligament in his knee and was forced out of the fight. Now, just six months removed from surgery, the former interim champion is back in action taking on Anthony “Showtime” Pettis with Ferguson being a -360 favorite with Pettis coming back at +270.
Ferguson (-340) won The Ultimate Fighter 13 and has only stumbled once in his 13 fights since then, including setting a record with an ongoing 10-fight winning streak with six of those fights ending by submission. El Cucuy has freakish cardio in which he pushes the pace either on the feet or on the mat, seeking the submission or raining down a vicious ground and pound. Ferguson has outstruck his opponents by double digits five times during his current streak.
The former interim champ doesn’t typically search for the takedown but rather looks to knock his foes down and sink in a submission, or if he is taken down he attacks off his back. Ferguson averages 5.09 significant strikes per minute while absorbing just 3.48 significant strikes per minute and he attempts an average of 1.59 submissions per fight which is fifth-most in the lightweight division.
Pettis (+260) claimed the UFC lightweight championship at UFC 164 in 2013, stopping Benson Henderson with a first-round submission, and defended his belt with a second-round submission vs Gilbert Melendez at UFC 181. Showtime lost his strap in his next bout with Rafael dos Anjos, which began a three-fight losing streak, and he hasn’t won back-to-back fights since. The 31-year-old is extremely creative in his standup game, throwing strikes from many different angles, including using the cage to jump off of.
Similar to Ferguson, Pettis has a deadly ground game that has earned him four submission victories inside the Octagon and he averages 1.33 submission attempts per fight. He doesn’t just go swinging for the fences in his fights, though, as he looks for his opportunities to land flashy strikes, averaging 2.78 significant strikes per minute while absorbing 2.8 significant strikes per minute.
A win for Ferguson puts him directly in line for a shot at the belt that will be up for grabs later on this same card between Conor McGregor and Khabib Nurmagomedov. However, a win for Pettis puts him back in the conversation to reclaim the title he lost over three years ago. El Cucuy has so many different weapons to get his opponents out of the cage, but most importantly his cardio is such that he can mentally defeat his foes with his all-out pressure. Pettis can be dangerous backing up, by throwing some spinning attacks that he has found success in. I anticipate a great battle with two creative fighters that will surely entertain and set the table for the main event.
Prediction: Tony Ferguson (-340) via submission
Ovince Saint Preux vs Dominick Reyes
Reyes (-240) puts his undefeated 9-0 record on the line in this fight, including a perfect 3-0 inside the Octagon. “The Devastator” has incredible athleticism, a great mix between speed and power that has allowed him to rack up an impressive record. Of his nine professional fights, only one has gone out of the first round (a unanimous decision victory in 2015), and four of his fights haven’t got out of the first minute. Reyes has outstruck his opponents by double digits in each of his three UFC fights, earning two TKO victories and one submission while being in the Octagon for a total of seven minutes and three seconds.
Saint Preux (+190) has been on a solid streak recently, winning four of his last five fights following a three-fight losing streak against some of the top fighters in the division. Three of Saint Preux’s last four wins have come by submission, including an armbar win over Tyson Pedro in June. Pedro did land some heavy shots early in that fight that rocked “OSP” but a poor decision by Pedro led to his demise a short time later. The Florida native has an 11-6 record in the UFC, seemingly feasting on lesser competition while falling to top-level talent.
OSP has always shown a vulnerability in his standup game but has tremendous strength that has allowed him to lock in fight-ending submissions. Reyes is a wrecking ball that should be striking fear in the light heavyweight division, as he finishes fights rapidly and aggressively. I expect The Devastator to swarm OSP with his dangerous striking, while Saint Preux will need to do anything he can to get this fight to the mat.
Prediction: Dominick Reyes (-240) via knockout
Derrick Lewis vs Alexander Volkov
Volkov (-170) is a tall and long fighter who has exceptional striking. The Russian has rattled off four straight victories since joining the UFC in 2016 and is riding a six-fight winning streak overall. “Drago” most recently, has earned back-to-back T/KO victories over Stefan Struve and Fabricio Werdum, outstriking his opponents 240-124 in those two fights. The 29-year-old averages 4.84 significant strikes per minute while absorbing just 2.35 significant strikes per minute, defending 58 percent of strikes against.
Lewis (+140) possesses extreme power and a dangerous ground-and-pound game. The 33-year-old has won eight of his last nine fights with six of those eight victories coming by T/KO. “The Black Beast” is 20-5 in his professional career, with 17 of his 20 wins coming via knockout. Lewis can sometimes sit back and wait for his opponent to come to him and then he explodes forward with bad intentions. His KO victory over Travis Browne in 2017 was one of the most vicious knockouts in UFC history, mostly because of referee Mario Yamasaki failing to end the fight when it should have been.
This big question mark in this fight is the health of Derrick Lewis. When he’s healthy he moves nicely in the Octagon and is seemingly unstoppable, however, in recent fights his back has caused him to not be aggressive. Lewis’ last fight vs Francis Ngannou featured just 31 strikes over the 15-minute fight which is the second-fewest strikes in a three-round UFC fight, once again Lewis’ back had flared up. Expect a standup war between two of the top fighters in the division if Lewis’ back is feeling good in the fight. If not, expect Volkov to flex his muscles and push the pace.
Prediction: Derrick Lewis (+140) via knockout.
Michelle Waterson vs Felice Herrig
Herrig (-125) had her four-fight winning streak come to an end in her last time in the Octagon. “Lil Bulldog” was outstruck 140-97 by a top contender in Karolina Kowalkiewicz in a split decision loss at UFC 223. The 34-year-old has exceptional cardio, constantly getting in the face of her opponents and has a good mix of wrestling and striking, landing 3.74 significant strikes per minute but she also absorbs 4.86 significant strikes per minute. Herrig doesn’t finish many fights, though, as nine of his 14 professional wins have come by decision, while all seven of her losses came in the same fashion.
Waterson (-105) is a well-rounded fighter with above-average submission skills. “The Karate Hottie” has nine victories coming by submission but earned her last win via split decision over Cortney Casey in April. Waterson did lose her two fights prior to that win, but those losses came against current strawweight champion, Rose Namajunas, and Tecia Torres. The 32-year-old lands 86 percent of her takedown attempts and she averages 2.69 takedowns per 15 minutes which is when she starts seeking the submission. Waterson also lands 60 percent of her significant strike attempts, averaging 3.17 significant strikes per minute.
This is a very interesting fight and the odds reflect this. Both fighters have the heart of a warrior with exceptional cardio and athleticism. Herrig can be a little wild in her striking while Waterson is a little more refined, on the mat both fighters are constantly looking for the submission, yet The Karate Hottie can sink them in a little better. I expect this fight will be extremely close and only a mistake will result in the fight being ended.
Prediction: Michelle Waterson (-105) via decision
Here’s a look at the rest of the odds for UFC 229