Conor McGregor vs Khabib Nurmagomedov is a clash of styles that the sport of MMA was created for. Perhaps the best striker in the game vs the best grappler in the game is a dream fight for UFC fans and Nurmagomedov, the current UFC lightweight champion, is favored to win at -170 with McGregor coming back at +140. The mega-fight will take place tonight in Las Vegas at UFC 229.
From a promotional standpoint, making the fight is a dream come true for the UFC as it will undoubtedly be one of the most profitable events in their history, and from a betting standpoint, there’s lots of money to be made too. McGregor fans will be foaming at the mouth to place a wager on the Irishman, especially at plus-money, but is that a smart bet vs the 26-0 Nurmagomedov, whose smothering grappling style has been completely unsolvable?
McGregor’s grappling skills are probably in the average range and that’s an area where he’s been taken advantage of before. A much smaller Chad Mendes easily took McGregor to the mat whenever he wanted to at UFC 189 (yes, I know McGregor won the fight), and he was choked out by Nate Diaz at UFC 196.
He does have a significant disadvantage when it comes to wrestling, but there are other areas where McGregor would have a definite upper hand, most notably with his hands. Eighteen of his 21 professional wins have come via T/KO and he has a very impressive hit list that includes finishes of Jose Aldo, Eddie Alvarez, Dustin Poirier and, of course, Paulie Malignaggi (insert smiley face emoji here).
Line Movement (or lack thereof)
If the amount of betting action McGregor received vs Floyd Mayweather is any indication, some bettors clearly don’t care how he matches up stylistically — after Sportsbook at +950 vs Mayweather, McGregor closed at +265 due to an avalanche of bets placed on him.
Many, including myself, assumed that we would have seen much more movement on the line due to lots of public money coming in on McGregor, but that hasn't been the case yet. On the day Khabib vs McGregor was announced, Nurmagomedov opened at -200 with McGregor at +160. With the champ now at -170 and Conor at +140 on the day of the fight, there's still pretty good value on McGregor as a dog and those who are confident in Khabib should feel good about getting him at a much better number than his Sportsbook odds.
Could McGregor’s mental edge be the difference?
He talks a lot of smack and he participates in some controversial behavior to get in his opponents’ heads (that poor bus), but when it’s time to fight, he backs it up. McGregor has an uncanny ability to build a fight up to unparalleled levels that have made some opponents crumble when the cage door finally closes. He calmly absorbs the self-imposed pressure, but as we’ve seen in the past in title fights with Jose Aldo and Eddie Alvarez, they got completely thrown off their game and were unable to execute when it mattered most.
There’s nothing to indicate McGregor could mentally paralyze Khabib into underperforming, but we didn’t see it coming in those other instances either. Unfortunately for us bettors, the mental part of the sport is hard to predict but it absolutely needs to be considered.
Will Ring Rust be a factor?
After plenty of speculation, both sides agreed to meet in the Octagon on October 6 at UFC 229 in Las Vegas. That will be 693 days since McGregor last stepped foot inside the Octagon, as the Notorious One has not fought in the UFC since winning the lightweight title on November 12, 2016. During that same time span, Khabib has fought twice, easily winning decisions over Edson Barboza and Al Iaquinta.
With such a long layoff, many bettors are using that as a reason to bet against the Irishman, but it’s likely something that’s being blown out of proportion. Many great fighters such as Jon Jones, Georges St-Pierre and even Khabib have had long layoffs from the UFC, only to return to show no signs of rust.
McGregor’s longest time away from the Octagon was 11 months between fighting Max Holloway in August of 2013 and Diego Brandao in July of 2014. He TKO’d Brandao in the Sportsbook round. There’s no reason to assume he’s still not at his athletic peak, so bettors should reconsider ring rust as a reason to fade him on fight night.
Here’s our most recent odds for the fight. Who will you be betting on and why? Let us know in the comments section below.
The OddsShark staff is quite split on this UFC fight analysis. Scott Hastings is convinced that Khabib is going to win, and he makes his case for that right here. The McGregor side is backed by Iain MacMillan, and you can check out his argument for the Irishman here.