UFC 219: Conor McGregor Should Want No Part of Fighting Khabib Nurmagomedov

Chad Dundas@@chaddundasMMA Lead WriterDecember 31, 2017

LAS VEGAS, NV - DECEMBER 30:  Khabib Nurmagomedov of Russia speaks to the media after the UFC 219 event inside T-Mobile Arena on December 30, 2017 in Las Vegas, Nevada. (Photo by Brandon Magnus/Zuffa LLC/Zuffa LLC via Getty Images)
Brandon Magnus/Zuffa LLC/Getty Images

Fifteen minutes wasn't enough for Khabib Nurmagomedov Saturday at UFC 219.

In the wake of his savage, three-round beating of Edson Barboza at T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas, Nurmagomedov said he was ready to go again.

With the afterglow of his lopsided unanimous-decision win (30-25, 30-25, 30-24) still hanging in the air, the 29-year-old Dagestan, Russia, native said he wanted fights with UFC lightweight champion Conor McGregor and interim champ Tony Ferguson.

Both of them.

In one night.

"Conor and Tony are nothing," Nurmagomedov said in the cage and later in a UFC release. "It does not matter to me which one I get next. If the UFC will allow me, I will fight them both in the same night."

Perhaps Nurmagomedov just wanted to make up for lost time.

Owing to a laundry list of injuries, he's fought in the Octagon only three times during the past three-and-a-half years. After making the fourth-ranked Barboza look like little more than a tune-up opponent in their co-main event bout, he was right to call out the top dogs at 155 pounds—and as quickly as he can get his hands on them.

The days of the UFC staging single-night, multi-fight tournaments are long gone. For Nurmagomedov to get his wish of a two-for-one special against McGregor and Ferguson, he would likely need a time machine.

Fact is, considering his injury history and what will be at stake, The Eagle would be lucky to land a future bout with either of the UFC's lightweight champions. 

Especially McGregor, who spent 2017 establishing himself as one of the biggest draws in combat sports.

Conor McGregor.
Conor McGregor.PAUL FAITH/Getty Images

After the beating he put on Barboza, Nurmagomedov represents that least desirable equation in all of MMA: the toughest matchup for the lowest possible financial return. On top of that, agreeing to a bout with him comes with a high risk that things will fall apart at the last possible minute.

Both these factors weigh heavily on a man like McGregor, who has previously made it clear he only wants to fight people he knows will show up. Every step of the way in his UFC career, the bombastic Irishman has carefully plotted a course from one high-exposure, big-money fight to the next.

Each step has been bigger than the last, culminating with McGregor's boxing match against Floyd Mayweather Jr. in August 2017. That fight became one of the biggest-selling attractions in the history of pay-per-view and may have netted McGregor as much as $100 million.

With that kind of money in the bank, UFC President Dana White has routinely said he has no idea whether McGregor will fight again. Though the man himself contends his next bout will be in MMA, notions of boxing matches against Manny Pacquiao or Paulie Malignaggi continue to swirl.

Given how McGregor views the world and the rarefied position he enjoys, why would he  take the risk of a fight against Nurmagomedov?

He wouldn't.

Or rather, he shouldn't.

Even if he does return to the UFC, it would be more prudent for McGregor to first take on Ferguson in a unification bout. On top of that, he could complete his trilogy with Nate Diaz or hold out for a superfight against someone like Georges St-Pierre.

Of all the fights on the table, Nurmagomedov would likely be the smallest payday. There's also the small matter that the Russian's hard-nosed, grappling-based style would pose significant challenges for McGregor's stand-up oriented game.

Nurmagomedov has a tendency to get overly aggressive on the feet and leave himself open to counters. That could give McGregor an opportunity to land one of his vaunted left-handed power shots. If he can't KO Nurmagomedov early, however, their meeting would likely turn into the sort of bout McGregor should avoid at all costs.

That is, a slow and methodical destruction of the legend he's worked so hard to build.

Take the Barboza fight for a prime example of how that could happen.

The Brazilian fighter had some solid moments in the early going at UFC 219, peppering Nurmagomedov's lead leg with hard, low kicks and sticking him with some punching combinations. But Nurmagomedov merely waded through all of it, latched on to Barboza's legs and dragged him to the mat.

After that, it was rinse and repeat for the next 14 minutes.

Nurmagomedov slugs Barboza.
Nurmagomedov slugs Barboza.Jeff Bottari/Zuffa LLC/Getty Images

Nurmagomedov spent nearly every remaining moment brutalizing Barboza with his trademark ground-and-pound offense. His relentless takedowns sucked the steam out of Barboza's flashy, kick-heavy offense, and then Nurmagomedov set about systematically battering every part of his opponent's body with his fists, knees and elbows.

Or at least that's how it seemed.

It was an impressive—sometimes ugly—display, and the fight could have been stopped long before going to the judges. When the smoke cleared, Nurmagomedov had reasserted his position as perhaps the scariest lightweight in the world.

The victory ran Nurmagomedov's overall record to 25-0 and made it nine wins in a row in the UFC. Even in the uber-competitive lightweight division, his relentless grappling and ferocious ground-and-pound stand out.

His ice-cold demeanor and penchant for over-the-top one-liners have also made him reasonably popular with the UFC's hardcore fanbase, but his inactivity has prevented him from making a dent among casual fans.

Add it all up, and there doesn't seem to be much compelling McGregor to fight Nurmagomedov.

Nurmagomedov doing what he does best.
Nurmagomedov doing what he does best.Jeff Bottari/Zuffa LLC/Getty Images

The only reason for McGregor to do it would be a sudden commitment to defending his title against all comers. Since winning the UFC's featherweight crown in December 2015, McGregor has yet to defend a championship inside the Octagon. He's always had bigger challenges attracting his attention.

Then again, if there's a wild card in all this, it's McGregor himself.

Predicting The Notorious' next move has always been impossible. In fact, it has long been rumored McGregor is interested in a fight versus Nurmagomedov—if it could go down as an over-the-top spectacle in Russia.

If the UFC could put together a compelling financial package, perhaps it would be enough to turn McGregor's money-conscious head.

No matter what, a fight against Nurmagomedov would be a big risk and potentially the biggest challenge of McGregor's MMA career.

In order for it to be worth it, something in the equation would likely have to change.


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