UFC 229 Preview: Conor McGregor vs. Khabib and All the Fights Set for Las Vegas

Steven Rondina@srondinaFeatured ColumnistSeptember 9, 2018

UFC 229 Preview: Conor McGregor vs. Khabib and All the Fights Set for Las Vegas

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    Conor McGregor returns at UFC 229.
    Conor McGregor returns at UFC 229.Brandon Magnus/Zuffa LLC/Getty Images

    There are just 27 days until UFC 229. Just 27 more days until Conor McGregor faces Khabib Nurmagomedov in what could very well be the biggest fight in UFC history.

    And of course, the two top lightweights aren't alone. The full card currently stands as follows:

    Main Card (Pay-Per-View)

    • Khabib Nurmagomedov vs. Conor McGregor
    • Tony Ferguson vs. Anthony Pettis
    • Ovince Saint Preux vs. Dominick Reyes
    • Derrick Lewis vs. Alexander Volkov
    • Michelle Waterson vs. Felice Herrig

    Preliminary Card (Bout Order TBA)

    • Sean O'Malley vs. Jose Alberto Quinonez
    • Sergio Pettis vs. Jussier Formiga
    • Scott Holtzman vs. Alan Patrick
    • Ryan LaFlare vs. Tony Martin
    • Lina Lansberg vs. Yana Kunitskaya
    • Gray Maynard vs. Nik Lentz
    • Aspen Ladd vs. Tonya Evinger

    It's an exceptional night of fights on paper. So exceptional, in fact, that it's worth taking a look at every single bout on the card.

    So what's the story behind these fights? And what's most worth looking forward to? Read our UFC 229 full card preview and find out!

The Main Event: Khabib Nurmagomedov vs. Conor McGregor

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    This is what most Khabib Nurmagomedov fights end up looking like.
    This is what most Khabib Nurmagomedov fights end up looking like.Ed Mulholland/Getty Images

    Khabib Nurmagomedov vs. Conor McGregor checks every possible box an MMA fan could have. It is, as Bleacher Report's own Jonathan Snowden described it, the biggest fight in UFC history. Not only that, a strong case can be made that it's the best.

    From a purely athletic perspective this one is must-see, pitting two of the best fighters in the game today against one another. Nurmagomedov's 26-0 professional record speaks for itself, and was built upon a steady stream of solid opponents. Though McGregor's 21-3 record isn't quite as dazzling, his actual in-cage style most certainly is, as he has made quick work of all-time greats in Jose Aldo and Eddie Alvarez.

    Stylistically, this is a throwback fight that pits two specialists against one another. Though both are complete MMA talents, Nurmagomedov looks to out-wrestle and out-work his opponents on the ground, while McGregor looks to maintain a comfortable distance that allows his striking to shine. That should make for a vicious battle of wills as the competitors look to force the other out of their comfort zone.

    And of course, the long-simmering hatred between the two makes this utterly mouth-watering.

    Though McGregor has proven himself capable of turning any given matchup into a blood feud, he has been going back and forth with Nurmagomedov over social media and in interviews for years. Things got turned up a few notches in April, however, when Nurmagomedov and his crew got into an altercation with McGregor's friend and training partner, Artem Lobov. This incensed McGregor to the point where he flew across the Atlantic to hurl a hand truck through the window of a bus carrying Nurmagomedov and a group of UFC fighters and staff.

    All this combines to make their UFC 229 showdown an absolutely special contest...but how will it go?

    The general belief is that this fight will end in one of two ways; McGregor scoring an early knockout or Nurmagomedov grinding McGregor down as the fight wears on.

    In this writer's opinion, the former is more likely. Nurmagomedov isn't shy about being hit and that's not good when facing off with one of MMA's foremost power punchers. Though his chin seems to be steely, his pure striking skills are relatively lacking, relying on the threat of a takedown to keep opponents off balance.

    McGregor, rightly or wrongly, knows no fear in the cage. There's a chance that could be his downfall here but in this case, it should work to his advantage.

The Co-Main Event: Tony Ferguson vs. Anthony Pettis

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    Tony Ferguson is just super-fun to watch!
    Tony Ferguson is just super-fun to watch!Jeff Bottari/Zuffa LLC/Getty Images

    This fight was made here for one specific purpose: to have a viable plan B ready in case something happens to the main event.

    Despite the fact that the UFC has hitched its proverbial wagon to Khabib Nurmagomedov, the Russian is one of the most notorious fighters in the business when it comes to late withdrawals. Knee injuries and botched weight cuts have robbed him of a sizable chunk of his athletic prime and there's no reason to believe that those troubles are behind him. 

    Should something happen to Nurmagomedov (or if lightning strikes Conor McGregor), having Tony Ferguson vs. Anthony Pettis on the card provides two locked-and-loaded replacements. And if things go off without a hitch? Well, then the co-main event is just plain a great fight!

    Ferguson's penchant for putting on wild, exciting fights is well-established at this point. Despite having the all-around skills and physical tools to approach each contest in a tactical way, he is instead an aggressive risk-taker, busting out flying knees, wild submission attempts and Imanari rolls with a frequency that would bite lesser fighters. That has made him one of the most dynamic threats in the lightweight division, and exciting to the point where he deserves appointment viewing.

    Of course, that almost perfectly described Pettis just a few short years ago.

    Pettis became an overnight hit among hardcore fans in 2010 when he recorded a victory over WEC champion Ben Henderson with the legendary "Showtime Kick." Though the early days of his UFC career were defined by wild ups and downs, he finally captured gold in 2013. All the while, he never strayed from his high-flying style, slicing his way through opponents with lightning-quick kicks and forcing taps with out-of-nowhere submissions. He hit the skids in 2015, but has more or less returned to form since then, most recently besting top-10-ranked Michael Chiesa.

    Should this fight actually happen, Ferguson's consistent success warrants favorite status over Pettis. Still, the most important prediction here is that this one will be an exciting, back-and-forth scrap.

Pay-Per-View Main Card Fights

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    Derrick Lewis still gained momentum from his boring win over Francis Ngannou.
    Derrick Lewis still gained momentum from his boring win over Francis Ngannou.Josh Hedges/Zuffa LLC/Getty Images

    Ovince Saint Preux vs. Dominick Reyes

    Dominick Reyes is off to a white-hot start to his UFC career, currently sitting at 3-0 with each win coming via first-round stoppage. That run warrants a temperature check against an established veteran, and top-10 staple Ovince Saint Preux is just the man for that job.

    While OSP has maintained a safe distance from title contention throughout his UFC career, the Strikeforce alum has hung around at the top of the division for years, courtesy of his solid all-around skills and excellent physical tools. Despite being at a relatively advanced stage of his career, he remains a legitimate challenge for almost anybody on the roster. 

    Despite looking exceptional to this point, Reyes should be viewed as the underdog here as he remains unproven against high-end opposition. If he can pull this one off, however, big things could be just around the corner.

    Derrick Lewis vs. Alexander Volkov

    In another world, this would be a heavyweight title eliminator. In this one, however, it's just another fight as the world awaits a specific date and time for Daniel Cormier vs. Brock Lesnar. That said, Derrick Lewis vs. Alexander Volkov is still very good on its own merits.

    A former Bellator champion, Volkov has transitioned exceptionally well into the octagon, earning a 4-0 record with his most-recent win coming at the expense of Fabricio Werdum. He'll have his hands full, however, against a fan favorite and home run hitter in Lewis.

    This one is something of a toss-up as Volkov is more consistent and likely the better overall fighter, but Lewis' pure punching power is almost unmatched. The Russian should have this one, but it also feels like this might be Lewis' chance to break through to the next level.

    Michelle Waterson vs. Felice Herrig

    It’s easy to tell which fighters the UFC likes sometimes. Legitimate contenders will find themselves toiling away on the prelims of free TV cards in Idaho or South Dakota. Meanwhile, promotional darlings end up getting put onto the biggest pay-per-view event of the year despite being miles away from the belt.

    Michelle Waterson is one of those darlings, and while that isn’t necessarily undeserved given her Invicta FC championship pedigree, she reaps the benefits of the UFC’s preferential treatment here with strong placement on the UFC 229 card. Unfortunately, while the promotion did her a favor by putting her on this event, they weren’t nearly as kind with the matchmaking.

    Set to face off with a much-improved Felice Herrig, the Karate Hottie will be facing somebody capable of matching her standing but besting her in the clinch. That should make for a slow grind of a fight that ultimately pushes her out of the win column...but not necessarily too far away from the main event picture.

Preliminary Card Fights

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    Sean O'Malley returns at UFC 229.
    Sean O'Malley returns at UFC 229.Jeff Bottari/Zuffa LLC/Getty Images

    Sean O'Malley vs. Jose Alberto Quinonez

    Sean O'Malley is one of the hottest prospects in the UFC right now and the promotion is giving him a grand stage to show off his skills at UFC 229. He faces Jose Alberto Quinonez in the top preliminary card fight and though Quinonez is no slouch, his style plays directly into O'Malley's hands.

    Sergio Pettis vs. Jussier Formiga

    When this fight was booked, it was likely meant to decide the next challenger to long-reigning flyweight champion Demetrious Johnson. Unfortunately, Henry Cejudo's dubious title win at UFC 227 threw a wrench into those plans. Though both Sergio Pettis and Jussier Formiga are legitimate talents, their past losses to Cejudo (alongside the likelihood of a Cejudo vs. Johnson rematch) land them outside the title picture regardless of who wins here.

    Scott Holtzman vs. Alan Patrick

    Scott Holtzman and Alan Patrick are both good fighters...but neither is especially amazing or exciting. They should combine for a fine fight here (albeit one that goes the distance), but this will likely be one of the first fights forgotten about come Sunday.

    Ryan LaFlare vs. Tony Martin

    Ryan LaFlare and Tony Martin are both generally solid welterweights that haven't been able to muster up the kind of sustained winning streak to warrant a spot in the top 10 of the division. Martin has a higher career ceiling than the relatively aged LaFlare but LaFlare's performances against stiffer competition bodes well for his chances in this bout.

    Lina Lansberg vs. Yana Kunitskaya

    Yana Kunitskaya and Lina Lansberg were both brought into the UFC for the sole purpose of catching an L from Cris Cyborg. Lansberg has proven herself as a UFC-caliber talent in the time since, but Kunitskaya will look to get her first Octagon win here. 

    Gray Maynard vs. Nik Lentz

    A showdown between two veteran grinders trying to claw their way out of recent skids. This one is a toss-up of a fight with the only real certainty being that it will be a snoozer.

    Aspen Ladd vs. Tonya Evinger

    Aspen Ladd is a young, undefeated talent that the UFC wants to groom. Tonya Evinger is supposed to be the steely veteran she'll build a name off of...but that's probably not going to happen. Evinger, despite joining Lansberg and Kunitskaya in the "lost to Cyborg in UFC debut" club, is likely a top-five bantamweight. She'll likely beat Ladd, and there's a decent chance she does it in dominant fashion.