Bleacher Report's Expert Picks for Conor McGregor vs. Khabib Nurmagomedov
The biggest fight of the year has arrived.
Conor McGregor will return to the UFC after nearly two years away in a showdown with undefeated Khabib Nurmagomedov at UFC 229 on Saturday night in Las Vegas.
The title fight will be the culmination of a long feud between the two that resulted in a chaotic scene earlier this year, when McGregor threw a dolly at a bus that Nurmagomedov and other fighters were on.
Now that the two men have found the proper forum to continue their rivalry, we've convened a panel of experts to break down the fight.
Read on to see who the Bleacher Report MMA staff thinks will win, what might happen on the undercard and more.
Who Wins? When and How?
Jeremy Botter: There's this persistent myth that McGregor has no takedown defense and will be eaten alive by any good wrestler he faces.
It's not true, of course, but there are good wrestlers, and then there is Nurmagomedov. Conor might dodge and stuff a few takedowns, but he won't be able to stop them all, and Nurmagomedov wins by ref stoppage in the fourth round after a barrage of ground-and-pound.
Chad Dundas: Nurmagomedov via third-round TKO. His takedowns, top control and ground-and-pound will be too much for the ring-rusty McGregor, who will wilt over the course of 12-ish grueling minutes of action.
Scott Harris: More factors favor Khabib, but the one that favors McGregor is a great equalizer. "Sure, you have the left hand, but..." isn't going to cut it, especially when you've never been there before. McGregor, KO, second round.
Nathan McCarter: McGregor has always had an ability to read his opponents and exploit their tendencies. He will get an opportunity to exchange with Nurmagomedov within the first two rounds, and that is where he lands cleanly for the TKO finish.
Steven Rondina: Nurmagomedov is an excellent fighter, and his betting-favorite status for this fight is justified, but I'm going with McGregor. Khabib's willingness to plod forward and, worse, absorb strikes to get within takedown range is going translate to a TKO win for Conor inside three rounds.
Matthew Ryder: Nobody ever got rich betting against McGregor, but something about the way he's carried himself in the lead-up to this one concerns me. We've seen many a great fighter get rich, famous or both and then get starched, and I fear that may be what we see on Saturday. Nurmagomedov by TKO, third round.
Jonathan Snowden: This fight will come down to control of the Octagon. If McGregor can circle smartly and stay in the middle of the cage, he will eventually catch Khabib with a solid punch. That's when wrestling prowess ceases being the determining factor, replaced by something much more primal. McGregor, knockout, Round 3.
Will Conor's Fight Night Antics Draw Praise or Criticism?
Botter: Here's the thing: McGregor on fight night is a different cat. He is respectful and praises his opponent. No matter how stupid things get in the lead-up to the fight, he's always ready to extend a handshake and a hug after the fight. We'll see the same thing here; McGregor and Nurmagomedov will (at least temporarily) bury the hatchet.
Dundas: I don't think there will be many antics from McGregor on fight night. He knows what's at stake here and will play it pretty straight.
Harris: Well, given that I think he's going to win, they'll draw praise. The fight world is like that. If he loses, he's a problem, but for now, let's party!
McCarter: His post-fight interviews usually produce praise. No reason to think this is different.
Rondina: We all know how combat sports fans work; might makes right. If he wins, we'll have NBA players doing the billionaire strut and comparisons to Muhammad Ali. If he loses, we'll have mainstream figures reveling in his defeat, think pieces on Conor being a media hype job and endless memes on social media.
Ryder: Praise, 100 percent. Win or lose, McGregor has proved time and again that on fight night, when the ref pulls the fighters apart for good, he's always classy in the moment.
Snowden: McGregor almost always handles the post-fight stuff perfectly. He's humble when circumstances call for it and cocky when his performance warrants it. He'll be delightfully madcap after beating Khabib.
Which Fighter on the Undercard Will Impress the Most?
Botter: Tony Ferguson has a big opportunity to put himself in line for a title fight. I don't see him disappointing against Anthony Pettis.
Dundas: Either undefeated light heavyweight Dominick Reyes in an upset win over Ovince St. Preux or former interim lightweight champ Tony Ferguson for styling on former champ Anthony Pettis.
Harris: No fire prospects on the card, so let's go with 39-year-old Gray Maynard. He'll upset another grizzled veteran in Nik Lentz for a feel-good story (and maybe that long-awaited retirement announcement).
McCarter: Reyes. He could be the future of the division, and all his performances have reinforced that line of thought.
Rondina: If he comes into this fight healthy, Ferguson. While Nurmagomedov has willed himself into the periphery of McGregor's spotlight with three years of callouts and media-backed "this is the guy" status (which, admittedly, I was an early part of), Ferguson has largely been forgotten about, despite being an extraordinary talent and just generally fun to watch. This will be the casual fan's first taste of El Cucuy, and he probably won't disappoint.
Ryder: Alexander Volkov. He is skilled and coming into his own, and a good showing against Derrick Lewis (with whom he matches up well) will put him in line for a title shot.
Snowden: Is there an undercard? No one will remember it by the end of the night.
Will the Card Set the UFC's PPV Record?
Botter: I'd be stunned if it didn't. The record is around 1.65 million, and I just can't see it doing less than that. Will it hit 2.5 million? I don't know. I'm not really feeling it. But I think it will come close to two million, at least.
Harris: No. As great as Nurmagomedov is, he doesn't have the name value of a Nate Diaz or even an Eddie Alvarez. As white-hot a star as McGregor is, he can't make up for that on his own, even with a possible spike in interest following the Floyd Mayweather Jr. fight.
McCarter: It's coming at the right time without another major PPV anywhere in sight. It'll come in just under two million.
Rondina: Probably not, and even if it does, not by much. The UFC dragging out McGregor's contract negotiations for months on end and the summer he lost to the courtroom have killed off any boost he may have gotten from last year's boxing match with Mayweather.
It will still do well over a million and might even reach that 1.6 million mark that Diaz vs. McGregor 2 hit, but I'd be stunned if it actually approached White's prediction.
Ryder: Yes, but not close to what White has been predicting. Unless something wild goes down at weigh-ins to push it to the next level, I'll put this one at 1.7-1.8 million buys.
Snowden: McGregor is the biggest star the UFC has ever seen. Combine that celebrity with a legitimate grudge match, and you have the ingredients for record-setting box office magic.
Who's Next for Conor?
Botter: I think Conor loses this fight and walks away for good. He's got plenty of irons in the fire, and he's developing a lot of different business interests.
He wants to be a mogul, not just a fighter. If he does get tempted back to the cage by a fight with Georges St-Pierre, we'll see another contract renegotiation and another ridiculous press conference.
Dundas: Win, lose or draw, McGregor will fight St-Pierre, either at 155 pounds or in the new 165-pound division. Maybe even for a title.
The earning potential of that fight is too great to ignore, though feasibility might well hinge on GSP's health.
Harris: He keeps throwing out these wacky ideas that send everyone into a tizzy. Anderson Silva? St-Pierre? I'm sure McGregor believed it all when he said it, but I'm going for a trilogy with Diaz.
McCarter: McGregor only gets big fights, and there are only two big fights for him: Diaz and GSP. Diaz if he loses, GSP if he wins.
Rondina: Conor's status in boxing is unclear at the moment, but win or lose, the UFC's oppressive pay structure makes it so he stands to make much, much more in the ring than the Octagon.
I feel gross just for saying this, but unless White wisens up and pays him what he's worth (and we've got 17 years of precedent to suggest that he won't), I think there's a strong chance that we see McGregor revisit his nonsensical rivalry with Paulie Malignaggi in 2019.
Ryder: Diaz, outside chance of Ferguson. Or maybe Mayweather again.
Snowden: The Diaz fights seem ancient at this point, a relic of a time gone by. Instead, he'll fight St-Pierre in one of the most polarizing fights ever to grace the Octagon.
Who's Next for Khabib?
Botter: Ferguson. Sure, it's a cursed fight, but as long as they are on top of the division, White won't be able to keep his promise to never book the fight again. White's word is worth almost nothing, anyway, so I'd look for this fight next spring.
Dundas: After retaining his title, Nurmagomedov will fight Ferguson in a unification bout of sorts.
Harris: He goes back to dominating everyone and spoiling for a rematch, probably under the guise that he just "got caught" and is still the better man.
McCarter: The winner of Dustin Poirier-Diaz for the 165-pound championship. I'm willing it into existence.
Rondina: If Nurmagomedov wins, he likely goes on to do normal UFC things like defending the title from a top contender (particularly Ferguson or Poirier). If he loses, he plunges down the totem pole, disappears for a while and re-emerges to main-event a forgettable cable television Fight Night card against whichever top-10 lightweight the UFC has available at the time.
Ryder: Poirier or Ferguson.
Snowden: He'll go right back on the warpath, grinding out opponents and reminding fans why he was so feared in the first place.