There are some interesting fights littering the UFC 229 fight card but there's no doubt it's the main event between Conor McGregor and Khabib Nurmagomedov that will draw a massive audience Saturday.
It's been nearly two years since MMA's biggest attraction last stepped into the Octagon. In November 2016, McGregor took the lightweight title from Eddie Alvarez. Now he will look to pry the same title from Nurmagomedov's clutch.
It won't be an easy task. McGregor is a slight underdog. A long layoff and a potentially bad stylistic matchup makes this contest endlessly intriguing. But it's another opportunity for the Irishman to add to his legacy.
The next challenger for the lightweight strap is likely on this card as well. Tony Ferguson will take on Anthony Pettis in the co-main event in a likely No. 1 contender bout.
Here's a look at the rest of the card with the latest odds, according to OddsShark, and predictions for the biggest fights of the night.
PPV Main Card (10 p.m. ET):
- 155 lbs.: UFC lightweight champion Khabib Nurmagomedov (-160) vs. Conor McGregor (+130)
- 155 lbs.: Tony Ferguson (-350) vs. Anthony Pettis (+260)
- 205 lbs.: Ovince Saint Preux (+175) vs. Dominick Reyes (-225)
- 265 lbs.: Derrick Lewis (+140) vs. Alexander Volkov (-175)
- 115 lbs.: Michelle Waterson (+100) vs. Felice Herrig (-130)
FOX Sports 1 Prelims (8 p.m. ET):
- 125 lbs.: Jussier Formiga (+120) vs. Sergio Pettis (-150)
- 170 lbs.: Vincente Luque (-800) vs. Jalin Turner (+500)
- 135 lbs.: Aspen Ladd (-150) vs. Tonya Evinger (+120)
- 155 lbs.: Scott Holtzman (+200) vs. Alan Patrick (-260)
Fight Pass Prelims (6:30 p.m. ET):
- 135 lbs.: Yana Kunitskaya (-210) vs. Lina Lansberg (+170)
- 155 lbs.: Gray Maynard (+180) vs. Nik Lentz (-230)
- 170 lbs.: Ryan LaFlare (-140) vs. Tony Martin (+110)
Moneyline explanation: Wager $160 on Nurmahomedov to win $100 or wager $100 on McGregor to win $130.
Khabib Nurmagomedov Outlasts Conor McGregor
The opening minutes of the main event are going to be fascinating.
McGregor is an incredibly fast starter with the ability to change the fight from the opening bell. Seven of his nine wins in the Octagon have come in the first or second round. Nurmagomedov, on the other hand, has only two wins in the same time frame.
On the feet, there's a big skill disparity between the two. McGregor is an assassin with some of the best reflexes and counter-striking skills in the Octagon. Nurmagomedov isn't a slouch in the striking department, but he leans toward the side of average.
Where Nurmagomedov excels is his pressure-grappling game. He's a suffocating sambo practitioner with an incredible top game.
The biggest question in this fight will be how Nurmagomedov reacts when McGregor lands cleanly. Edson Barboza is the best striker The Eagle has faced in the cage, and The Notorious is on a different level.
Nurmagomedov's chin will be tested in way that it hasn't in his career. However, if he survives early strikes and makes it to the later rounds, the fight swings more in his favor.
Once he successfully closes the distance and is able to turn the fight into a battle of attrition, it becomes a much more one-sided affair. Look for him to take over the fight heading into the championship rounds before getting the finish.
Prediction: Nurmagomedov via fourth-round TKO.
Tony Ferguson Outclasses Anthony Pettis
Anthony Pettis used to be an elite lightweight.
When he was knocking out Donald Cerrone and submitting Benson Henderson and Gilbert Melendez with a championship belt around his waist, he would have been a favorite against just about anyone.
That's not the case anymore. Pettis still looks good against the Michael Chiesas of the world but has lost his most recent fights against top-level competition, such as Dustin Poirier and Max Holloway.
Tony Ferguson falls into the latter category, and that will show Saturday night. With a 10-fight win streak and an interim title to his name, he's been one of the top lightweights when healthy. And as long as he's healthy, he has the upper hand in this matchup.
Pettis' Achilles' heel has always been pressure fighters who aren't afraid to walk through some damage. Ferguson fits that bill and then some.
Showtime is always a threat to land a fight-changing strike, but it's hard to give him anything more than a puncher's chance in this one.
Expect Ferguson to put on a show and make his case for the next crack at the lightweight title. Knowing what's at stake and his aggressive nature, expect him to start fast and build a lead in the first before finishing the job in the second frame.
Prediction: Ferguson via second-round TKO.
Alexander Volkov Wins a Technical Decision over Derrick Lewis
Derrick Lewis is the kind of contender who can only exist in the heavyweight division. There isn't a ton of technicality to his game, he's not an exceptionally well-rounded fighter but he can lay out any opponent at any moment.
His pure, raw power is what finds him ranked No. 2 in the big man division. Lewis has earned nine of his 11 UFC victories by way of knockout or TKO.
They key to Lewis' ability as a knockout artist is his patience, though. According to FightMetric he lands just 2.9 significant strikes a minute, which is indicative of his wait-and-pounce approach to fighting.
That slow pace reared its head in an ugly way in his most recent fight against Francis Ngannou. Fighting the hulking heavyweight with an ailing back, he landed just 20 strikes in a unanimous-decision victory.
It's led Lewis to talk about going all-out to start this fight:
That's a scary strategy against someone in Alexander Volkov, who is a bit of a volume striker. The Russian averages 4.84 strikes per minute and landed more than 100 strikes in recent bouts against Stefan Struve and Roy Nelson.
If Lewis does go for broke early, it either sets up an early knockout victory for him or a rough second and third round.
As long as Volkov is able to use his length to control the distance and get Lewis to gas early, he should be able to pick him apart in the second and third rounds.
Prediction: Volkova via unanimous decision.