UFC boff David Walker (@WalkerDavid32) highlights the best betting opportunities for Sunday morning's dust-up between Conor McGregor and Khabib Nurmagomedov.
Khabib Nurmagomedov v Conor McGregor | Sunday 05:00 | BT Sport
When Conor McGregor finally returns to the Octagon in the early hours of Sunday morning, it will have ben 693 days since his last foray into ‘pure combat’.
Much has changed in those two years: champions have come and gone; greats have retired; and the UFC PPV sales have plummeted. The return of their sometime golden child, sometime enfant terrible will delight the UFC owners as they look to start recouping some of the hefty fee that they bought the company for.
McGregor comes head-to-head with the unbeaten Dagestani, Khabib Nurmagamedov (26-0) in what is a classic striker versus grappler match-up.
For years, there have been naysayers questioning McGregor’s legitimacy because of having never really fought a pure grappler – this is despite him beating both Chad Mendes and Eddie Alvarez in Championship fights. However, there is little doubt that this Lightweight title fight is likely to be the most challenging MMA bout of McGregor’s career; Khabib is as talented a grappler as the Irishman is a striker.
Ignore the hostilities and the drama of historical tete-a-tetes between ‘The Notorious’ and ‘The Eagle’ as neither fighter looks to be particularly effected by the war of words, and the psychological warfare. What interests me is how much both men have been singularly focused on their impending battle, with media obligations largely taking a back seat up until this week.
Khabib has come through camp unscathed and comfortably making the 155lb mark earlier on Friday and Conor has never looked as focused on training throughout his entire MMA career.
McGregor a dangerous underdog
McGregor is the underdog and generally to be found at 6/4 (although Marathon offer the standout price at 48/29), and is lengthening in price as I write this. This does not surprise me due to both his layoff and Khabib’s dominating grappling, believed to be the Dubliner’s kryptonite.
However, I feel this price is far too long and should be closer to evens, meaning there is serious value in backing McGregor. I shall explain why…
McGregor has won nine of his 10 UFC fights across three weight division (145lb, 155lbs and 170lbs), dropping his only UFC loss to Nate Diaz in their first fight when he was underprepared and over-confident.
From that loss, McGregor took massive learning which saw him defeat Diaz in a return match-up as well as then winning the 155lb title from Eddie Alvarez in late 2016.
If you run through McGregor’s UFC opponents, you will see he has defeated Max Holloway (current 145lb champ), Jose Aldo (former 145lb champ), Eddie Alvarez (former 155lb champ) and Dustin Poirier (current number three ranked 155lb fighter, riding a five-fight winning streak). This is formidable competition.
Not at any stage of these fights did McGregor look to be under pressure despite there being many questions about him beforehand.
This is in stark contrast to Khabib, who has not beaten anyone of significance during his MMA career. Literally, he has not beaten a top three fighter at any stage and even won the title in a fight against Al Iaquinta, who was having only his second fight in three years.
This is not to knock Khabib’s ability as he is clearly a very dominant wrestler with powerful ground and pound mixed with forceful submissions. However, he has never faced a fighter of McGregor’s calibre.
Khabib to try and take Conor down early
McGregor is one of the most precise and diverse strikers in MMA and has an excellent average of 5.82 significant strikes landed per-minute at 47% accuracy. With the power and precision that McGregor has in tandem with the unorthodox angles that he throws his punches from, often surprising opponents, Khabib’s chin is sure to be tested.
If you look at his fight with Michael Johnson back in 2016, you will see that the Dagestani can be caught and that he can be hurt. If Khabib stands with McGregor like he did Johnson or, more recently, Iaquinta, then he is in for a tough night of it.
Instead, I would expect ‘The Eagle’ to try and take McGregor down as early as possible and turn to his punishing ground and pound which has seen him land a very respectable, not to mention surprising, 4.34 significant strikes landed per-minute at 48% accuracy.
Khabib has an impressive average of 5.44 takedowns per 15 minutes at 44% accuracy and this is what he will look to use against his Irish nemesis in order to be in a position to utilise his ground and pound.
Notorious prepared to command and conquer
Interestingly, both Ross Francis (@ross11ross) and I are of the opinion that McGregor and his camp have been preparing to defend the takedown by throwing more leg kicks and knees as the AKA fighter rushes in.
Let’s not be in any doubt here about how well prepared McGregor will be for this fight. Although he has not fought in MMA for two years, he is a student of fighting and has been fully aware for a long time that Khabib would be a future opponent.
McGregor is happy to come across as an arrogant, mindless mouthpiece but this is a distraction from who he truly is as a fighter. He has been so focused since his circus show with Floyd Mayweather on returning to the Octagon and reclaiming his titles and acclaim.
If people think that he has been out living a playboy lifestyle whilst ignoring his training, they are sadly mistaken. This is a man who wants to be the best and has both the intelligence and resources in order to get there.
The betting angles
All in all, I feel as though McGregor is going to win. The Marathon price of 48/29 is superb, however, the reality is that McGregor will win by knocking Khabib out and this is best priced at 21/10 with Smarkets.
Additionally, I feel as though the 7/9 being offered by Marathon for Under 2.5 Rounds is of good value. McGregor will be looking to catch Khabib early as he knows that in the fights where he has gone past the third round, his cardio has struggled, unlike the champ who has incredible stamina.
Equally, Khabib will look to take McGregor down early and if he gets on top of the Irish man, it will be a short main event.
Khabib Nurmagomedov v Conor McGregor – Conor McGregor to win by KO (21/10 Smarkets)
Khabib Nurmagomedov v Conor McGregor – Under 2.5 Rounds (7/9 Marathon)