Conor McGregor Returns at UFC 229, But He’s The Betting Underdog Ahead of Las Vegas Grudge Match
After almost two years away from the UFC’s famed octagon, “The Notorious” Conor McGregor is back, and the eyes of the sporting world will be on his every move, as he takes on undefeated Russian world champion Khabib Nurmagomedov for the UFC lightweight title at UFC 229 this weekend in Las Vegas.
McGregor’s return is more than just a comeback. This is the grudge match to end all grudge matches. While we’ve seen countless bouts between protagonists who claim to not like one another, the rivalry between McGregor and Nurmagomedov goes much, much further.
The origin of the grudge match
All was serene before Nurmagomedov and his entourage cornered McGregor’s friend and training partner, Irish-based Russian fighter Artem Lobov, in the lobby of the host hotel ahead of UFC 223 in Brooklyn, New York. Lobov had made some comments about Nurmagomedov in an interview that “The Eagle” took exception to, and that exception was communicated to Lobov in a tense face-to-face exchange that was caught on camera.
McGregor was incensed. He rounded up a group of friends, jumped on a private jet and flew straight to New York, where they gained access to the Barclays Center during media day and proceeded to attack a minibus containing the red corner fighters for that event, including Nurmagomedov. McGregor threw a ‘dolly’ – a loading trolley – at the minibus, smashing glass over UFC lightweight Michael Chiesa and flyweight Ray Borg, leaving the former with cuts and the latter with corneal abrasions.
Unsurprisingly, it put McGregor in hot water with the authorities, and he was hauled before a New York judge on charges of criminal mischief, among others. A plea bargain meant he avoided jail time, and the coast was clear for the UFC to book the biggest grudge match since the days of Chuck Liddell and Tito Ortiz.
Clash of styles
As for the fight itself, the matchup offers a stark contrast in styles, with McGregor’s precise, rapier-like striking going up against Nurmagomedov’s relentless wrestling attack. Can McGregor starch the champion as the Russian surges in, looking for a takedown? Or can Nurmagomedov drag McGregor to the mat and beat him to a pulp? The answer to both questions is “yes”. But only one will be able to do so on the night. And it’s made for a fascinating bout to bet on.
While the bout is considered a near 50-50 matchup by many analysts, Nurmagomedov is the betting favourite with bookmakers William Hill, who have the defending champion priced at 8/13, with McGregor a 13/10 underdog. Interestingly, the specials markets have Nurmagomedov landing a first-round takedown on the Dubliner as a 1/5 shot, with the Irishman winning by first- or second-round KO a 5/2 chance.
McGregor undoubtedly has that “big game” mentality, and he has delivered on the big stage on a host of occasions. But that’s not to say he’s unbeatable – just ask Nate Diaz, who dramatically rocked, then submitted, McGregor in their first meeting at UFC 196 back in March 2016.
As for Nurmagomedov’s mentality, his record is perfect. 26 fights, 26 wins, and he hasn’t lost a round in the UFC. The big question this weekend is whether Nurmagomedov will be forced to deal with adversity against McGregor’s pinpoint, powerful punches, or whether he will be the one dragging McGregor into deep water on the mat.
It’s rare that an MMA bout fascinates as much for its backstory as it does its technical aspects, but whether you’re a mixed martial arts purist who is looking for a great fight, or a casual fan keen to see a grudge match settled, you’re likely to get exactly what you hope for on Saturday night.