In­trigu­ing clash of styles as McGre­gor seeks to con­quer UFC again

Ir­ish­man will need to keep his dis­tance from smoth­er­ing wrestler Nur­magome­dov

The Irish Times - Sports Weekend - - SPORTS - Philip O’Con­nor in Las Ve­gas

The Ul­ti­mate Fight­ing Cham­pi­onship has changed a lot in its 25 years of ex­is­tence, but one thing re­mains true – styles make fights, and Conor McGre­gor and Khabib Nur­magome­dov could not be more dif­fer­ent.

When the two meet at the T-Moblie Arena in Las Ve­gas on Sat­ur­day night it will be a clas­sic clash of styles in ev­ery re­spect.

McGre­gor is the brash bad boy, the flam­boy­ant loud­mouth with the in­cred­i­ble strik­ing skills to back it up who has taken the sport by storm, and has now launched his own whiskey brand.

Nur­magome­dov, on the other hand, is the ex­act op­po­site – the suf­fo­cat­ing, smoth­er­ing wrestler from Dages­tan is a de­vout Mus­lim who prefers fam­ily and hu­mil­ity to fame and hubris.

At Wed­nes­day’s open work­outs at the Park The­atre on the Las Ve­gas strip, it was clear which style the fans who turned up pre­ferred. While they cheered McGre­gor’s cat-like move­ment and his thun­der­ous pad work with strik­ing coach Owen Roddy, they booed Nur­magome­dov as soon as he came on­stage.

Tak­ing the bait, the Rus­sian toyed with the Ir­ish fans in the au­di­ence, taunt­ing them about how English, rather than Ir­ish, is their na­tive tongue and in­form­ing them that McGre­gor’s grand­fa­ther fought for the Bri­tish navy.

But trash talk is not his style, and he was soon in­vok­ing God’s bless­ing again ahead of his first ti­tle de­fence of the light­weight belt he won in April.

Build­ing up a re­luc­tant sweat for those in at­ten­dance, both fight­ers stuck to their re­spec­tive script dur­ing the work­outs, which are more for the me­dia and fans than any­thing else. Nur­magome­dov wres­tled some of his team­mates, McGre­gor dis­played his strik­ing prow­ess, and nei­ther seemed to want to re­veal any­thing they were work­ing on to coun­ter­act the strengths of the other.

The keys to vic­tory for both men are sim­ple, and the fight will be won by who­ever man­ages to con­trol the dis­tance be­tween the two in the oc­tagon on Sat­ur­day night.

McGre­gor will want to keep Nur­magome­dov at arm’s length, un­cork­ing his sledge­ham­mer left hand when­ever the op­por­tu­nity presents it­self. Though he has shown a pro­cliv­ity for the spec­tac­u­lar be­fore, tonight will be no night for spin­ning back kicks or fly­ing knees – the Ir­ish­man will look to main­tain range with sim­ple jabs and kicks while hope­fully set­ting up the knock­out blow.

Fight-end­ing choke

Nur­magome­dov, on the other hand, will want to close the dis­tance, get into a clinch and dump McGre­gor on the ground where he can con­trol him and tire him out with his ex­haust­ing top pres­sure.

From there he will rain down punches and el­bows to ei­ther force a knock­out or open up for a fight-end­ing choke or joint lock.

It will not be enough for McGre­gor, a for­mer two-weight cham­pion, to de­fend a sin­gle take­down at­tempt ei­ther. He will need to stay in the mid­dle of the oc­tagon and away from the fence, where Nur­magome­dov is fa­mous for string­ing to­gether dif­fer­ent kinds of grabs and throws to get his op­po­nent where he wants him – flat on his back. The Rus­sian is in­cred­i­bly quick to change tack, aban­don­ing take­downs that aren’t work­ing for ones with a greater chance of suc­cess.

Whereas McGre­gor can be un­pre­dictable, ev­ery­one knows what the Rus­sian is go­ing to do, but in 26 pro­fes­sional fights no one has come up with a way to coun­ter­act it, and he re­mains un­beaten.

McGre­gor, on the other hand, has suf­fered a num­ber of losses in his pro­fes­sional ca­reer, the big­gest among them com­ing across the Strip at the MGM Gar­den Arena when he was sub­mit­ted by Nate Diaz in 2016.

Short­com­ings

Many would say that the taste of de­feat was the mak­ings of him in the cage. Prize-fight­ing has an un­com­fort­able habit of shin­ing a harsh light on one’s men­tal and phys­i­cal short­com­ings, and his were starkly ev­i­dent as he punched him­self out be­fore be­ing mauled on the ground and sub­mit­ted by Diaz. He bounced back, look­ing a far more rounded prospect in their next en­counter when win­ning a five-round war of at­tri­tion in their re­match. His de­vel­op­ment curve cul­mi­nated in a dev­as­tat­ing knock­out win over Ed­die Al­varez that saw him win the light­weight belt in Novem­ber that year, pro­pelling him into the sport­ing and fi­nan­cial strato­sphere. Since then, his box­ing match with Floyd May­weather not­with­stand­ing, he has hit the head­lines for all the wrong rea­sons, jump­ing into cages where friends were fight­ing, abus­ing ref­er­ees and gen­er­ally be­hav­ing as if he is ac­count­able to no-one – which, in the fight game at least, he isn’t.

Though the clash of styles is fas­ci­nat­ing for fans and the vi­o­lent in­ci­dent in Brook­lyn that saw McGre­gor plead guilty to crim­i­nal charges il­lus­trates the bad blood be­tween the two, the war of words has yet to catch fire, and it may never do so.

Press con­fer­ence

Nur­magome­dov left Thurs­day’s press con­fer­ence be­fore McGre­gor, late as al­ways, had even ar­rived.

The Rus­sian’s English is still some­what lim­ited, and this may have been ben­e­fi­cial in terms of pro­tect­ing him from McGre­gor’s ver­bal on­slaughts at the few me­dia events they have done to­gether to pro­mote the fight.

While un­doubt­edly a huge event, the UFC will have been pray­ing for more ver­bal fire­works to in­crease the an­tic­i­pa­tion around the fight. The at­mos­phere in Las Ve­gas is ex­pec­tant, but it is nowhere near the hys­te­ria of pre­vi­ous McGre­gor bat­tles, when his fans swarmed to the desert and took over the whole city.

Op­por­tu­ni­ties to mar­ket the fight are fast run­ning out, and McGre­gor is us­ing the war of words to sell the prod­ucts he en­dorses, and the no­tion that he is once again headed for the sum­mit of the light­weight di­vi­sion.

But while he loves noth­ing more than be­ing on the mi­cro­phone and en­gag­ing in a bat­tle of will and wits, McGre­gor’s op­po­nent is wait­ing pa­tiently for the cage door to close and the real fight­ing to be­gin.

The at­mos­phere in Las Ve­gas is ex­pec­tant, but it is nowhere near the hys­te­ria of pre­vi­ous McGre­gor bat­tles

PHO­TO­GRAPHS: GETTY IMAGES

Conor McGre­gor re­acts dur­ing a press con­fer­ence for UFC 229 at Park Theater at Park MGM in Las Ve­gas, Ne­vada. The Dubliner will will chal­lenge light­weight cham­pion Khabib Nur­magome­dov (be­low) tonight.

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