UFC 229 Strategy Guide: Khabib Nurmagomedov vs Conor McGregor, Aggression vs Precision

This is it. The fight that everyone’s been clamoring for. Ever since Conor McGregor went haywire and threw a dolly through a bus window, the masses have waiting to see a confrontation with his rival, UFC Lightweight champion Khabib Nurmagomedov. Both men have built up animosity that makes this match far more compelling than a battle between two respectful professionals. There’s bad blood here, the kind that seems to be infectious as both fighter’s camps and loyal fans are frothing at the mouth in support of either Nurmagomedov or McGregor.

UFC 229 is being billed as the biggest fight in the organizations history and with good reason. Khabib Nurmagomedov has been a wrecking machine ever since joining the promotion back in 2012. Conor McGregor has taken the MMA world by storm with his devastating knockout finishes. Both men are 30 years of age and in the prime of their lives and now they get to settle their differences inside the world famous Octagon. By how do they get the job done? What strategies should they use heading into this historic event? Here’s some approaches both men should take heading into this fight.

Khabib Nurmagomedov: Style

If there is one word to describe the style of Khabib Nurmagomedov, relentless would sum things up nicely. The man doesn’t take half steps and is always looking to stay in an opponent’s face from the sound of the bell. Coming from a wrestling heavy, combat sambo background, Nurmagomedov is always looking to get his hands around his opposition and drag them to the ground where he can proceed to put a thrashing on them with punches and elbows.

For the entirety of his career, Nurmagomedov has worked with an “ain’t broke, don’t fix it” kind of approach. Rather than look to completely change his game in favor of becoming a striking wizard, Nurmagomedov sticks to what works for him, which is pushing the pace and coming forward with aggressive, and sometimes, reckless abandon.

Khabib Nurmagomedov: Proposed Strategy

While you could say Nurmagomedov’s best option is getting things to the ground, it’s all about the approach where this fight is concerned. Nurmagomedov must mask his takedown entries or risk getting countered on the way in. He’ll have to feint with takedowns and the jab before closing distance on McGregor. Once he’s in a clinching position he’ll have to look to stay in close and chain his takedowns together, preferably from a body lock where he can either take the back or drop down for a double or single leg takedown.

Normally Nurmagomedov’s approach would be to coral his opponent to the cage and shoot in for a take down. He’ll have to decide which side to come in from as McGregor’s takedown awareness is truly impressive. Getting on the outside of McGregor’s right leg will be great for double leg takedowns. While single leg takedown at distance could force tie-ups.

Ultimately though, a good approach for Nurmagomedov here is to have McGregor lead the dance a bit. Utilize some in and out movement, force McGregor to bite on something then immediately engage in wrestling. In order to do that he’ll have to get McGregor to move forward, utilize his jab to create space then circle around to an angle to allow for solid double leg takedown entry.

Pressuring McGregor with fake and feints will be paramount for Nurmagomedov as well. As soon as he can get McGregor’s back to the cage, Nurmagomedov should unleash with combinations and move in for the takedown, chaining techniques together until he can floor his opponent.

Conor McGregor: Style

On the flip side, if there is one word to describe the style of Conor McGregor it would be precision. There was a time where many believed that McGregor was overrated, a fighter who simply came forward throwing whatever strikes he wanted until landing his left hand and sealing the deal. While that isn’t the case at all, McGregor has fallen pray to throwing techniques for the sake of flash rather than substance. That all changed after his only loss inside the Octagon against Nate Diaz. Since then, we’ve seen McGregor stick to a game plan and remain composed looking for sharp counters and pinpoint shots.

McGregor is keen to stand his ground in front of an opponent, particularly one who likes to charge forward. His in and out movement helps him to pick his shots while avoiding return fire from his opposition, but it’s his willingness to meet his opponent with a solid counter shot that truly makes him so dangerous.

Conor Mcgregor: Proposed Strategy

While conventional wisdom would be that Conor McGregor should avoiding a kicking based approach in this fight, it’s exactly one of the tools that could help carry him to victory. As an aggressive counter puncher, McGregor is going to want to hold the center of the cage while throwing pot shots in order for Nurmagomedov to walk right into a counter. Since Nurmagomedov likes to pressure as well, distance management is going to be key for McGregor.

Enter the front and low line side kick.

Both of these kicking attacks will be great for McGregor as they can maintain distance as well as do some serious damage to Nurmagomedov’s mobility. McGregor has used the low line side kick in the past to keep orthodox opponents from rushing in on him. The front kicks look to be his go to move when fighting orthodox, wrestling based opponents. A focused body attack could be the ticket to victory for McGregor as head hunting could open him up to a takedown.

McGregor has also done well to use frames in order to both sense when he can be aggressive and move forward with punches or when his opponents are ready to shoot in for a takedown.

It’s imperative that McGregor controls both Nurmagomedov’s front leg with low side kicks and frames up top to keep the champion stationary or moving backwards.

X Factors

If Khabib Nurmagomedov does get a hold of McGregor he’ll have to be sure to keep the pressure high and be relentless. One failed takedown doesn’t mean the end of his offense but only the beginning. Though wild exchanges can be dangerous with McGregor it’s imperative for the champion to keep the momentum once it shifts in his favor.

For Conor McGregor, if his distance is penetrated and Nurmagomedov does get a hold of him, wrist control should be the first thing on his mind as well as turning his opponent. The more McGregor can get Nurmagomedov turning, the less success the wrestler will have with his takedowns.

Who do you think leaves the Octagon Lightweight champion at UFC 229?

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Managing Editor at Generation Iron, Jonathan Salmon is a writer, martial arts instructor, and geek culture enthusiast. Check out his InstagramTwitter and Facebook to keep up with his antics.

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