There’s no shortage of fascinating storylines tied to this Saturday’s bout between Khabib Nurmagomedov and Conor McGregor, which will headline UFC 229. But, one of the most interesting ones is the fact we haven’t seen the latter fight under MMA rules since 2016. So, can we really evaluate how the massive fight is going to unfold?
Yes, on Saturday night, we will see McGregor fight in the Octagon for the first time since November, 2016, when he took out Eddie Alvarez. Since then, the only bout McGregor has competed in was his boxing match with Floyd Mayweather last August, which the latter won via 10th round, stoppage.
Leading up to UFC 229, the consensus has been that really, Khabib vs. Conor boils down to a grappler vs. striker match-up. Yes, everyone understands that Nurmagomedov is not just a ground specialist, and that McGregor’s abilities aren’t limited to only striking. After all, this is MMA, and we’re talking about two of the best lightweights on the planet. But, since Khabib is regarded as one of the best grapplers on the planet, and because McGregor is one of the most dangerous strikers at 155, the grappler vs. striker narrative exists.
Well, recently McGregor’s striking coach, Owen Roddy, appeared on the Eurobash podast. While discussing the improvements McGregor’s made to his skills, since we last saw him in the cage, he said this (quote via MMA Fighting.)
“It’s familiar, it’s back to the same kind of feeling as always. He’s always cool, calm and calculated, he’s intelligent when he’s in there — knowing when to throw and when not to throw. It’s like it’s back to normal again,”
“Conor has obviously improved with his hands, they’re a lot sharper. His wrestling, his jiu-jitsu too, he hasn’t stopped training. He hasn’t fought, but he hasn’t stopped improving over the past two years since he [last] fought in the Octagon. He’s a far better fighter, but he still has that same mentality. He’s still as sharp as ever, he’s still intelligent in there as always. I’m just excited to see him back in there.”
Now, yes, some will argue that it’s not surprising to hear one of McGregor’s coaches say this. Others will likely say that regardless of how much the Irish fighter has worked on his grappling, it won’t be on par with Khabib’s. That’s almost certainly true.
But, it is important to remember that we haven’t seen McGregor compete under MMA rules in two years. So, if he’s been diligent about working on his wrestling defense, jiu-jitsu etc, during that time, then maybe a ground battle at UFC 229 won’t be as one sided as some believe. We shall find out soon enough.
UFC 229 will be hosted by the T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas, Nevada.