Morning Report: John Kavanagh questions if Khabib Nurmagomedov will keep confidence against Conor McGregor if he loses a round

In just over two weeks, Khabib Nurmagomedov and Conor McGregor will finally face each other inside the octagon. It is one of the most stylistically compelling matchups in UFC history – a throwback to the old “striker vs. grappler” days – and as the event approaches, speculation is ramping up about how the fight will play out. On paper, Nurmagomedov should have the advantage, being both the bigger man and the grappler as well as being unbeaten in 26 professional fights. But McGregor’s head coach, John Kavanagh, doesn’t see it that way. In fact, Kavanagh thinks Nurmagomedov’s pristine record could work against him.

Speaking with The Mac Life recently, Kavanagh discussed the challenges Nurmagomedov presents as an opponent and questioned whether “The Eagle” would be ill-served by having never officially lost a round in his extensive fight career.

“It is interesting fighting an unbeaten fighter,” Kavanagh said. “I’ve had a lot of my guys that went a long time unbeaten and then they have the loss. It’s always interesting to see, in that fight where they had their first loss, when things start to go wrong. It’s an unusual feeling for them and sometimes they struggle to deal with that.

“I don’t think Khabib has lost a single round in his UFC career. If you do lose a round are you going to be able to come back out with that same level of confidence in the next round? There’s a lot of interesting things to be played out in this fight.”

Nurmagomedov has never officially lost a round in his 26 fight career, though many believe he lost multiple against Gleison Tibau in their fight at UFC 148. In fact, Nurmagomedov has faced very little adversity inside the cage during his career in general. 16 of his wins have come by stoppage, and aside from the Tibau fight, Nurmagomedov has looked nigh invincible. Nurmagomedov has looked so dominant inside the UFC that detractors point to his performance against Al Iaquinta – where Nurmagomedov was unable to secure a takedown in the third and fourth rounds – as a sign of weakness. Nurmagomedov outlanded Iaquinta by 50 strikes in those two rounds, which, Kavanagh says, is proof positive that Khabib’s emerging standup game does provide a noteworthy wrinkle to prepare for.

“Now with Khabib, he probably brings more [dimensions to prepare for] than even Nate because with Khabib, he will throw shots,” Kavanagh said. “His last fight was mostly stand-up after the first round. But yes, if we were to be betting we could probably guess that he’s going to shoot right from the locker room right at the start of round one like he did in the Al Iaquinta fight. There’s probably going to be a low single coming right away. I find it hard to imagine that they have any plans for any exchanges on the feet.

“Not that he went for a whole lot of takedowns but he did start failing on his takedowns against Al Iaquinta and then he went back to that nice jab he was using in the fight. He’s rounding out his game. He’s with AKA, a very strong kickboxing background with [Javier] Mendez. I suppose they do have that as a ‘Plan B.’”

One of the other major hurdles McGregor has to clear to win his UFC lightweight title back is the issue of ring rust. McGregor has not competed in MMA in almost two years, and many fighters have struggled to adjust to the live fighting experience versus their training. That is why Kavanagh says they have been going extra lengths in preparation for this fight so McGregor can come in in top form.

“I think it’s how you approach training,” Kavanagh said. “I think if your gym environment and how you train in the gym is very separate to how you compete then for sure there will be ring rust but if you are regularly putting yourself in stressful sparring situations, which is the best we can get in the gym environment, it more resembles competition then.

“So, specifically very much for this training camp we had a lot of very intense training sessions, sparring sessions, it’s done in the environment he’s going to compete in. We even had spectators for a lot of the spars, so we’re trying to make the training environment as closely mimic the competition environment so there isn’t that much of a disconnect between the two of them.”

But realistically, Kavanagh admits that ring rust and K-1 Khabib are not the biggest problems ahead of McGregor at UFC 229. At the end of the day, Kavanagh says, it’s the grappling game that Nurmagomedov brings to the table that McGregor will have to neutralize. And that is a very tall task.

“He’s generally facing someone that he’s better on the feet and he’s picking them off and they’re trying to take him down,” Kavanagh concluded. “That’s been the standard fight that he’s had. Whether it’s Mendes or even the Eddie fight, a few times Eddie got him on the fence and was trying to take him down but this is against somebody that does that better than anybody that he’s face before. We have to be straight about that.

“I think it’s going to be a lot of the positions that we’ve seen him in before but it’s against somebody who, like I said, is doing it at a very high level.”

Nurmagomedov and McGregor will face each other in the main event of UFC 229 on October 6. The first official press conference for that event takes place today at 5 p.m. ET at the Radio City Music Hall in New York City.


MUST-READ STORIES

Recap. Robert Whittaker’s Julija Stoliarenko beat Marciea Allen on the latest episode of TUF.

He’s back. Jon Jones given 15-month suspension after arbitration in USADA case.

Brock. Daniel Cormier reacts to Jon Jones verdict, possible third fight: ‘I’ve moved past that.’

Moose. Gegard Mousasi believes UFC is ‘declining’ due to ‘bad cards.’

Prop bets. Oddsmakers open extensive list of prop bets for Nurmagomedov vs. McGregor press conference.


VIDEO STEW

The A-Side Live Chat.

Plus a bonus Live Chat reaction video to Jon Jones’s imminent return.

Cormier’s repsonse to the Jones situation.

A better collection of Conor’s best presser moments than the one the UFC put out yesterday.

TTTHS.

Documenting the quickest champion turnarounds in the UFC.


LISTEN UP

Fights Gone By. Discussing Kid Yamamoto, UFC Moscow, and GGG-Canelo II.

Three Amigos. Special Jon Jones reaction podcast.


SOCIAL MEDIA BOUILLABAISSE

Statement.

Khabib.

Respect to Jan but whoa buddy, you don’t want those problems.

Reactions.

DO IT.

Derrick Lewis still with the A+ Instagram game.


FIGHT ANNOUNCEMENTS

Greg Hardy (2-0) vs. Ray Jones (1-1); Xtreme Fight Night 352, Sep. 29.

Melvin Manhoef (30-14-1, 2 NC) vs. Chidi Njokuani (18-5, 1 NC); Bellator 210, Nov. 30.


TODAY IN MMA HISTORY

1996: Mark Coleman won the one-night heavyweight tournament at UFC 11 due to default when all of the other competitors and alternates were unable to face him in the finals due to injury. This event also begat the Scott Ferrozzo-Tank Abbott feud that finally was resolved in perhaps the most depressing happening in MMA history.

2013: Bellator held their 100th event, headlined by Douglas Lima knocking out Ben Saunders with a head kick to win the season eight welterweight tournament.

2014: Mark Hunt walk-off KO’d Roy Nelson at UFC Fight Night 52.


FINAL THOUGHTS

So Jon Jones miraculous comes off suspension just in time for the UFC’s return to Madison Square Garden, which conveniently doesn’t have a main event? Color me shocked. It’s almost as if USADA receives a massively lucrative contract from the UFC and is incentivized to keep them happy. . .

Seriously, this whole thing is ridiculous. For his first suspension Jones was found wildly reckless but this time, despite admitting to cocaine use, he was found to have used “considerable” care? USADA is an absurd joke. Just get rid of it and pay the fighters that money instead. No one actually cares about PEDs anyway.

Also, Jack Slack sums up Jones’ argument extremely well.

Thanks for reading and see y’all tomorrow.


EXIT POLL


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