UFC 229, Khabib Nurmagomedov vs. Conor McGregor

USA Today

UFC 229 Reaction

It was personal.

October 08, 2018 - 10:09 am

The Monday after an NFL Sunday there’s always a decision to make: where do I start first? Is it with Graham Gano’s monster game-winning field goal? Or is it with the Cowboys punting in overtime and then losing? Or is it with America’s Team, the Cleveland Browns?

Actually, I’m not starting with Sunday at all. I’m starting with Saturday night and UFC 229 – the most expected, unexpected fight I’ve seen in a very, very long time. And it was good even before we got to the title fight. 

Derrick Lewis dropping the post-fight comment of a lifetime.

That was worth the pay-per-view money right there. And then you had Anthony Pettis and Tony Ferguson turning in some of the best action you’ll ever see. As I tweeted during the fight, Pettis is one of the toughest dudes you’ll ever see, but my man looked like he got hit by train. 

But as good as all that was, it was nothing more than a tailgate for Khabib v. Conor. The fight that has been a long time in the making. The buildup had been incredible, going back to the bus attack in Brooklyn, through the press conferences, and the interviews, truth is, it goes farther than all that. Much farther. They hate each other. And it was real hate, not contrived hate to move pay per views and sell tickets inside. The hate was real.  And we’d find out later, just how deep. So everyone was reeked. Hell I was in New York City, in my hotel room, on my lapper waiting for a fight that was going to start past midnight when I had an early call for the NFL on CBS the next morning. But I would have pulled an all fighter for that one: it was the most hyped and arguably most important fight in UFC history.

And from the outset, it was clear why Conor was the underdog. Wrestler v. Striker went to the wrestler and it wasn’t close. The dude who grew up wrestling bears had absolutely no problem wrestling Conor to the mat and then mauling him. The big question coming in was, could Conor catch Khabib a good shot before Khabib got him to the mat. And then next question was, if Conor did go to the mat, was he going to be able to get back up. And the answer was an emphatic no. 

If that was your first time seeing Khabib, you got the full-blown Khabib treatment. He is unreal. So dominant on the ground. He just drains the energy and sucks the life right out of you.  

Sure, many of you were there to see Conor do what he does best: run his mouth like a mad man, then show up and put a cat to sleep. Because as Dana White likes to say, when Conor hits people, they don’t get up. Except he couldn’t land that one shot he had to have. And while many of you are not members of the ground and pound nation, no one does it better than Habib. This is why this guy has never lost a fight. This is why until Saturday, he had never even lost a round. You might not like watching it, but if you know anything at all about the sport, this cat is absolutely brilliant. And was again, on the biggest stage he’s ever been on. Might have been boring to you, if you don’t know what you’re watching, but Khabib was freaking masterful; he put on a clinic. Conor was never in that fight. And Khabib was never in trouble. 

So, the first round was mostly Conor on the ground, trying to defend himself and trying to escape from Khabib. And failing at both.

The second round was more of the same, only worse. Because Conor was eating one brutal shot after another. How he didn’t tap there, or just go unconscious there, I’ll never know. If you have said to me, in the middle of round two, I’ll bet you a grand this fight is still going in the fourth round, I would have taken that bet all down long. Because there was no way Conor was getting out of that round. And when he did I couldn’t help but wonder, was a testament to Connor’s heart? Or was that just Khabib carrying him another round or so, so he could inflict even greater damage on McGregor and completely change his face the way he had promised he would coming into the fight. Like Khabib said leading up to the fight, it wasn’t just about the money. It was personal. And he wanted to do permanent damage to Conor’s face.

And then came the third round and the two of them were trading shots. Conor getting the better of it, and for a moment, it looked like maybe Conor had somehow put himself back in the fight. That maybe, Khabib, who looks like he could go forever, had actually wrestled himself out. Crazy as it sounds, and it’s a plan, I would never advise, but maybe they did have a plan; and maybe that plan was to let Khabib gas out and catch him mid to late fight. Maybe Conor could pull the miracle.  Maybe, except for one thing. 

Conor was exhausted. He was snapping off punches, but there was no snap in them. There was no power behind what he was landing and Khabib knew it. He knew he was going to win, it was just a matter of “when” and “how”, the “if” had already left the arena.  

Conor did win the third round and to the extent that it matters, becomes the first guy to ever take a round off Khabib. That’s how good and how dominant The Eagle is. 

And when the fourth round started, it looked like there might be more of the same from the third. Maybe Conor catches Khabib off balance, maybe he can summon that one monster left that changes the course not only of that fight, but of the sports history. Maybe that. Or maybe Khabib easily gets Conor into a rear naked choke and that’s it. And as soon as he sunk that in, it was just a matter of whether or not Conor actually went to sleep because that fight was over. Not the night, but the fight. Because in that moment, Khabib remained your lightweight champ.

Not only is he undefeated, he’s barely been challenged. Has never really even been in trouble. And he wasn’t Saturday night either. Hell, he not only controlled the fight on the ground, but in one of the most stunning moments during the fight, he dropped Conor with a strike, so Khabib has never been more dominant. And again, did it on the biggest stage against one of the best to ever do it. Conor left the arena. And when he did show up on twitter, he was talking about a rematch. Fine. I’d pay to see it. I just don’t see how it goes any differently for Conor. Not given how much better Khabib is on the mat. Conor couldn’t catch him and he couldn’t stay off that mat. How is that going to change between now and whenever these two fight again. If they fight again.

I’m not saying that Khabib is unbeatable. No one is. Everyone in that sport gets beat eventually. Everyone. Ask Jose Aldo. Or Ronda Rousey. Or Anderson Silva. That’s one of the best things about the UFC. Everyone gets beat. Unbeatable is impossible.  Khabib will lose. But based on what is saw Saturday night and as much as I love and respect McGregor as a fighter, I don’t think he’s the guy who’s going to get Khabib. That’s how badly he was dominated. Sure, he can improve on that. But I don’t see him improving enough to beat Khabib. Because dude went absolute legend in the cage when he beat one of the sport’s legends, in every way possible. He beat the hell out of Conor. I’ve have never seen the look on McGregor’s face as the one I saw with him sitting on the mat once it was over. You know right before Khabib’s dudes jumped him. And took what should have been the best night ever for Team Khabib, and wrecked it. I’ll hit the melee shortly.