Former two-division UFC champion Conor McGregor will make his return to the octagon at UFC 229 on Oct. 6 against lightweight champion Khabib Nurmagomedov. McGregor last fought MMA in November 2016. Considering the long layoff and stylistic match-up, UFC Hall of Famer Bas Rutten favors Nurmagomedov in the bout.
“I would (favor Khabib) if he doesn’t get hit. To tell you the truth, I’m a huge Conor fan, although I’m a huge Aldo fan. I thought he was gonna have a lot of trouble with Aldo,” Rutten said during an appearance on Submission Radio. “Aldo, man, is an animal; I’ve always said it. I always said he reminds me of Ramon Dekkers. The way he fights, everything is power. No jabs, no nothing. And then to just dismantle him, and saying that before in the interview in the dressing room, ‘Don’t worry, guys, it’s gonna be a short fight. I’m gonna knock him out within 30 seconds, within a minute,’ he said, and then he did it.
“So if he can land a punch and if there’s a lot of pressure on Nurmagomedov. I mean, he cannot lose this fight, everybody’s gonna be on top of him. He’s gonna make a killing in money as well. Everybody wants to fight Conor because of the PPV deal, so that’s a good thing for him as well. I don’t know if it puts pressure on him. I don’t think so. I think these guys from Dagestan, they just go, it’s their job. They either go (into) bookkeeping or they go fight. For them, it’s pretty much the same. So yeah, once it goes to the ground, I see trouble there for Conor. But if he can connect, if there’s a stand up, it’s all about the connection, and if he connects that could be a knockout coming from him.”
McGregor likely knew he was going to face Nurmagomedov when the Russian won the title at UFC 223 in April and has had extensive time to prepare. Nurmagomedov’s grappling ability has carried him to a 26-0 undefeated record. Rutten believes McGregor’s approach will be key if he’s going to have success.
“Well, if they were smart, they kind of knew this fight was going to happen, so hopefully they knew this like eight months in advance, because we knew that if he was gonna take a fight, he was gonna fight (Nurmagomedov). So if he then starts and his coaches… if they start picking out all the favorite things that Khabib would do, and just pick five things that he’s always done since the first fight that he had and since the last fight, because you know it’s in him, it becomes a habit,” Rutten continued.
“And once you find the defenses for that, yes. But if you’re gonna be a guy, ‘I want to learn the defense for a triangle choke, side choke, a rear naked choke, and this choke and la la la,’ then nah. Then it’s like because of the trees you can’t see the forest anymore. That’s what they say in Holland, there’s too many trees. That’s why I think it’s going down. But if it’s simple and there’s only a little gamble on the things that he mainly does and find reversals for that or just play safe, so that there’s gonna be a stand-up, then yes (McGregor could win).”
Nurmagomedov has dominated everyone he’s faced on the ground. He presents problems even for McGregor. Nurmagomedov is a difficult match-up for anyone.
“It’s very hard, because once you’re grappling and you get hit in the face, well, if you don’t do that in a gym, that’s a problem, because that’s a distraction. Now there’s an armbar. You see, little things like that make a huge difference. Just grappling or grappling with hitting – big difference. So I hope they grapple with hitting, with elbows, with everything. But normally they don’t do that because elbows can cut you and in training you don’t want to get cut because otherwise you can’t work out anymore. So, it’s a hard one, very hard one. If (McGregor) keeps it simple, yes, but if he tries to find a solution for every submission attempt, that’s not gonna work,” he said.
It’s an intriguing match-up between two fighters dominant in their crafts. Ultimately, Rutten believes the match-up favors Nurmagomedov.
“I love it. I love that Conor took this fight, because for Conor this is a very dangerous fight. And the reason I’m saying this is just look at the fight he had with Chad Mendes. Chad Mendes took him to the ground immediately. Well, Nurmagomedov is as good a wrestler, maybe if not better. They’re from Dagestan, they only got wrestling, it’s in their heart, it’s everything. I mean, they grow up there, it’s their culture. And so this guy who never lost – we know Conor is the striker, he’s the submission guy. (Nurmagomedov) is also a striker and he will have enough defense in order to take him down. If it comes to takedowns, that could be big trouble for Conor McGregor,” said Rutten.
“Now, I don’t know what Conor’s been doing in the meanwhile, but still, if you fight a guy whose father is one of the most famous trainers that’s out there and who started probably when he was three years old wrestling, you can’t learn that in a year, even if you train every day. Yeah, you can stop some takedowns, but once the fight is there and punches have been thrown and little movement and little feints, it’s very hard to stop a takedown. So for Conor to take this fight, for me, I think he has a puncher’s chance. Now, the good thing for Conor is the he has incredible timing and incredible accuracy. So, if he can land a punch, although Khabib has never been knocked out, but still, he’s never been hit by McGregor. McGregor can hit really hard as we know, because everybody he hits he destroys.
“It’s a big fight for him. To stay away from the ground for five rounds. I look at the Nate Diaz fight as well, you see as soon as it goes to the ground. So, it’s a big chance he’s taking, but I applaud him for it because a lot of people thought that he was probably not gonna take the fight seeing as the guy is such a good wrestler and wants to take this fight to the ground.”