Its Red Panty Night in the home of fighting, Las Vegas, this weekend as the inimitable Conor McGregor makes his long-awaited return to the Octagon. All talk of dolly-gate now needs to go on hold.
As always, I’ll be giving you my picks for the best of the card and 5Dimes will be providing the odds.
UFC 229: Tony Ferguson vs. Anthony Pettis
Since emerging victorious from season 13 of The Ultimate Fighter, Tony Ferguson has barely missed a beat. I say barely as he once came up short against Michael Johnson, but that aside, Ferguson has proven himself as a destructive force.
Stylistically, he matches up to anyone and his 10-fight winning streak only emphasises this. In another universe it may have been Ferguson fighting in the main event against McGregor, but he was forced out of his title fight against Nurmagomedov earlier this year with a knee injury. It’s just one of four times that planned matchup failed to make it to fight day.
But when Ferguson does make it to fight day, he brings it. Prior to the Kevin Lee fight he had secured 5 consecutive performance bonuses, but it was against Lee when he realised his quest for gold. Of course, it was an interim belt Ferguson captured, but it was also fleeting as he was stripped of his title when injury curtailed his most recent tête-à-tête with Khabib.
At one stage of my MMA viewing experience, there was nobody better at 155lbs than Anthony Pettis. The hardcore fan will remember him for the ‘Showtime’ kick in the WEC, where the promotion folded with him as their last champion. However, many new to the sport may view Pettis differently.
The most-recent version of Pettis has gone 3-5 in his last eight contests, starting with a rag dolling at the hands of Rafael dos Anjos at UFC 185. But Pettis looks to be back to his best form, securing a win over the dangerous Michael Chiesa last time out, his first consecutive victory in almost four years.
A brief sojourn at 145lbs proved fruitless and Pettis now looks back to his flashy best at lightweight again, but many are questioning his ability to hang at this level any longer.
From the brief open workout footage I have seen, Pettis looks sharp and he will need to be at his very best to top Ferguson. Ferguson, by contrast, looks drained and in poor shape, no doubt due to a gruelling weight cut. Although he is the older man, I feel that Ferguson still has a few more miles left in the tank and they will be taking him to secure the win. There isn’t much in terms of value available so I’ll be laying down a few shekels on the overs for a bit of interest.
Recommendation: Over 2.5 Rounds – 2 units at -130 (5/6) @ 5Dimes
UFC 229: Khabib Nurmagomedov vs. Conor McGregor
With an unbeaten record of 26-0, Khabib Nurmagomedov holds the most impressive record in all of professional MMA. it is amazing that it took 25 fights to get him into a legitimate tile match. Of course, it wasn’t all down to the UFC that it took this long, Khabib needs to shoulder some of the responsibility for a few issues.
The truth is that Khabib is a monster of a lightweight fighter. At 5’10” he is huge for a 155’er and his overall skillset is unparalleled; Sambo, Judo, Russian Freestyle Wrestling, he has it all. To top if off, he gets to practice those skills in a gym that houses current and former UFC champions in Daniel Cormier, Cain Velasquez and Luke Rockhold.
In 26 fights, Khabib has objectively barely lost a round, all the while facing powerhouses like Edson Barboza, Michael Johnson and Rafael dos Anjos among others. A patchy injury record and the observing of Ramadan, Khabib is a practicing Muslim, has seen his elevation slow down somewhat but he is in the prime of his life. He has missed weight twice at 155lbs and it will be a concern going into the fight. Tiramisu anyone?
To many casual observers, Conor McGregor IS the UFC. He has reached a point where he has transcended both the brand and sport. Officially he has been MIA for 23 months, if you ignore the Floyd Mayweather boxing distraction. Even still, it was a distraction that did him no physical or reputational harm and earned him north of $100 million. He says he is set for life and fights for fun, well now is the time to prove it.
McGregor’s UFC tenure has redefined hype with a lone loss to Nate Diaz, coming two weights outside of his then-fighting weight. Throughout his entire career its been the same as he has been taken to a decision just twice in 24 fights. One decision was against the aforementioned Diaz in his successful rematch, the other against UFC featherweight champion Max Holloway in a fight where he blew his ACL in his knee.
The Irishman dominated Eddie Alvarez to become the first ever concurrent two-weight champion in the UFC and with it, became the most marketable fighter in the history of the sport. He courts controversy wherever he goes, and he sells PPV’s. So much so that the UFC is prepared to overlook the sort of indiscretion that may have seen other fighters given a pink slip.
I find this an extremely difficult fight to call from a winner perspective as there are two very clear paths to victory. For Khabib, his ground game is second to none and if he takes McGregor down, I don’t the Dubliner being able to get up time and time again.
On the flipside, Khabib is very hittable and McGregor has incredible striking. You can’t rule out McGregor doing the exact same to Khabib as he did with Jose Aldo.
What is clear for me is that this fight ends before its halfway point, either through strikes or 12.5 minutes of relentless pressure. I’ll be hoping for a McGregor win as it’s best for business, but I won’t be betting on it.
Recommendation: Under 2.5 Rounds – 2 units at -132 (10/13) @ 5Dimes