American Kickboxing Academy head coach Javier Mendez believes that the striking gap between his fighter Khabib Nurmagomedov and Conor McGregor is far too large to bridge, claiming that there is no possible way for Khabib to ready himself for McGregor’s illusive striking arsenal. Conor McGregor’s striking has been praised by many as some of the best in the UFC and he poses a puzzle that few fighters have been able to crack.
This matchup has divided opinions throughout the MMA community, but Khabib Nurmagomedov’s coach is incredibly impressed with Conor McGregor’s striking assets, insisting on the latest episode of the Eurobash Podcast that he is the best striker in the UFC.
“To me [Conor McGregor] is the best standup guy in the whole UFC, in my opinion,” Javier Mendez claimed.
“He’s got incredible relaxation, he approaches it like a scientist, he knows how to read you, he knows how to bait you…he knows how to put you right into that trap and before you know it you’re caught sleeping.
“He’s a master, in my opinion, on the fighting arts and he’s also got a ground game — he’s good everywhere. I’m not sleeping on how great he is. I’m prepared for everything but he is a great fighter.”
Mendez’s opinion on this matchup reflects the beliefs of the majority of the MMA fan base, but he believes that the winner of this matchup will have to force their opponent into playing their favoured game, be that grappling or striking. It’s no secret that Conor McGregor is the superior striker, or that Khabib Nurmagomedov is an exceptional grappler, but this does not mean that Khabib Nurmagomedov is incapable of doing damage on the feet. These kinds of matchups are rarely as straightforward as we may first believe.
“There’s no amount of time that we have that’s going to help us to try and get him to stand up, there’s no way possible. So, I’m not gonna say, ‘Oh yeah, we’re gonna get him ready’… come on…wake up…it ain’t gonna work,” he said.
“We have to fight our strengths, we have to find ways of opening the doors to where his weaknesses are and likewise. This is basically the classic grappler versus striker fight. Keep in mind that they can both grapple and they can both strike, it’s just one is better than the other at (each discipline).
“We’re the better grappler, he’s the better striker, but that doesn’t mean we won’t strike, it just means he’s better. It’s about who plays whose game.”
Although it may seem that Khabib Nurmagomedov’s game plan will be to get Conor McGregor down to the ground, the UFC lightweight champion has been known to deviate from his initial game plan. During the Eurobash Podcast, Javier Mendez spoke about Khabib Nurmagomedov’s last fight against Al Iaquinta for the UFC lightweight championship.
“In the first two rounds, he fought exactly like we wanted him to. In the third round, what happens? Nope, he does one takedown, he shot once — he chains takedowns he never just does one shot — and then he started comfortable hitting Iaquinta with the jab. His chin up high, he wasn’t moving his head right. Khabib was doing all the things you aren’t supposed to do, but yet, he was still out striking him 4-1 if not more,” he said.
“He was comfortable doing that but I was not happy with that because I told him, ‘You’re going to get comfortable hitting him, I don’t want you to do that’. He does that for the first few rounds and then finally I tell him, ‘Obviously, you’re not going to listen to me and your father, but do me a favor, do half of what you want to do and do half of what we want’. I said, ‘Okay, can you do that for me?’ and he said, ‘Yeah’, so that’s why you’ll notice in the fifth round he took him down again. He did the takedown and then he did the standup like he wanted it.”
This is worrying for Khabib Nurmagomedov’s camp. His willingness to strike with his opponents may have worked up until this point, but he will be treading a fine line if he chooses to deviate from his game plan against Conor McGregor. This is something that his coach Javier Mendez certainly does not want Khabib to do, but it’s completely out of his control once Khabib Nurmagomedov steps into the Octagon.
“Look, these are two great fighters and they’re going to do what they’re going to do. Our job is to get them as prepared as possible, but come fight time they’re going to do what they’re going to do. For all I know, Khabib could stand with him and I’ll be screaming my head off thinking, ‘What is he doing?’
“If that’s what he wants to do, that’s what he’ll do. Obviously, that’s not what I want, I want nothing to do with Conor’s stand-up…he’s too good.
This fight is expected to be the biggest fight in UFC history and it certainly will not disappoint.
Who will go home victorious, Conor McGregor or Khabib Nurmagomedov?