In the wake of UFC 229 there has been much discussed in the MMA media and vlogosphere about how Conor McGregor “did not look like himself”, and how he seemed…”off”. These statements can imply a number of different possibilities. Was McGregor out of shape? Was he suffering from “ring rust”? Perhaps, was he coming back only for the money? Did his business obligations distract him, such that his training suffered? As I have come across a variety of hypotheses online, I have found it irresistible to comment, both in text, and out loud (to nobody). With consideration of the above-mentioned implications, let me talk a bit about my own hypothesis.
“Styles make fights”, and “MMA math does not add up” are truisms that I believe can not be downplayed, especially when considering MMA fighting. The realities of these phrases have played out in the Octagon, on wrestling mats, and in cages around the world. Furthermore, they have been spoken about many times by hardcore fans and MMA journalists. There is no doubt in my mind that Khabib Nurmagomedov was a nightmare style matchup for Conor McGregor––no big news there. However, it is this nightmare stylistic matchup that I believe was the cause for Conor not looking like himself at UFC 229…this, and perhaps the unwavering confidence of his opponent. Let’s not forget that Conor McGregor has always utilized his trash-talking and mind games leading up to fights to gain an advantage in the cage on fight night. It seemed pretty clear to me that he didn’t seem to have that edge over Khabib once the fight started.
As I watched the walkouts for the Khabib-Conor fight, I was very keenly aware of the demeanor of each fighter as they approached and entered the Octagon, and I know that this can be an indicator of what is to come. I agree with the theory that Conor did not look like himself, but I believe that it was Khabib, his confidence, and his dominant fighting style, that was the culprit in how Conor looked. If you analyze the way the fight played out, it is not hard to see that Khabib never allowed Conor to find his rhythm or his confidence. I believe that once Khabib took him down in the first and showed his dominance on the mat, Conor was prevented from gaining the momentum and confidence he has used to overcome fighters in the past. I believe it was this which made Conor McGregor seem “off” at UFC 229. Surely, there may also be other potential hypotheses (ones less tangible) to grapple with, which may have played a part in how Conor looked and how the fight played out that night, so I will speculate on a few.
Is it possible that Conor McGregor––somewhere deep down inside––knew he had crossed the line in the buildup to the fight? Is it possible that his subconscious mind was nipping at the heals, so to speak, of his conscious mind, whispering to him that he hadn’t done enough good work to optimally compete with his opponent. Perhaps his other business interests had in fact taken withdrawals from his skills and confidence bank account, thereby robbing him of some of his powers in the cage? I like to think about these possibilities, but as I have done so in the week or so following the fight, I keep coming back to the same thing. I come back to the idea that it was the man that he faced in the cage that night that made Conor McGregor not look like himself. After all, Conor has proven to be the kryptonite for other fighters he has faced. Just look at the Conor McGregor-Eddie Alvarez fight from UFC 205 and you can see clear evidence on how a fighter can be made to not look like themself. Clearly, Eddie Alvarez did not look like himself at all that night. Was it Conor that caused this?
Styles do make fights, and Khabib Nurmagomedov has a fighting style that tends to dominate fighters, chipping away at their fighting spirit and confidence. Simply look at some of Khabib’s earlier fights and you can clearly see this dynamic at work. Look at the Michael Johnson and Edson Barboza fights and it is clear how Khabib can make quality fighters look bad. So, for the many Conor McGregor fans that have seemed to find it hard to accept the outcome of UFC 229––if they are hardcore MMA fans and are willing to look honestly for the answer––I think they will come to see that it was Khabib that made Conor look “off” that night and that he has done that to almost ever fighter he has ever faced.