MMA Review: #658: UFC 229: Khabib vs. McGregor

-The UFC were obviously billing this as the biggest fight in MMA history and yeah, they weren’t far wrong really given the hype going in and the likelihood of this becoming the best-selling PPV ever. Thankfully they actually decided to make it far more than a one-fight card too, throwing the likes of Tony Ferguson, Anthony Pettis, Derrick Lewis and Dominick Reyes on to make a really deep show overall.

UFC 229: Khabib vs. McGregor

Las Vegas, Nevada

-We open with probably the best video package in UFC history to build Khabib/McGregor, purely because it’s being narrated by JOHN MALKOVICH in full Cyrus the Virus mode and it’s FUCKING AWESOME.

-Your hosts are Jon Anik, Joe Rogan and Dominick Cruz.

Women’s Strawweight Fight: Felice Herrig vs Michelle Waterson

This sounded like an excellent fight between two of the Strawweight division’s most popular fighters, although it was a little odd in terms of matchmaking too given Felice was coming off a loss to Karolina Kowalkiewicz while Waterson had won her last fight against Cortney Casey. Despite this I was actually taking Felice as I figured they were equally skilled but Felice’s size would see her through.

Round One and Felice pushes forward throwing some early strikes as Waterson circles on the outside. Few kicks from Waterson keep Herrig at distance but they don’t land cleanly or anything. Superkick does catch Herrig coming in though. Good low kick lands for Felice but despite pushing forward she’s taking more shots than she’s landing. More of the same follows until Felice tags her with a combination and gets to the clinch. They trade with some knees and jockey for position along the fence, and it looks like Herrig’s trying to get Waterson down but can’t quite manage it. Round ends in the clinch with Waterson getting some elbows in for good measure. Probably 10-9 Waterson for the counter work, but it was close.

Round Two and both women get tagged in the first exchange. Clinch from Herrig and they exchange knees before breaking off. Single leg is defended by Felice and they end up clinched again, and from there it’s more of the same with knees and jockeying for position. Couple of solid elbows break for Waterson and she lands with a head kick. Clinch from Herrig but Waterson hits a SLICK throw and dumps her onto her back to land a couple of thudding shots. Herrig gets half-guard but Waterson looks pretty comfortable from here. Action slows down a bit but it doesn’t look like Felice can get out from underneath. Full guard for Herrig now but not long left in the round. Waterson continues to work from the top with punches and the round ends there. 10-9 Waterson.

Round Three and Waterson again uses her kicks to keep Felice at distance. Felice manages to get to the clinch again, and this time she lands a right hand to break it off. More kicks follow for Waterson before Herrig hits a takedown to guard, avoiding an armbar in the process. Elbows from the bottom land for Waterson and she keeps on working from the bottom to avoid any kind of offense from Felice. Oma plata attempt is avoided by Herrig but she still can’t really string together any meaningful offense. Ref Jason Herzog calls a stand-up and they clinch up right away from the restart, and they exchange from there before breaking off. Herrig keeps pushing forward and she does land a couple of combos, but for the most part she’s still walking into kicks. Less than a minute to go and Waterson nails her with a really flush front kick to the jaw. They keep fighting in and out of the clinch, and the round ends with an exchange of knees from close quarters. 10-9 Waterson, 30-27 overall.

Judges have it 30-26, 29-28 and 30-27 for Michelle Waterson. Well, the 30-26 score is bullshit as there’s no way any of those rounds were 10-8 but I digress, right girl clearly won at least. Story of the fight was basically that despite being the bigger, stronger fighter Herrig couldn’t really do a lot from the clinch or with her wrestling, and Waterson was able to use her kicks to keep her at bay throughout the fight for the most part. Not a bad fight but it was just kind of there, you know? Nothing memorable really.

Heavyweight Fight: Derrick Lewis vs Alexander Volkov

In a normal year this would’ve been like a de facto #1 contender’s fight at Heavyweight, but with Brock Lesnar looming over the division nobody was really sure what would happen. Both guys were coming off big wins – Volkov over Fabricio Werdum and Lewis over Francis Ngannou, albeit in a big-time stinker. I was taking Volkov’s more well-rounded skills to come through, probably on the ground.

Fight begins and Lewis takes the centre of the cage as Volkov circles on the outside. Couple of shots – including a jumping kick! – miss for Lewis early on. Front kick to the body from Volkov has him hurt though and the Russian swarms on him looking for the finish. Lewis manages to survive but he was badly hurt there. Another big right hand lands for Volkov and that sets up another flurry and Lewis is in bad shape. He’s swinging back, but then he takes an eye poke and Volkov actually decides to call time himself. Weird moment there. Volkov apparently tries to claim Lewis fish-hooked him, and then they restart with Volkov going to the body again. Weird takedown attempt goes horribly wrong for Lewis and Volkov forces him onto his back pretty easily. Lewis works back to his feet though and separates pretty quickly before landing a big right hand. Volkov takes it well and clinches, then hits an easy trip to side mount. Elbows land for Volkov and then he takes the back with both hooks, but Lewis works to wriggle free and gets on top….where he UNLEASHES some big shots over the top to end the round. Crowd love that. 10-9 Volkov however as he almost had Lewis done early on there.

Into the 2nd and Volkov opens up with a big right hand at the end of a combo that has Lewis covering up badly again. He looks gassed too. Big swing misses for Lewis and I’ve got no idea what his gameplan is as he’s so far on the outside. Clean one-two lands for Volkov. Left head kick and a left to the body follows and Lewis is looking hurt every time Volkov connects there. Hard jab lands for Volkov too. Takedown attempt misses for Lewis and Volkov looks totally chilled out here. Lewis can’t get anything going. Another nice body kick lands for Volkov. Crowd are sounding a bit annoyed now as Volkov continues to snipe on Lewis from the outside. Wild swings miss for Lewis again. Low kicks have Lewis a bit wobbled and he leans for a takedown but can’t get it. He does glance on a right hand though. Couple of huge swings miss for Lewis. He looks gassed. He keeps on swinging at Volkov though, but Herb Dean then steps in to give Volkov his mouthpiece back. Round ends there. 10-9 Volkov.

Third and final round and Lewis still looks tentative as Volkov continues to snipe from the outside. Weird takedown attempt fails for Lewis and Volkov clips him with a left before he gets back up. So weird to see Lewis dropping to his back! Big left hook misses for Lewis but puts Volkov on the run a bit anyway. Big combo from Volkov has Lewis in trouble and he doubles over, but still manages to survive somehow. Another big combo has him covering up as it looks like he’s got some serious damage to his right eye. Couple of body kicks land for Volkov. He’s making this look pretty easy. More of the same follows with just over a minute to go as Volkov kicks away at the body some more. Lewis tries to swing back but Volkov quickly gets out of range. Big right hand does connect but Volkov seems fine. Less than a minute to go and Volkov snipes at the body again. Stats show Lewis has landed a total of 30 strikes across the WHOLE FIGHT. Seconds to go now and Lewis keeps on swinging, and suddenly a HUGE RIGHT HOOK counters a low kick and VOLKOV GOES DOWN! Crowd go APESHIT as Lewis pounces and KNOCKS HIM OUT COLD WITH RIGHT HANDS!~!

Jesus Christ. That was one of the best comebacks in MMA history, period. Lewis was getting OWNED up to that point, barely able to land a thing and his gameplan was absolute garbage and yet somehow he had the face-melting power to land literally ONE BIG SHOT and that was it. Holy shit. Terrible, TERRIBLE break for Volkov but Lewis always has the ultimate equaliser in that brutal punching power.

And then post-fight he TAKES HIS SHORTS OFF and when Joe Rogan asks him why it’s apparently because HIS BALLS WERE HOT. This man is a fucking legend and that was one of the most memorable moments of 2018 by a mile. Awesome.

Light-Heavyweight Fight: Dominick Reyes vs Ovince St. Preux

I was super-excited by this one surprisingly enough as Reyes is basically the best prospect out there at 205lbs right now and this was his first proper big test after running through his first three opponents in the UFC. St. Preux had stopped another excellent prospect in his last fight in Tyson Pedro, but I couldn’t see him doing the same here and took Reyes to win via knockout.

Round One begins and Reyes opens with a hard low kick. Both men trade low kicks and OSP goes down for a second and then eats a body kick as he pops up. More kicks from Reyes and then he lands a pretty clean left hand too. Looks like Reyes is quite a bit faster than St. Preux. OSP charges in but Reyes throws him into the fence in the clinch. St. Preux looks for the takedown, but Reyes breaks off and lands the left hand again. OSP tries to throw him, but can’t get him off his feet and then Reyes lands some Travis Browne-style elbows to the side of the head. OSP keeps working and gets him down, but Reyes pops right back up and lands some more shots to the head from the clinch. Reyes is looking great so far. Nice shots break the clinch for Reyes and OSP is rocked. Reyes continues to land and OSP is all over the place, purely in survival mode now. He manages to stay in the fight though despite Reyes continuing to land on him. Seconds to go and Reyes continues to land shots, mixing it up with kicks too. Round ends on the feet. 10-9 Reyes easily.

Round Two and Reyes opens with the body kick and left hand again. OSP just looks way too slow for Reyes. Clean counter left lands for Reyes as OSP tries a low kick. Big knee from Reyes but OSP eats it up and looks for the takedown. Action slows down a little as it looks like Reyes wants the takedown instead and they jockey inside the clinch, but he gives it up to break free. Beautiful body kick lands for Reyes. OSP fires back with a head kick of his own but it only glances. Looks like Reyes has slowed down a little which is understandable really. Good takedown defense sees Reyes avoid a wild single leg attempt. Another one is stuffed too and Reyes lands the body kick again. Left to the body lands for both men, OSP first and Reyes in reply. Round ends with a Reyes elbow. 10-9 Reyes.

Round Three and Reyes opens with kicks that force OSP backwards. Couple of really good low kicks land for Reyes. Big head kick narrowly misses for St. Preux. Reyes comes right back with one of his own that OSP has to block with his arms. Cameras show the legend that is JOE DADDY STEVENSON in Reyes’ corner. Another hard low kick lands for Reyes. OSP comes back with a decent left hand. Counter uppercut lands for Reyes. Kick is caught by OSP and he rushes Reyes and tries to get him down, but somehow Dominick manages to stay on his feet. They break off and Reyes continues to snipe at OSP as he comes forward. Big left hand glances for OSP. He keeps on taking the left kick though. OSP is badly busted open. Looks like a counter elbow did it as OSP came forward. OSP keeps pushing forward but he can’t catch Reyes at all. Big head kick glances for Reyes. Seconds to go and OSP keeps coming, but he walks into a HUGE COUNTER LEFT and he’s clearly out cold, but the buzzer sounds and ref Dan Miragliotta decides not to call the fight. Weird stuff. Should’ve been a KO but it’s 10-9 Reyes I guess

Judges all have it 30-27 for Dominick Reyes. Well, that was a great showing from him – particularly in the first round – as he basically picked OSP apart without taking any damage or being taken down. He slowed down in the later rounds admittedly but shit, it was the first time he’d been out of the first in the UFC so you can’t blame him really. The end was a major gaffe from Dan Miragliotta, though – imagine if Reyes had been behind and then landed that KO? I just can’t work out why Dan didn’t stop the fight when it was clear OSP was done with like a second to go. I suppose Reyes being robbed of a KO on his record isn’t the worst thing ever but even so. Entertaining fight at any rate and – assuming Jon Jones moves to Heavyweight – I can see Reyes becoming the champion in this division in the future. He’s just incredibly smooth and seems calm and skilled way beyond his experience level.

Lightweight Fight: Tony Ferguson vs Anthony Pettis

This was a bit of a surprise given Ferguson had blown his knee out in April and wasn’t expected back until 2019, but I wasn’t complaining! Pettis meanwhile had looked great in his July win over Michael Chiesa and I expected him to test Ferguson somewhat, but – assuming El Cucuy was healthy – I was still taking Ferguson to win in violent fashion as he always does.

First round begins and both men show a lot of movement right away but it’s Ferguson who’s putting all the pressure on. Good low kicks land for Pettis, though. Both men throw some low kicks and the announcers mention that Ferguson is moving strangely on the previously injured leg. Couple of good left hands land for Ferguson. Wild spinning attack from Pettis is blocked by Ferguson who continues to pressure him backwards. Nice combo from Ferguson. His pace is insane, too. Big counter right from Ferguson and he nails Pettis with a couple more shots as he backs into the fence. Shots to the head and body land for Ferguson as he keeps on forcing Pettis backwards. Cartwheel kick misses for Pettis and Ferguson makes him pay with some long punches. Beautiful jab from Ferguson follows some cool head movement. Round ends with a superman punch springing off the fence into a combo for Ferguson. Wow. 10-9 Ferguson as he was pressuring Pettis so much.

Second round and Ferguson opens with a hard low kick. Another one follows but Pettis counters with a BIG RIGHT HOOK and Ferguson goes down! He pops up and tries a spinning backfist, but Pettis avoids and nails him AGAIN and he goes down HARD! He tries to front roll away but takes more bombs and winds up on his back, and holy shit he’s in trouble here. Leglock attempt slows Pettis down, and then Ferguson gets to guard and someone is bleeding BADLY. Can’t tell who just yet. Announcers think it’s Ferguson’s mouth. Pettis keeps on trying to work inside the guard and it’s then revealed that Pettis has a bad cut on his forehead. Ferguson gets back to his feet and ref Jason Herzog steps in to check Pettis’s cut. Looks like it was an elbow from the guard from Ferguson that did the damage. Doctors decide Pettis is good to go, and they restart to a MASSIVE CROWD POP.

Wheel kick misses for Pettis off the restart and now it’s Ferguson on the offensive again, forcing Pettis backwards with low kicks and a big combination to the head and body. No idea how he recovered that quickly. Overhand right glances for Pettis but Ferguson makes him pay with another combination. Both men land with punches now but it’s Ferguson coming forward. Pettis is just pouring with blood now as Ferguson nails him to the head and body. Big elbow from Ferguson and Pettis is wilting under this pressure. He keeps trying to fire back but Ferguson’s just all over him with HUGE COMBINATIONS and wow, Pettis is a MESS. He lands with the right again but this time Ferguson just takes it and lands more punishment. This is an INSANE ROUND. Exchange continues and Ferguson keeps on with the pressure, and Pettis is in trouble. More shots land for Ferguson and Pettis is just covering up now. Seconds to go and he goes down, but Ferguson can’t finish him before the round ends. That was one of the best rounds I’ve ever seen. 10-9 Ferguson despite the knockdown!

Between rounds Pettis reveals his hand’s broken, and he looks so fucked to the point that Duke Rufous THROWS IN THE TOWEL. Really fair decision from him as Pettis was clearly compromised and couldn’t fight properly and so why go out and take more of a beating? Anticlimactic ending but it doesn’t take away from what was an all-time classic fight. Pettis tried but even though he came close to a finish, he just had no answer for the wild pressure and offense of Ferguson. I’d call this the Fight of the Year thus far for sure although there’s been some other great ones in 2018 too so my mind might change come 2019. And then post-fight Ferguson cuts an ultra-aggressive, sweary promo calling out Conor McGregor. Dude simply HAS to get the next title shot point blank. It’s ridiculous if anyone else gets it, to be honest. I think he’s actually better than Conor OR Khabib.

UFC World Lightweight Title: Khabib Nurmagomedov vs Conor McGregor

Well, where to start with this one? Obviously the idea of a McGregor/Nurmagomedov fight had been brewing for a while after Conor beat Eddie Alvarez for the Lightweight title in 2016, but when the Irishman decided to do the Mayweather fight and everything I honestly didn’t expect to see him back. But then we had the infamous BUS ATTACK INCIDENT at UFC 223 and despite Conor being arrested and everything it was pretty clear that the fight was going to happen at some point. I was surprised when it was announced for this show but obviously it was a pleasant surprise, and I was actually picking McGregor to win, feeling he could catch Khabib with a big shot coming in and switch his lights off – and if he did get taken down, he’d be able to survive.

Round One and the crowd are DEAFENING. Conor actually comes forward from the off and glances with the big left hand, then follows with a head kick attempt. Takedown attempt from Khabib follows and Conor tries to defend it, grabbing Khabib’s waist and looking for a possible switch, but Nurmagomedov keeps working hard and almost has him down. McGregor again defends and gets to his feet, spinning around, but Khabib eventually gets him onto his back. Elbows to the side of the head land for Conor but Khabib laces his feet up to keep him grounded. Crowd instantly begin to boo that one. Khabib keeps him down but doesn’t really land with a lot, and to be fair Conor looks super-calm here. Crowd are fucking LIVID at this point. Round continues with Khabib on top until the end. 10-9 Khabib even though he didn’t do too much damage.

Round Two and Conor comes out with his hands low and he looks to put the pressure on with some kicks, but he misses a superman punch with the left. BIG RIGHT HAND from Khabib has him down though and he’s rocked! Conor pops back up, but he can’t land anything back and they exchange before Khabib gets a takedown. Insane sequence there. This time Khabib passes right into mount and Conor’s in trouble. He manages to scramble back to guard, but Khabib’s all over him and he begins to OPEN UP with some crushing elbows and punches. McGregor’s taking a BEATING now, holy shit. Khabib stacks him to drop some more shots and Conor is in deep trouble. Herb Dean could maybe stop this as Conor is just covering up, but he lets it go and Khabib drops into side mount and begins to look to isolate McGregor’s left arm. Illegal knee ala Frank Shamrock against Renzo Gracie lands for Conor and he also gets warned for gripping the fence with his toes. One minute to go and Conor manages to scramble onto his knees, then onto his feet, but Khabib is still on him like glue. Round ends in the clinch. 10-8 Khabib for sure.

Round Three and Conor backs Khabib up with some early punches, popping the crowd as the Dagestani fighter looks like he might be tired. Good left to the body from Conor. Front kick to the body follows and the crowd are way into McGregor, singing the ole ole song. Takedown is really well defended by Conor and he lands an elbow and a knee to the body with Khabib in close. Big right hand answers back for Khabib. Another one sets up a takedown attempt but McGregor defends that too. Khabib keeps trying, but again Conor fights him off and this time he opens up with a combo! Big overhand right lands for Khabib and he follows with a jab, only to eat the big left from Conor. Exchange continues and now both men are landing decent punches. Clean left to the body from McGregor and again he fights off the clinch. Khabib is being outboxed in this round. Takedown attempt follows for Nurmagomedov and this time he gets Conor down, but right away the Irishman reverses up. Khabib keeps him pressed into the fence, but he can’t get him down and the round ends there. 10-9 McGregor, big surprise after the last round.

Round Four and Khabib looks angry. Conor catches him with an early combination and he’s backing the Dagestani up, using the front kick to the body too. Big crowd chant for Conor. Huge double leg attempt from Khabib though and he trips him down hard. The Irishman looks to reverse up, but Khabib laces the left leg to keep him down and then takes the back as he tries to stand. Both hooks in now for Khabib and as McGregor wriggles, he takes mount instead. Arm triangle attempt is avoided by Conor but Khabib’s all over him. Conor gives his back again and this time Khabib locks onto a NASTY NECK CRANK and twists his head right to the side….and McGregor taps out.

And then post-fight ALL HELL BREAKS LOOSE as Khabib LEAPS THE FENCE TO ATTACK DILLON DANIS, and as security break that up, Khabib’s teammates STORM THE CAGE and open up on Conor with punches! McGregor tries to swing back and the CHAOS CONTINUES as we’ve got a re-enactment of StrikeForce’s infamous NASHVILLE BRAWL as the crowd boo the whole thing while everyone floods the cage to try to calm things down. Finally Daniel Cormier of all people manages to calm Khabib, and Dana White refuses to present him with the title. And we end with the crazy scene of both Khabib and Conor no longer in the cage as Bruce Buffer makes the announcement of Khabib winning. Holy shit.

Well, firstly this was a great fight – actually better on a rewatch as McGregor didn’t actually do as badly as I initially remembered; he defended well on the ground in the first, landed a bunch of good strikes and probably won the third round, but for the most part when Khabib got him down he was outclassed, and it only ever felt like a matter of time before Khabib ended things. He’s clearly the better fighter right now and it’s time to try to book Khabib vs. Ferguson again to decide who the real top Lightweight in the world is.

Regarding the brawl, it is what it is – there’ll be repercussions although largely not for Khabib and Conor (who as replays showed, clearly swung for some of Khabib’s crew too) as we’ve already seen with Zubaira Tukhugov being cut from the UFC. Sure, it left a bit of a black eye on the sport, but a month or so down the line it’s already yesterday’s news – certainly not a sport-killer like some made out at the time.

For me it stands as an important lesson for trash talkers; essentially, trash talk is all well and good to build a fight assuming the opponent “gets it”. This was another example – Wanderlei Silva’s behaviour towards Chael Sonnen being another – of the trash talk simply not translating to an opponent with a very different culture, and obviously Khabib and his guys were taking all of the insults (as well as the bus attack) far more personally than anyone had done before when it came to McGregor. It’s not something I want to see again but I guess it gave a big talking point, so there is that!

-Highlight reel quickly rolls, and we end the show there. Whew.

Final Thoughts….

Biggest show in company history? Probably. One of the best? I’m not sure in terms of all time, but it was definitely the best show of 2018 thus far and certainly one of the most memorable overall, with a hell of a main event with a chaotic ending, a bonafide classic between Ferguson and Pettis, and one of the all time crazy finishes from Derrick Lewis. Waterson/Herrig wasn’t a great opener but that didn’t matter really. It’s a huge thumbs up from me for UFC 229, a total must-see show for any MMA fan.

Best Fight: Ferguson vs. Pettis
Worst Fight: Waterson vs. Herrig

Overall Rating: ****3/4

Until next time,

Scott Newman: