Current UFC lightweight champion Khabib Nurmagomedov is entering the biggest fight of his mixed martial arts (MMA) career as he welcomes Conor McGregor back to the Octagon next month at UFC 229.
Despite an undefeated 26-0 record and sheer dominance inside of the cage since his UFC debut back in 2012, Khabib is walking into unknown territory. He has never faced an opponent as polarizing nor a striker as prolific as McGregor is. So even though it’s a great matchup on paper for the wrestling-based Russian champ, it may turn out to be his toughest test to date.
Not to worry. According to Khabib’s head coach, American Kickboxing Academy frontman Javier Mendez, the undefeated lightweight possesses the mental fortitude to overcome absolutely anything inside of the cage. In fact, Mendez believes “Eagle” may soar above the competition for as long as he fights.
“I’m of the belief that Khabib’s mental strength is so strong that I personally feel that he’s never going to lose,” Mendez told Niall McGrath on MMA Fighting’s all-new Eurobash Podcast. “I really don’t — I don’t think he’s ever going to lose. He’s going to find whatever he needs to do to win, whether he does it my way or does it his way, he’s going to find a way to win and that’s just what he does.”
While confident in his star pupil, Mendez has made it known that he fears McGregor’s patented left hand. In order to give Khabib the best chance to avoid damage on his feet at UFC 229 Mendez will have to put together a sound gameplan on just two month’s notice.
“Basically it’s just me and him, myself and Khabib. We go through the gameplan and I structure it,” explained Mendez. “I’ve mostly been the one that structures all of the gameplans, except for with Daniel [Cormier], it’s myself and Bob Cook. I’ve been doing all the gameplans, the other coaches do a fantastic job and they fall into place where they’re needed, but the gameplan is usually always me.”
Even with a perfect gameplan in place Khabib is going to have to deal with McGregor’s mental mind games leading up to their superfight on October 6. The two have already squabbled in the past, most notably McGregor’s thrashing of a Brooklyn bus back in April to get to Khabib, so it’s important that Nurmagomedov keeps his cool for his first official UFC title defense.
“I’m not going to have to worry about keeping [Nurmagomedov] in check. He is so mentally strong that it’s not going to be an issue at all. Like I said, Conor is going to press his buttons, but it doesn’t matter. I believe Khabib is going to stay cool throughout the whole thing,” Mendez said.
“He’s going to dish it out as good as he gets it, and trust me, Conor’s going to give it to him because Conor is master at playing the game. He’s going to find an equal mental sparring partner as well as physical. This fight is going to be mental and physical, outside the fight and inside the fight, they’re both going to fight for the advantages.”
Even if Khabib gets past McGregor next month in Las Vegas he’s going to have to deal with a plethora of high-level lightweight contenders heading into 2019. Maintaining his undefeated record will be the hardest thing he’ll ever do as a fighter so it’ll be interesting to see how long “Eagle” remains on top.
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