The UFC has its share of critics after using footage of Conor McGregor attacking a bus carrying lightweight champion Khabib Nurmagomedov in April to promote Saturday’s UFC 229 main event between the fighters.
Former UFC middleweight champion Michael Bisping is not among them.
“That’s the best hype for a fight you could ever imagine. A lot of people are questioning the UFC for using that footage, but you can’t blame them,” Bisping said. “That’s [expletive] gold right there.”
McGregor reached a plea deal to dismiss felony charges stemming from the incident during fight week of UFC 223 at Barclays Center in Brooklyn and must perform community service by year’s end per the terms of his deal. Despite the seriousness of the incident, Bisping, an analyst for Fox Sports, said the footage is the only thing the UFC needs to sell the fight.
“That’s all you gotta do, you just have to show them that over and over again and people will think, ‘I want to see that fight,’” Bisping said. “Combine that with the fact that both guys are incredible fighters and of course you’ve got a huge fight on your hands.”
Bisping believes the fight will deliver when both men hit the cage at T-Mobile Arena. Nurmagomedov enters as the unbeaten lightweight champion, rarely losing a round in his 10-fight UFC career. McGregor enters as the superstar hoping to win back the belt he never defended before being stripped.
The fight is being billed as the biggest in UFC history, a claim Bisping said will be tested this week.
“It is a big fight, it’s not going to be a big fight, it is a big fight. It’s sold out, the gate’s going to be very, very healthy if not record setting,” Bisping said. “I guess time will tell on the pay-per-view, but with all of it leading into it — McGregor’s a superstar, a very, very exciting fighter, yeah he talks a lot of [expletive] but he backs it up every time. Khabib is undefeated. It’s classic styles, classic personalities, they’re very different. Khabib is a religious, quiet, stoic, man-of-few-words wrestler. McGregor is a brash, loud-mouth obnoxious striker. They’re very, very different people, very different fighters, and then you combine that with their confidence, combine that with what happened in Brooklyn with the bus, all that stuff.”
Bisping, who spent plenty of time in his UFC career talking trash ahead of his fights, said McGregor is one of the best at winding up opponents before a bout, but he’s not sure it’s worked with Nurmagomedov.
“The best example of that was Jose Aldo. He typically is a guy who stands back, lets fighters come to him and counters them. Conor pissed him off so much, he was like, ‘Bro, I’m going to show this [expletive] what I can do,’ and he ran right into him, super aggressive, out of character for Jose and got knocked out straight away. That’s a perfect example,” Bisping said. “Did he get into Khabib’s head? I would say no, but toward the end of the press conference, Khabib looked a little bit rattled. And who knows what’s going to happen this week.”
There’s another pre-fight news conference on Thursday.
Bisping thinks the mental warfare might just work to Nurmagomedov’s favor if the Russian can keep his cool.
“It’ll be interesting, maybe it plays into Conor hands, but maybe it plays into Khabib’s. Maybe he takes him down as we’ve seen time and time again. Khabib does his best [expletive]-talking while he’s punching you in the face, smashing you in the face with his ground-and-pound. Maybe he’s just saving his words for then, who knows?”
As for the actual fight, Bisping said he’s interested to see what happens if McGregor winds up on his back with Nurmagomedov on top, a position few have been able to escape.
“Predominately [Nurmagomedov] wraps you up, takes you down and beats the living [expletive] out of you, and people can’t stop it. Some people get up from time to time, Al Iaquinta was able to get up, but Iaquinta himself is a very good wrestler as well,” Bisping said. “But listen, if Conor gets taken down, he’s just going to try to stay calm and know that the end of the round is approaching and at the start of every round, the fight starts back on the feet. And Conor could probably get back to his feet a couple times as well, certainly in Round 1 if he gets taken down early, I could see Conor working to get back to his feet. It’s not impossible, I can get back to my feet from any wrestler. There are set ways to do it, and he’s got good coaches and jiu jitsu guys around him, and if you drill it time and time again, you can get back to your feet.”
But that’s just one step in stopping Nurmagomedov’s onslaught.
“The problem is, you use all that energy to get back to your feet, and the moment you get back to your feet, you just get taken down again, and that’s what Khabib does. That’s soul-destroying cause you’ll spend so much energy and you’ll just get back to your feet and think, ‘Thank God, I did it, I’m back on my feet,’ then whoops, boom, back down you go, and you’re back to square one,” Bisping said. “And if Khabib can do that to him, it might take the will out of Conor. Crush him mentally, and then crush him physically after that.”
Getting McGregor to the ground, however, won’t be so simple.
“Khabib likes to punch his way in, get a clinch, push him up against the fence and take him down from there,” Bisping said, “but to do that, he’s going to walk through the firing line of Conor’s punches, which is not an easy thing to do.”
Nurmagomedov’s ability to take a punch has come into question ahead of the matchup with the dynamic Irishman, but Bisping thinks he’s proven he has the chin to compete with the division’s top strikers.
“It only takes one good shot. I’ve said that over time, one good shot,” Bisping said. “Conor is very precise and very fast and very accurate and very powerful. Certainly in that first round it is possible. But Khabib has shown a good chin and he’s fought many good fighters. That’s what makes this fight so exciting cause obviously you don’t know what’s going to happen. Khabib’s got a good chin, he’s 26-0 for a reason. You don’t get to 26-0 in the UFC unless you have a good chin, that’s a fact. But Conor’s knocked out plenty of people with good chins.”