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Monday 10 December 2018

Mac wins the mind games as Bib looks beaten

Cool, calculated Conor all set to take crown off agitated Russian

Conor McGregor after the UFC 229 press conference at the Park Theater, Las Vegas
Conor McGregor after the UFC 229 press conference at the Park Theater, Las Vegas

When Conor McGregor wakes up tomorrow morning he will have either made more history or suffered a hugely disappointing setback the previous night.

There are no in-between scenarios as he prepares to take on Khabib Nurmagomedov for the UFC lightweight title. The verbal barbs between these two - particularly from McGregor's side - have been cutting.

Panto

Usually there's a panto element to such rivalries, but there is nothing make-believe about the animosity between these two men. They have vowed not to shake hands after the fight and McGregor insists his beef with Nurmagomedov will follow him to the grave.

The Russian goes into the fight as the champion, but McGregor - who was stripped of the title after an extended period of inactivity - doesn't recognise him as such.

Victory tonight will see the Dubliner become the first ever two-time lightweight champion in UFC history. If the contrast between the fighters' demeanour in recent days is anything to go by, the contest should be scrapped and UFC President Dana White should place the belt around McGregor's waist in a ceremony at the T-Mobile Arena.

Of course, it doesn't work that way and UFC bean counters are licking their lips in anticipation of a massive pay-per-view audience tuning in for the organisation's biggest fight of the year.

When yesterday's ceremonial weigh-ins concluded and both men could finally refuel after a punishing weight-cut, there was a distinct feeling in the air that Nurmagomedov had been beaten down by the entire process.

His aura has changed completely since last month's press conference in New York, when he was relaxed and refused to be goaded by McGregor.

This week, at the open workouts followed by Thursday's press conference and yesterday's weigh-in, the change in the Russian was visible on a day-by-day scale.

His abilities in the octagon are more expansive than McGregor's, but the Irishman's powerful left hand has so often proved the difference in the past.

If McGregor does win tonight, it is unlikely to come from a submission.

The 30-year-old doesn't really go in for submissions at all, especially against someone like Nurmagomedov, who would school him in the act.

McGregor will go in with a simple enough plan of playing to his strengths and protecting his weaknesses.

If he finds an opening to catch his opponent on the chin, that could be all it takes.

His constant belittling of Nurmagomedov's faith, family and coaching staff appear to have taken a toll. The Dagestani is agitated, annoyed and, above all else, emotional.

Going into a title showdown in an emotional state is a bad idea - Nurmagomedov has amassed a perfect record of 26-0 because he enters fights in a cold and detached state, with no feeling for his opponent.

This time it is very different. He despises McGregor and admits to still feeling deeply bothered by last April's bus attack in Brooklyn.

If Nurmagomedov enters the octagon in an emotional state, his decision-making process will be greatly compromised. He will make unplanned moves and leave himself open for McGregor to capitalise.

The psychological battle has been won by McGregor. They don't hand out titles for that, but it certainly provides a stepping stone to victory.

By last night, the number of Irish in Las Vegas had swelled to around 8,000 with more expected this morning. They believe McGregor will win. McGregor believes he will win. Nurmagomedov looks like he has lost all belief.

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