Why Conor McGregor can beat Khabib Nurmagomedov and win back the lightweight title at UFC 229

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At times this week it has seemed Conor McGregor is in Las Vegas simply to sell his new Irish whiskey.

At others it seemed he is here for a £50million smash-and-grab before slipping back into semi-retirement.

Mostly, though, he was just late.

Forty minutes late for Wednesday's public workout, and half-an-hour behind schedule for the following day's press conference.

But when the UFC has waited almost two years for him to come to their rescue, what's another couple of hours?

Because when McGregor does show up tonight - when it really matters – there will be audible sighs of relief in the front row.

Conor McGregor takes on Khabib Nurmagomedov for the lightweight title

UFC president Dana White's pay-per-view predictions may have swung from the optimistic to the ridiculous, but there is no doubting McGregor's enduring star power.

Around two million people are expected to spend $65 on the fight in America, breaking the current record set by McGregor's rematch with Nate Diaz in 2016.

Indeed, the Irishman has fought in four of the five biggest events in the promotion's history with only UFC 100 denying him a clean sweep.

Since his last fight in the Octagon – a second-round stoppage of Eddie Alvarez – only Amanda Nunes' destruction of Ronda Rousey has broken the million-buys barrier.

Neither Georges Saint-Pierre's comeback nor Jon Jones' win-cum-no-decision over Daniel Cormier attracted the masses as it seems only McGregor can.

And if his challenge for lightweight supremacy attracts more than 2.2m purchases, it will have attracted more buyers than the previous nine numbered cards combined.

McGregor has taken every opportunity to market his whiskey

Make no mistake, the UFC needs McGregor more than he needs them; but the Irishman, now 30, appears to have found comfort in familiar surroundings.

The two years since he last walked to the Octagon may have brought him untold riches, but they have also brought him unforeseen trouble.

Only a plea deal with the New York authorities saw McGregor avoid a criminal record and the possibility of never fighting Stateside again following his shameful attack on a bus carrying UFC fighters – including Nurmagomedov – in April.

"It's good to be back," has been one of his go-to phrases this week and it is easy to understand that the cage might be the only place he feels in control.

Nurmagomedov, on the other hand, has been calmness personified throughout a week which can resemble a circus when McGregor rolls in.

Unlike Jose Aldo or Eddie Alvarez, he has not taken the bait dangled so tantalisingly in front of him.

Rather he has remained stoic and focused on the task in hand.

Nurmagomedov has shown no sign of being rattled

McGregor doesn't show up to the press conference on time; no problem, he leaves.

McGregor does his homework on those I associate with; no problem, he does the same.

McGregor loses his cool briefly at the weigh-in; no problem, he remains ice cold.

Yet this fight is as personal for the Dagestani as it is for the Dublin native - and it is one he had in is sights long before the glass shattered on that Brooklyn bus.

Such was the ease with which he was dominating Michael Johnson two years ago that Nurmagomedov had time to talk to White as he sat cage-side, demanding a shot at the title that would be in McGregor's possession half an hour later when he stopped Alvarez.

As it transpired, Nurmagomedov would have to wait until spring this year to claim the belt, outclassing Al Iaquinta - his third opponent in a week after the withdrawals of Tony Ferguson and Max Holloway.

He now, albeit it belatedly, has his chance to silence McGregor.

"This is more than about defending my title, more than a main event, for me it's personal," he said this week.

"This is the biggest fight in UFC history and we're going to do record-breaking views; for me it's personal."

McGregor aimed a kick at the champion after the weigh-in

So, who wins?

Ever since the fight was announced, there have been two theories advanced; either Nurmagomedov wrestles McGregor to the canvas and mauls him until the referee steps in, or the challenger lands that fearsome left hand and adds another knockout to his highlight reel.

As is often the case, the key will lie in McGregor's timing.

If he can circle away from the on-rushing Nurmagomedov and avoid being backed up against the cage, and then pick his counters effectively, that early success will frustrate the champion.

Should he lunge forward as a result, his own below-par striking ability will be exposed and once McGregor smells blood, he won't need a second invitation.

A repeat of his 13-second demolition of Aldo is unlikely; think more the methodical dismantling of Alvarez.

Either way it should extend this second part of McGregor's UFC career - much to everyone's relief.

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