Can Conor McGregor topple the unbeaten Russian?

Conor McGregor makes his much-anticipated return to mixed martial arts on Saturday with a mouthwatering clash against unbeaten Khabib Nurmagomedov at UFC 229.

The Irish star hasn’t fought in MMA since beating Eddie Alvarez to add the lightweight belt to his featherweight title back nearly two years ago.

He was subsequently stripped of both titles because of inactivity, with Nurmagomedov being installed as the lightweight champion earlier this year.

Bookmakers have boosted McGregor’s odds to win in rounds 1-2 from 9/4 to 3/1 and that looks good value given his striking ability.

While Nurmagomedov is undoubtedly at the top of his game, he is yet to face anyone with the quality McGregor possesses.

His powerful hands worked to great effect against Jose Aldo, Eddie Alvarez and Nate Diaz, and his gift for attacking from different angles could flummox the champion.

McGregor has exuded confidence in the run-up to the fight, predicting that he will secure a knockout victory this weekend.

“I’m going to maul him,” McGregor told the Ariel Helwani Show. “It’s going to be a devastating KO. I hope it won’t be too early.

“I will clatter him, he will crumble. I don’t think he can take a smack. Has he got the chin of (Nate) Diaz or the poise of (Floyd) Mayweather?

“He’s got a glass chin that’s never had a crack – not from a sniper rifle.”

While Nurmagomedov is strong on the mat, whether he will get the opportunity to take the fight into his comfort zone is another matter.

Bookies are offering 10/1 (enhanced from 9/1) for him to win in round three or 7/2 (boosted from 27/10) for the fight to go the distance.

The Russian was impressive in his most recent victories over Al Iaquinta and Edson Barboza, although neither fighter comes anywhere near to McGregor’s class.

Nurmagomedov has won by strikes just twice in 10 UFC bouts and the way he exposes his chin is a recipe for disaster against a fighter like McGregor.

However, he believes his opponent’s two-year absence from the UFC will count against him and has backed himself to come out on top.

“I don’t expect nothing from him,” he told TMZ Sports. “I just want to come, answer the questions – I’m focused on the fight.

“I’m gonna go crazy on the 6th October. I’m going to make him tired and make him look bad, this is my plan. He cannot fight all 25 minutes. Maybe he thinks he can knock me out – we will see.”

Despite the Russian’s confidence, McGregor looks a good bet at odds of 3/1 to win in either the first or second round.

Elsewhere on the main card, Tony Ferguson, Dominick Reyes and Alexander Volkov are fancied to join McGregor in winning their respective contests at boosted odds of 7/1 (up from 5/1) for the four-fold.

UFC 229 MAIN CARD

Main event: Khabib Nurmagomedov (c) vs Conor McGregor (five rounds for lightweight title)
Co-main event: Tony Ferguson vs Anthony Pettis (lightweight)
Ovince Saint Preux vs Dominick Reyes (light-heavyweight)
Derrick Lewis vs Alexander Volkov (heavyweight)
Michelle Waterson vs Felice Herrig (women’s strawweight)

Preliminary card

Sergio Pettis vs Jussier Formiga (flyweight)
Vicente Luque vs Jalin Turner (welterweight)
Scott Holtzman vs Alan Patrick (lightweight)
Aspen Ladd vs Tonya Evinger (women’s bantamweight)
Ryan LaFlare vs Tony Martin (welterweight)
Lina Lansberg vs Yana Kunitskaya (women’s bantamweight)
Gray Maynard vs Nik Lentz (lightweight)

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