On October 6, in the main event of UFC 229, UFC lightweight champion Khabib Nurmagomedov will attempt to defend his title against former UFC lightweight and featherweight champion Conor McGregor.
Given that Conor McGregor is one of the most feared strikers in UFC history, many fans and pundits feel Khabib Nurmagomedov would be wise to use his world-class wrestling early on. Nurmagomedov’s head coach Javier Mendez shares this opinion — although he’s not confident Nurmagomedov will do so. The Russian champion, after all, often deviates from the intended game plan in his fights. And while this can occasionally be frustrating for Mendez, he maintains that it’s okay so long as Nurmagomedov keeps winning.
“I say to [my fighters], ‘I don’t care what you do, as long as you’re winning,’” Javier Mendez said on the latest episode of BJPENN.COM Radio. “Okay, so let’s backtrack to when Khabib fought Michael Johnson [at UFC 205], and he wasn’t fighting the right way, and we were screaming our heads off, and then he did what he needed to do. He won the first round, he submitted him in the second.”
“Khabib has always done what he wants to do, but he’s won every round, so he’s always winning,” Mendez continued. “So regardless, how can I come back and say, ‘Hey! You didn’t listen to the blah blah blah blah blah.’ He did listen to the plan, because I said regardless of what you do, you have to win. As long as you’re winning. And he hasn’t lost a round. He wins every round. So, what he wants to do, he’s gonna want to do.”
“Can I predict what he’s gonna do? No. Do I know what I want him to do? Yes, I want him to go out there and look for the take down as quick as possible and finish it. But is that what Khabib’s going to do? I don’t know. That’s what I want him to do. But as long as he’s winning, I don’t care what he does.”
While Javier Mendez maintains that winning is more important than strict adherence to a game plan, that’s not to say he hasn’t been trying to drill a game plan into Khabib Nurmagomedov’s head ahead of UFC 229. The world class coach is simply a realist. He’s seen time and time again that game plans are fleeting and fluid in the perilous world of combat sports.
“Do you think, since this fight was announced, that I’m telling him to ‘do what you want?’ No. I want the safest route,” Mendez said. “The safest route is my route. But what I’m saying is he doesn’t necessarily do what I want to do — but he does, because he wins. And that’s what I ask him to do at the end of the day. I don’t care as long as you’re winning the rounds. And that’s what he does. So, I can’t be mad at him ever for not listening to the plan that myself and his father would want. Because he’s winning.”
Even if Khabib Nurmagomedov does do the safe thing and shoot in on a takedown early, Mendez doesn’t believe that’s a guarantee the champion will look for a finish. Instead, the Russian might choose to play with his food.
“Khabib may decide to clown him,” Mendez said. “[If] he’s got Connor where he wants him, he could decide to clown him and drown him for five rounds. Hell, and I’d be like screaming my head off, ‘What are you doing? Finish him!’ [Khabib will think] ‘Nope, nope, I’m gonna make him pay for it, I’m gonna make him do this,’ I’m gonna do that’. Khabib is going to do what he wants to do. And of course, like I said, his father and myself, we drive ourselves crazy watching him do that. But, again, as long as he’s winning, we’re okay.”
Do you think Khabib Nurmagomedov will stick to his coach’s game plan at UFC 229?
This article first appeared on BJPENN.COM on 9/28/2018.