American Kickboxing Academy head coach Javier Mendez, who trains Ultimate Fighting Championship lightweight champion Khabib Nurmagomedov, has come out in admiration of his fighter’s next opponent Conor McGregor ahead of their much-anticipated fight at UFC 229.
Mendez told Niall McGrath on the latest episode of the “Eurobash” podcast that he believes “The Notorious” is at the top of the pile in the UFC in terms of striking and despite his perceived weakness on the ground is not taking him for granted (transcribed by MMAFighting.com):
“To me [Conor McGregor] is the best standup guy in the whole UFC, in my opinion,” Mendez said. “He’s got incredible relaxation, he approaches it like a scientist, he knows how to read you, he knows how to bait you… he knows how to put you right into that trap and before you know it you’re caught sleeping. He’s a master, in my opinion, on the fighting arts and he’s also got a ground game -- he’s good everywhere. I’m not sleeping on how great he is. I’m prepared for everything but he is a great fighter.”
Mendez believes that the winner on Oct. 6 will be the one that can implement his game plan more effectively. He also claims that he has no intention of trying to compete with the Irishman on the feet, maintaining that there is no way to prepare his sambo master to compete on equal terms with McGregor’s sophisticated striking game.
“There’s no amount of time that we have that’s going to help us to try and get him to stand up, there’s no way possible,” Mendez said. “So, I’m not gonna say, ‘Oh yeah, we’re gonna get him ready’… come on…wake up…it ain’t gonna work.
“We have to fight our strengths, we have to find ways of opening the doors to where his weaknesses are and likewise,” Mendez continued. “This is basically the classic grappler versus striker fight. Keep in mind that they can both grapple and they can both strike, it’s just one is better than the other at [each discipline]. We’re the better grappler, he’s the better striker, but that doesn’t mean we won’t strike, it just means he’s better. It’s about who plays whose game.”
Mendez said that in Nurmagomedov’s last fight, against short-notice opponent Al Iaquinta in April, the champion was not listening to his instructions from cageside.
“In the first two rounds, he fought exactly like we wanted him to,” Mendez said. “In the third round, what happens? Nope, he does one takedown, he shot once -- he chains takedowns, he never just does one shot -- and then he started comfortable hitting Iaquinta with the jab. His chin up high, he wasn’t moving his head right. Khabib was doing all the things you aren’t supposed to do, but yet, he was still out striking him 4-1 if not more.” “He was comfortable doing that but I was not happy with that because I told him, ‘You’re going to get comfortable hitting him, I don’t want you to do that’. He does that for the first few rounds and then finally I tell him, ‘Obviously, you’re not going to listen to me and your father, but do me a favor, do half of what you want to do and do half of what we want’. I said, ‘Okay, can you do that for me?’ and he said, ‘Yeah’, so that’s why you’ll notice in the fifth round he took him down again. He did the takedown and then he did the standup like he wanted it.”
The fight against Iaquinta possibly showed that Nurmagomedov didn’t perceive him as much of a threat, which may be why why he uncharacteristically stood and boxed with him. Against an elite striker such as McGregor, Mendez will have a game plan for his fighter but still believes there will be moments in the fight where both fighters ignore their coaches and use their instinct.
“I can mention a few times where Khabib has done things I don’t want him to do, so guess what?” Mendez said. “He’s going to do what he wants to do with Conor. And Conor’s gonna do what he wants to do, and I don’t think John Kavanagh is going to be able to control what Conor will do, just like I won’t be able to control what Khabib will do.
“Look, these are two great fighters and they’re going to do what they’re going to do,” Mendez added. “Our job is to get them as prepared as possible, but come fight time they’re going to do what they’re going to do. For all I know, Khabib could stand with him and I’ll be screaming my head off thinking, ‘What is he doing?’ If that’s what he wants to do, that’s what he’ll do. Obviously, that’s not what I want, I want nothing to do with Conor’s stand-up…he’s too good.”