No fighter ever wants to admit that he's inferior to another, but at the end of the day, most times, one fighter is better than another in a certain area. That's what Khabib Nurmagomedov's head coach at American Kickboxing Academy, Javier Mendez, will readily admit as his fighter readies to fight Conor McGregor.
His fighter doesn't have near the stand-up skills as his UFC 229 main event opponent has... and he never will.
“To me, (Conor's) is the best stand-up guy in the whole UFC, in my opinion,” Mendez said during a recent interview on the Eurobash podcast.
“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.”
The head start that McGregor has in the striking arena and the focus he's put on that portion of his fighting skills is a leap too far for Nurmagomedov, according to Mendez.
“There’s no amount of time that we have that’s going to help us try and get (Nurmagomedov) to stand up (with McGregor). There’s no way possible."
That's not to say that Mendez is throwing in the towel on the fight. Striking is only one element of mixed martial arts, and even if their pure striking skills are on different levels, it's how a fighter integrates those skills into the rest of his game that determines the winner on fight night.
“We have to fight our strengths, we have to find ways of opening the doors to where his weaknesses are and likewise. This is basically the classic grappler versus the classic striker fight. Keep in mind that they can both grapple, they can both strike; it’s just one is better than the other at each of them," Nurmagomedov's coach continued.
“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.”
Nurmagomedov has been grappling almost since he began walking. His father has coached him his entire life in fighting, but with a specific emphasis on wrestling. That is obviously an element that Mendez feels is key to his fighter's success in the Octagon. Nurmagomedov is currently 26-0 and holds the UFC lightweight championship.
Another factor that Mendez believes is key is simply Nurmagomedov's mental strength. Mendez doesn't believe his fighter has it in his mind to be able to lose, and that is something that he factors into the UFC 229 main event on Oct. 6 in Las Vegas.
"I'm under the belief that Khabib's mental strength is so strong, that I personally don't feel that he's ever going to lose," said Mendez. "He's going to find whatever way he needs to do to win. Whether he does it my way or he does it his way, he's going to find the way to win. That's just what he does."