At UFC 229, Conor McGregor made his long-awaited return to the Octagon. He took on Khabib Nurmagomedov for the lightweight title.
Ahead of the fight, not many people knew how it would turn out. Some people believed McGregor would be able to catch Nurmagomedov and knock him out. Others thought Nurmagomedov would just take McGregor down and ground and pound him or submit him, which ultimately is what happened.
Prior to the fight, Luis Pena was Nurmagomedov’s main training partner, given that he is a tall, rangy fighter not unlike McGregor.
That being said, Luis Pena admits it was a difficult task to mimic the Irish star.
“It was weird, a lot of people say we fight similarly. I never really felt like I was trying to imitate him,” Pena said. “I was going out there and giving Khabib a good southpaw look. There were a couple things, like a couple specific techniques that McGregor does that I tried to do, to kind on utilize on Khabib. McGregor will sit there and try and tie up the lead hand so all you can throw is the right being an orthodox guy. That is how he slips in and knocks guys out.
“He knows you are going to throw the right because he tied up your lead hand, so he slips and throws the left just like muscle memory. That is one thing I really tried to implement on Khabib. Then I just tried to keep him off my leg, which is damn near impossible.”
Given that Khabib Nurmagomedov won his UFC 229 fight with McGregor, it appears that Luis Pena did a good job of imitating the Irishman. The Russian arguably fought his best fight to date. For Pena, this was no surprise.
“Without a doubt. There was never a doubt in my mind that Khabib would truly have that hard of a time with it,” Pena said. “No offense to Conor, no offense to his team but after seeing the way [Khabib] prepares I couldn’t imagine anyone giving him trouble.”
Since the loss, McGregor has been campaigning for a rematch against Nurmagomedov. Realistically, however, Tony Ferguson will probably be getting the next shot.
Yet if McGregor does indeed get another shot, Luis Pena doesn’t expect the outcome to be any different.
“There is no doubt in my mind that if they rematched, it would be a very similar outcome. No offense,” he said. “If they were to focus on McGregor’s skills, it just opens them up to get the takedown. It just showed that he wasn’t on the level of Khabib when it came to wrestling. I just think if you sit there and try and strike with Khabib and try and plant your feet and get your hands on him, well then he is going to get to your legs.”
Do you agree with Luis Pena on this one?
This article first appeared on BJPENN.COM on 11/28/2018.