Conor McGregor has been compared to Manchester United striker Zlatan Ibrahimovic – by the Swede himself.
The Irishman makes his boxing debut in a megafight with Floyd Mayweather in Las Vegas on Sunday (07:00 UAE time) and taekwondo black belt and MMA fan Ibrahimovic has backed McGregor to shock the world.
The striker recently agreed a new one-year deal to stay at Old Trafford having been initially released following a serious knee injury.
Speaking about the fight to Sport Bible, the 35-year-old said: “Here you have a guy that has made a career out of many years and that is Mayweather.
“And then you have the other guy that has made a career in a short time, but he made himself a big name.
“Me as a huge fan of the MMA, I see this fight. I don’t know. It can go both ways. Either what people predict that Mayweather will win easy, which I don’t believe.
“Conor has a power he can knock you out from every angle. And he has a confidence, like me.
“He is the Ibrahimovic of martial arts and I’m McGregor of the football world.
“So I see him with his confidence. He will win. Because he believes in himself so much and like I say, in everything you do the mental part is 50 percent.
“If you have the mental, the head, you can do it and achieve. And then at the same time he’s skillful, he is the one he is. So I believe in Conor!”
UFC lightweight world champion Conor McGregor will step out of the Octagon and into the boxing ring, as he meets five-division world champion Floyd Mayweather in a 12-round super welterweight boxing match.
Ahead of the unprecedented event, a selection of fighters from the UFC roster share their thoughts on what is set to be one of the biggest fights in combat sports history.
DAN HARDY, UFC WELTERWEIGHT AND COMMENTATOR
“There’s always a possibility when you have punching power like Conor McGregor but we don’t know how that left-hand will land when he has boxing gloves on. Floyd Mayweather doesn’t think offensively, he thinks defensively and McGregor is the opposite. Mayweather is the best the world, so there are going to be traps that McGregor will need to avoid.
“The Irishman needs to use a lot of feigns so he can draw those attacks out of Mayweather before he falls for them. It’s the element of unpredictability that McGregor brings to the table that intrigues me most. That’s what makes this fight so interesting.”
MICHAEL BISPING, UFC MIDDLEWEIGHT CHAMPION
“I’m not saying it’s a mismatch because Conor is an amazing fighter but Floyd is 49-0 and Conor has never boxed before. Conor doesn’t move like a boxer though. His unorthodox style might well be his biggest advantage in this fight.”
AMANDA NUNES, UFC WOMEN’S BANTAMWEIGHT CHAMPION
“I think it will be an awesome fight. Anything can happen. I think Conor can win within the first three rounds maybe. I think he can beat Mayweather”.
JOANNA JEDRZEJCZYK, UFC WOMEN’S STRAWWEIGHT CHAMPION
“Of course, Mayweather is one of the greatest athletes and he is one of the best boxers of all time but Conor’s mental game is on a different level. He can win. King Conor”.
ALISTAIR OVEREEM #1 UFC HEAVYWEIGHT
“I think you can tell that the fans are more on McGregor’s side. I think Mayweather has something unlikable about him but he is a formidable boxer, with a great record and I’m looking forward to the fight. I’m a UFC fighter so of course I’m going for Conor. It would be awesome if he could cause an upset.”
FABRICIO WERDUM, #2 UFC HEAVYWEIGHT
“Mayweather wins for sure. I think in the fight Mayweather will play with Conor. I don’t see Conor landing a single punch.”
EDDIE ALVAREZ, #3 UFC LIGHTWEIGHT
“I think that a lot of boxing fans are looking at Conor like he has never boxed and they are writing him off like he has never boxed. He can box though, so he understands boxing. His chance will be in the first four rounds and I think that Conor can put Floyd away and land a punch.
“If it goes past the fourth round and gets into the fifth, sixth, seventh and it becomes a technical boxing match, I think it could look one sided and Floyd could win by TKO. Anything before that, though, is Conor’s time.”
KEVIN LEE, #7 UFC LIGHTWEIGHT
“I think that Floyd is not just a better boxer but a smarter fighter, a championship level fighter. He is the better boxer but sometimes being better just isn’t enough because Conor will hit him with some unpredictable shots. Floyd has never fought a fighter like Conor or someone with that type of movement. Floyd is preparing well though and with the right game plan, comes the victory”.
AL IAQUINTA #11 UFC LIGHTWEIGHT
“Conor has got the ability to surprise a lot of people. He is fighting Floyd Mayweather though, who is the best of the best. Defensively, I think Mayweather can slow the fight down. He can make it a decision, avoid getting hit and make it look easy. I think that’s probably how it will go.”
GUNNAR NELSON, #11 UFC WELTERWEIGHT
“I’m obviously with Conor. His style is completely different to what Mayweather has ever faced and it will be a big problem for him. I’m looking forward to seeing Conor landing that left hand. It will be sooner rather than later – within the first three rounds”.
JOE DUFFY, UFC LIGHTWEIGHT
“I think Conor’s only real chance could be his unpredictability. Mayweather has struggled with more awkward opponents so if Conor can bring a more awkward style to the table, that maybe Mayweather hasn’t seen, and maintain that for 12 rounds, that would be his only glimmer of hope for me”.
STEVIE RAY, UFC LIGHTWEIGHT
“I think McGregor will get inside Mayweather’s head and he is going to shock the world. I think he is going to knock him out early. I wouldn’t be surprised though if it goes the full distance and Mayweather wins. My prediction is McGregor to win via TKO”.
PAUL CRAIG, UFC LIGHT HEAVYWEIGHT
“Originally, I thought Mayweather was going to destroy him. He is an untouched boxer and is 49-0. One of the best boxers ever. The more I watch McGregor, though, he draws you in and makes you believe he has that ability, so my opinion has changed. I think the fight will be 100 miles an hour from the first bell and McGregor will get the victory”.
PAUL FELDER UFC LIGHTWEIGHT
“I think it’s good for MMA fighters, especially if Conor can go in there – win lose or draw – and put on a show. If he wins then MMA is going to be sitting on a crown and Conor will be the king. You have to give the advantage to Floyd because of his boxing experience but I’m rooting for McGregor. If I had to bet I would say it will be a decision for Mayweather but I’m hoping Conor wins.”
EMIL MEEK, UFC WELTERWEIGHT
“Mayweather is the better boxer but McGregor has the reach, he is younger, hungrier and he is a southpaw. There are lot of if’s and but’s, but one punch from McGregor can be enough to end the fight”.
The UFC collectively holds its breath as the current of attention flows from the Octagon to the boxing ring for a blockbuster bout between Conor McGregor and Floyd Mayweather on August 26.
September will see the promotional machine kick back into gear as they accelerate into the last quarter of the year.
Five pay-per-view cards are scheduled with smaller events in between, but there is a sense the UFC has finally gathered some momentum after a sluggish start to 2017.
With that in mind, we take a look at the four key questions facing the promotion ahead of a crucial period.
Jon Jones and Conor McGregor are the two biggest cash cows in the UFC’s stable of stars but whether or not they have the opportunity to milk their promotional pull again this year remains to be seen.
UFC president Dana White has insisted the 155lbs champion will transition back into MMA after completing his experiment in the sweet science but doubts remain over when, if ever, that will be.
Of course, much will depend on the outcome of his August 26 clash with Mayweather with White clinging onto the hope he returns to the Octagon for UFC 219 on December 30.
The probability of Jones making the cage walk again in 2017, however, is much greater.
While the 205lbs champ has talked up a superfight with Brock Lesnar, the WWE phenom has numerous obstacles blocking his path back to the UFC – including the small matter of a USADA anti-doping ban which is yet to expire.
A rematch with Alexander Gustafsson appears the most likely first defence of his second rein as light-heavyweight king but having ruled out UFC 217 in New York it leaves only 218 and 219 as the viable options.
Amanda Nunes fights for the first time since she decimated Ronda Rousey at UFC 207 to close out 2016 with a defence of her bantamweight crown coming against Valentina Schevchenko at UFC 215.
Ever since that brutal beating, many had anticipated the official retirement of Rousey and yet no word has been uttered from her camp, only chatter she is preparing for a run in the WWE.
Depending on the interpretation, the launch of her new website earlier this month teased a potential conclusion to her MMA career but the clip didn’t exactly rule out an Octagon return either.
Regardless, it’s likely 2017 will see the journey end for Rousey the mixed martial artist as new avenues open up.
Michael Bisping is the most wanted champion on the UFC’s roster.
The middleweight division is a murders row of talent with Robert Wittaker the interim champ, Luke Rockhold back to work in September after losing the belt to Bisping while Chris Weidman and Yoel Romero are also in the queue.
Indeed, they all want the opportunity to take on the perceived weakest UFC belt holder but all have been forced to their wait their turn with Georges St Pierre ending his four-year hiatus to face the Brit at UFC 217.
The complications from that bout range from GSP, regardless of the outcome, moving back down to the welterweight hotbed he made his name in, to Bisping calling time on his near two-decade career.
Add in Whittaker is out injured until early next year and the middleweight muddle becomes ever more tangled.
News emerged this week that Jones’ rematch with Daniel Cormier, which headed up a loaded UFC 214 card, was trending at 860,000 PPV buys, stretching it well in front as the year’s best selling event.
But with the attraction of fighting at Madison Square Garden, all available top stars have signalled their desire to fight at UFC 217 with Bisping and GSP slated to main event.
Stephen Thompson is back from injury, Khabib Nurmagomedov has called for a No1 contender’s scrap with Tony Ferguson, bantamweight champ Cody Garbrandt’s heated rivalry with T.J. Dillashaw could reach its climax in New York while the baddest woman on the planet Joanna Jedrzejczyk may defend her strawweight strap against Rose Namajunas.
If the UFC decides to load the deck the dividends could be enormous.