A breakdown of the fights on the main card of UFC 229 on Saturday at T-Mobile Arena, with picks from the Review-Journal’s Adam Hill and Heidi Fang:
Khabib Nurmagomedov (26-0) vs. Conor McGregor (21-3)
■ Class: For Nurmagomedov’s lightweight title
■ Line: Nurmagomedov minus 160
■ Storyline: The sport’s biggest star (McGregor) meets its most dominant force (Nurmagomedov). It’s a fight that McGregor was never expected to take because it’s such a terrible style matchup for him and he can bank massive pay-per-view numbers regardless of the opponent. But McGregor always has done the unexpected, and now he gets a chance to prove naysayers wrong again. Nurmagomedov overwhelms his opponents with smothering pressure from the opening bell. He’s relentless with takedowns and looks to move forward in the standup so opponents have no room to operate. McGregor works best as a counter-striker, and Nurmagomedov has proven hittable, even though he never has lost a round in the UFC. McGregor’s best chance is to keep the fight standing, and he probably doesn’t have the cardio to be effective after the second round. That left hand is lethal, though.
■ Hill’s pick: Nurmagomedov by fourth-round submission
■ Fang’s pick: McGregor by third-round knockout
Tony Ferguson (25-3) vs. Anthony Pettis (21-7)
■ Class: Lightweight
■ Line: Ferguson minus 350
■ Storyline: Ferguson has won 10 consecutive fights and will be the unquestioned top contender with another victory. The biggest question is whether his surgically repaired knee holds up to the rigors of a fight. He’s returning to competition several months before he was expected to but insists the knee is stable. Pettis is one of the division’s most explosive athletes. The former champion went through a difficult stretch, but appears back on track after a brief experiment at featherweight. His speed and power should be a good test for Ferguson.
■ Hill’s pick: Ferguson by decision
■ Fang’s pick: Ferguson by decision
Ovince Saint Preux (22-11) vs. Dominick Reyes (9-0)
■ Class: Light heavyweight
■ Line: Reyes minus 230
■ Storyline: Reyes has finished eight of his nine opponents in the first round, including all four since signing with the UFC. He has immense power and has stopped opponents before any of them exposed flaws in his game. Saint Preux is a perennial contender who will serve as a true measuring stick to see how close Reyes is to fighting at the highest level of the division. Saint Preux, who went the distance with Jon Jones, has won four of his last five fights. The former Tennessee football player might look to get Reyes off his feet early and wear him down.
■ Hill’s pick: Reyes by first-round knockout
■ Fang’s pick: Reyes by second-round knockout
Derrick Lewis (20-5, 1 No Contest) vs. Alexander Volkov (29-6)
■ Class: Heavyweight
■ Line: Volkov minus 170
■ Storyline: There’s never much mystery to Lewis’ fights — he’s a slugger looking to land a big shot. He has been hampered by a back issue, but he still has won his past two fights. Volkov has worked his way into contention with four straight wins since signing with the UFC.
■ Hill’s pick: Volkov by second-round knockout
■ Fang’s pick: Volkov by decision
Michelle Waterson (15-6) vs. Felice Herrig (14-7)
■ Class: Women’s strawweight
■ Line: Herrig minus 125
■ Storyline: Both fighters are trying to remain among the contenders in the division. Waterson snapped a two-fight losing streak with a split-decision win over Cortney Casey in April. Herrig lost a split decision to Karolina Kowalkiewicz in April, but the loss might have been more impressive than any of her four previous wins because of the level of competition. Both are well-rounded, but Herrig might have an edge on the ground and Waterson can be more dangerous as a distance striker.
■ Hill’s pick: Herrig by decision
■ Fang’s pick: Waterson by decision
Adam Hill Las Vegas Review-Journal