Ireland’s Myles Price has trained and sparred with Conor McGregor and Khabib Nurmagomedov, observing both during the stress of career-building moments and the everyday behavior that defines character.
Using that insight, Price predicts that Russia’s Nurmagomedov will defeat fellow Irishman McGregor during UFC 229 on Saturday.
“Just because we are Irish doesn’t mean we have to support our own,” Price said.
The Bellator MMA fighter was in McGregor’s SBG gym in Ireland from 2009 to 2013, and he now trains alongside UFC lightweight champion Nurmagomedov at San Jose’s American Kickboxing Academy.
There was a time Price believed that he was regarded as the best lightweight in Ireland when McGregor, who first became a UFC featherweight champion in 2015, viewed himself as a lightweight.
“We clashed a lot because Conor didn’t know how to differentiate between me being a threat and competition — and as a teammate,” Price said. “It caused tension between us in the gym, especially if I got the better of him in a spar. Maybe now he deals with it a little bit better, but he has a lot of yes men and maybe they tolerate that a little bit better than I would have.
“That’s maybe because of his status now … it wasn’t the reason I left SBG, but it was definitely the icing on the cake.”
Where McGregor’s ego inflamed tensions, Price said, Nurmagomomedov’s humble attitude brings the calm of professionalism.
“He’s not one of those guys who is looking down upon anyone because of his status — he takes constructive criticism very well,” Price said. “Sometimes when you tell people what their flaws are, [they] take it personally and it is kind of an emotional thing. You need to have a strong personality to be able to take it well, and he does.
“[Nurmagomedov] doesn’t like having all these yes men to tell him he is great all the time. He likes being told what his flaws are and he likes taking those to build on his game and make it stronger and work on his weaknesses. That is something that is almost like a blueprint for an athlete who wants to improve quickly in a short period of time.”
Though Nurmagomedov (26-0) has struggled in weight cuts as recently as last year, he’s appeared to have solved that process in his last two bouts while developing his stand-up game and becoming the replacement champion for McGregor, who has taken off nearly two years from UFC action after earning $100 million last year to lose a boxing match to Floyd Mayweather Jr.
McGregor’s flamboyance and self-promotion — which Price labels “narcissistic” — have steadily elevated in recent years through a trash-talking promotional series with Mayweather and his April attack of a bus occupied by Nurmagomedov at Brooklyn’s Barclays Center. Although felony charges were brought, McGregor’s punishment wasn’t much beyond a night in jail and a looming civil action.
“Khabib doesn’t really care [about celebrity] because he is content as a human being. He knows his skill level. Once you know that, you have that contentment and self-awareness in your heart,” Price said. “He is not going to abandon his principles just to be more popular in people’s eyes. You have to work out what is important. And it is not these superficial and materialistic things. It is about what people really think about you.”
In McGregor, Price sees well-publicized behavior that “is very dangerous. It is tough growing up in Ireland and it is dangerous to have Conor as this figure to look up to. Conor is quite narcissistic. Although you see Conor with his family a lot and he cares a lot, if you understand narcissism, he has an angel on his right shoulder and the devil on the left, so he is listening to both. Eventually the devil is going to take over.
“For this short period of time, yeah, he is going to have this massive stint of popularity and fame, but all those things fade eventually when you forget about your morals.”
At Nevada sports books, Nurmagomedov stands as a slight betting favorite at minus-160 (lay $160 to win $100) in the high-profile bout of contrasting styles and personalities that UFC President Dana White expects to break the company’s record of 1.6 million pay-per-view buys for McGregor’s 2016 rematch victory over Nate Diaz.