“The traffic is heavy, there must be a McGregor fight going on” exclaimed Conor McGregor after arriving 26 minutes late to the UFC 229 press conference at the T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas on Thursday.
Exuding confidence, the Irishman promoted his latest business ventures whilst entertaining a majority pro-McGregor audience. UFC Lightweight champion Khabib Nurgmagomedov, on the contrary, was strictly adhering to schedule on fight week – refusing to wait for McGregor due to the approaching deadline to cut weight for the 155lbs bout.
This was a fitting representation of both men: Conor, outlandish and sanguine and Khabib, humble and demure. Two men who starkly juxtapose each other in more ways than one. Stylistically, McGregor is a phenomenal southpaw boxer who has a list as long as his 188cm reach of highlight-reel knockouts. Nurmagomedov has reached the pinnacle of MMA with an unblemished 26-0 record and is a revered wrestler and grappler, mauling those who share the cage with him.
McGregor is the personification of “the fighting Irish”; Khabib a descendant of Dagestan. Two historically politically marginalised nations which has seen political tensions spill over into the pair’s interactions, notably McGregor namedropping several benefactors of Khabib and his team, such as manager Ali Abdelaziz and several high-profile Russian businessmen.
“To me, this is more than fighting for my title, for me it’s personal,” exclaimed Khabib, who’s storied rivalry with Conor McGregor dates back three years to UFC 205 at Madison Square Garden. Before debuting and winning the title at 155lbs against Eddie Alvarez that night, McGregor was fronted by Khabib, at the time a lightweight contender also on the card fighting Micheal Johnson.
In a typical, convincing fashion, Khabib went on to win his fight that night toying with his opponent and president Dana White, calmly expressing how “he needs to fight for the title”. After calling out the “Irish chicken” post-fight, Khabib’s intentions to crown the division were made clear.
In his first experience of fatherhood, McGregor began a 693-day layoff from the Octagon, hoovering cash in his “super fight” against Floyd Mayweather in the meantime. During the champions hiatus, Khabib honed his craft with a dominant win against Edson Barbosa at UFC 219 in December 2017 before UFC matchmakers were put through the ringer with plenty of last-minute rescheduling at UFC 223 which included Tony Ferguson injuring his knee and Max Holloway deemed not clear to fight.
Russian Artem Lobov has been a longstanding teammate and frequent training partner of McGregor, his allegiance with McGregor leading Lobov to badmouth Khabib in the lead up to UFC 223 where both men were on the card. In another chapter of this storied rivalry, video footage emerged of Khabib and his team surrounding Lobov in hope of an explanation to his actions.
In the same week, Conor and associates took little time to respond, in the dramatic “coach incident”, where a riled up McGregor launched a dolly at a coach window containing Khabib and several other fighters including women Strawweight champ Rose Namajunas. Nurmagomedov made easy work of short-notice Al Iaquinta to be crowned the undisputed Lightweight champion of the UFC.
A court case ensued McGregor for his actions that evening, it now seems McGregor’s legal battles have subsided to the point where he can rally and promote the inevitable conflict that is finally occurring on October 6th.
It is being dubbed by commentator Joe Rogan as one of the “biggest fights in MMA history” and he certainly isn’t wrong. Two of the very best in combat sports are set to meet, and it promises to be one for the record books.