Watch UFC 229 @ Fight at Las Vegas on 4K HD. An over abundance of police and security helped the UFC make sure fireworks of the fistic variety weren’t on the menu for Thursday’s UFC 229 press conference, as did Dana White’s insistence that the general public be barred.
Luckily for MMA fans watching on the live stream, Conor McGregor provided more than enough of the verbal kind in the much-anticipated first face-off between the brash Irish star and Khabib Nurmagomedov since McGregor’s felony bus attack on April 5 just days before UFC 223 in Brooklyn.
The circus which followed did not disappoint from an entertainment standpoint nor as a means to hype the lightweight title bout, already projected to be the biggest in MMA history, just 16 days away from the pay-per-view in Las Vegas.
McGregor (21-3), who as usual arrived fashionably late, sat just feet away from Nurmagomedov (26-0) on the stage at Radio City Music Hall with White officiating between them as the UFC’s former 155-pound champion spent nearly 45 minutes berating the current one as the stone-faced native of Dagestan, Russia, largely absorbed the verbal blows.
“If i was an owner and part of the promotion, I would have the f—ing fans in the arena,” McGregor said about Thursday’s event being closed off to the public. “Where the f— are the fans at? I’m in probation up to me eyeballs and coming in for civil cases. At least bring the fans in. Here we are, let’s get a war going!”
[For the record, White responded to questions regarding why fans weren’t allowed in by saying, “We had problems in New York [at UFC 223] and I didn’t want anymore problems today.”]
From the standpoint of comedy, quick wit and entertainment, the 30-year-old McGregor would be considered a near shutout victor for his performance at the press conference. He constantly interrupted Nurmagomedov by talking over him, routinely made fun of his Russian accent and spent just as much time shilling his new whiskey line, “Proper Twelve,” as he did the fight.
“You look like a clown,” Nurmagomedov said during a rare interruption of his own. “Stop pedaling your whiskey bulls—.”
But the rather subjective practice of scoring who won a pre-fight event like a press conference has more to do with things like intimidation and the mental battle, which starts the minute the fight is announced. From that standpoint, it’s fair to question whether McGregor, the biggest star in the history of the sport, showed a bit too much of his hand emotionally by going from zero to 60 so quick once the press conference started.
Although McGregor has a history of psyching out his opponents in advance by dominating them verbally at events just like this, Thursday’s performance came across as more rabid and scattered by McGregor than in previous builds against the likes of Jose Aldo, Nate Diaz and Eddie Alvarez, where the “Notorious” appeared much more confident and loose as he mentally picked apart his prey.
McGregor’s need to go as far as specifically heckling members of Nurmagomedov’s family while trying so hard to paint the unbeaten Russian as someone who isn’t loyal to or respected by his own president or nation felt desperate. Considering those were the only categories that visibly appeared to ruffle Nurmagomedov’s feathers, it’s equally fair to question whether an opponent with his emotionless demeanor is the kind you want to rile up.
“I came back for the love of this to come and shut this man up — a little rat, a little weasel, a little man in groups,” McGregor said. “I have met many of them during the years but when it gets hot, he scours away. I came back for the love of war and I am going to truly, truly love putting a bad beating on this little glass jaw rat.
“That’s what I’m doing it for, because I f—ing love it. That’s why.”
At one point, McGregor’s constant interruptions — which included pouring a glass of his whiskey and toasting with White to celebrate the UFC president’s birthday — led Nurmagomedov to do the same in a rare form of retaliation. The result was a sustained screaming war of gibberish from both sides that only helped in raising the anticipation for the fight.
The majority of Thursday’s discourse, however, focused on McGregor’s April attack on a bus, which included a dolly being thrown through the window and a subsequent felony arrest. McGregor, who avoided jail time by accepting a plea bargain, wasn’t punished for his actions by UFC and White defending the company’s use of video from the incident to help promote the fight.
“It’s part of the storyline, it is what it is,” White said. “You play the story the way it played out in the storyline.”
McGregor, who hasn’t appeared in the Octagon since defeating Eddie Alvarez for the lightweight title in 2016, simply said “no comment” when he was asked whether footage of his attack should be shown. But he spent the second half of the press conference disrespecting Nurmagomedov for not exiting the bus in Brooklyn to come face him, which was in retaliation for Nurmagomedov slapping McGregor’s teammate, Artem Lobov, earlier in the week.
“I just thank the lord Jesus Christ that that man did not have the balls to step off the bus or that bus door didn’t open because that man would be dead right now,” McGregor said. “He’d be in a box and I’d be in a cell and we would not have this fight. There are a lot of things I would like to speak about that day and that moment, but there are still a lot of ongoing situations regarding that right now.”
“If you wanted to fix this, why you not send me a message?” Nurmagomedov responded. “Why you not give message that you have problem with a brother on your team? But why you come with 40 people? You know I am here with one or two guys but you come with 40 people but what has changed? Nothing. The sixth of October you are going to see.”
The response from Nurmagomedov seemed to rile up McGregor, who stood and needed to be held back by White as he began a counter attack.
“So here’s my location you little fool, right in front of you,” McGregor said. “Do something about it! Do something about it! You won’t do nothing.
“Did you not seem right in front of you outside the f—ing bus? I showed you my hands, no weapons. The first thing I said when I showed up at that bus, I showed up my hands to show you that I am here unarmed, with no weapons. He did f—ing nothing. He cowered on that bus and hid behind f—ing women.”
McGregor, who described his training camp as “a war zone,” shot down talk about the effects of his two-year layoff by mentioning his one-off boxing debut against Floyd Mayweather last August, a 10th-round TKO defeat that reportedly net him $100 million.
“I am in a war state of mind, that’s how I am getting ready,” McGregor said. “Two years outside of the UFC’s Octagon, but not two years out of fighting in this world because I fight every day. There is always a fight happening in my world involving me or someone else.”
Asked for a prediction, the quiet Nurmagomedov declined.
“Most important is sixth of October,” Nurmagomedov said. “He can talk whatever he want and I know he will talk. But the sixth of October is what matters when they close the cage.
“Your grappling is zero, I’m going to dominate you. It’s going to be a long night for you. You fight for money and I fight for legacy.”
McGregor, who made it clear he was prepared to go five rounds if needed, kept his prediction succinct by saying, “Domination, his head bouncing on the canvas.”
The Irishman saved what was his most animated moment for the press conference’s close, in which he revealed that his “Proper Twelve” whiskey has become a new sponsor of UFC, which includes branding on the PPV broadcast.
“It’s on the canvas! It’s on the canvas!” McGregor said of his whiskey’s logo. “Like his blood will be on the canvas”