Conor McGregor is back. Back making the big numbers, big noise and even bigger statements and on course to earn $50 million against Khabib Nurmagomedov. This from Gareth A Davies in Las Vegas…
Conor McGregor and Khabib Nurmagomedov might as well have been in different time zones here on press conference day. They were certainly on different time scales. The fighter from Dagestan arrived at 3pm and left at 3.15pm. He refused to wait any longer.
McGregor, that most irascible yet entertaining of Irishmen, arrived at 3.26pm, and really did not want to leave. He razzed and raised the crowd, prospered in front of the masses who adorn his fighting sojourn to his home from home.
Sin City will have to wait for weigh-in day, and Saturday night’s steel cage encounter for the moment that nations collide. For that’s what it has turned into.
The two men have transformed the encounter into an epic struggle: more than just a fight, a battle of gangs, creed and culture. But they need to calm the storm with a real battle on Saturday night, and put fight sports where it belongs: the place to settle a grudge, entertain, and put differences aside afterwards.
There have been poorly articulated views on both sides in the build-up to this fight, genuine bad blood. But it will all add up to pay per view sales, when the numbers come in. Nurmagomedov, the UFC lightweight belt holder, is genuinely angered by McGregor.
Conor McGregor raises his arms during a news conference for the UFC 229 mixed martial arts bouts CREDIT: AP
McGregor, two years away, is easily the ‘A side’ in the money draw in this contest. UFC president Dana White has massive expectations for the upcoming UFC 229 card, estimating as many as 3 million pay-per-view buys. Tickets are expensive, too.
“The gate is going to be $17 million,” says White. “There are going to be celebrities like you’ve never seen. I knew this was going to be massive, but it’s even blowing me away what this is doing.”
McGregor thinks it will be even bigger. “We’re estimating around 3 to 3.5 million (pay-per-view buys), I’d say I’ll close in around the $50 million mark,” McGregor told the news conference. “So for a mixed martial artist – to make $50 million in a mixed martial arts bout, it’s quite breathtaking.”
He charted his own rise. “To think where we have come from. When I fought Nate Diaz the first time, he was on $20,000 to show and $20,000 to win.”
“The game has gone to so many new heights so quickly, and we’re all just trying to keep up and catch up. And it’s a great time to be involved in the sport for myself, for the fighters, for the promoters, for the managers, for the media in attendance, for the fans, for everyone.
“Times are good, so let’s enjoy these momentous occasions.”
All this was delivered without the champion there. It bothered McGregor not a jot. He saw it as a moral victory, though both men must weigh in between 9 and 11 am on Friday.
“I no need wait for nobody,” Nurmagomedov had said, before departing with his belt. “This is 3 p.m. Friends are here, media is here, everybody is here. Dana was a little bit late; it’s OK. But 3 p.m. I am beginning. If you have questions, let’s go.”
Nurmagomedov was asked if this contest had become more than just a fight. “No, it is personal, more than a fight, and there will be no handshake,” he told the Telegraph. “And we will see what happens afterwards.”
Well, let’s see what happens afterwards. Or, for that matter, when the two protagonists bare chests at a raucous weigh in on Friday. Fingers crossed they turn up at the same time.