UFC 229 has been billed as the biggest event in the company’s history and is forecast to set a new benchmark for pay-per-view buys, so it will be a relief to organisers that its two headliners successfully made weight.
All fighters on the card had a two-hour window from 9am local time on Friday to weigh in and Nurmagomedov turned up immediately to scale 155lbs.
McGregor, who appeared a little over an hour later and weighed in half a pound less, will have a final staredown against his rival at a ceremonial weigh-in later on Friday.
The Irishman is returning to mixed martial arts following a two-year hiatus, having made a brief switch to boxing in the interim period to take on Floyd Mayweather in a highly lucrative showdown.
He earned around 100million US dollars (£76m) from that bout in August last year, prompting questions as to how he manages to retain his desire in mixed martial arts at Thursday’s final news conference.
Conducting his media duties separately to Nurmagomedov after arriving late to the Park Theater, McGregor said: “I’m starving. I am starving for this man’s head. I am going to eat him alive in there.
“There’s no way this man’s hungrier than me, there’s nobody that’s hungrier than me in this game. I don’t stop, I’m too on it, I am 24/7 on this game.
“I know who the king is and I’m going to show it on Saturday night.”
— ESPN (@espn) October 5, 2018
McGregor was stripped of his featherweight and lightweight titles due to his inactivity and makes his comeback against an opponent who succeeded him as top dog in the latter division.
Animosity between the pair has ramped up significantly since McGregor threw a dolly at the window of a bus containing several rival fighters, including Nurmagomedov, in April, and the war of words has intensified.
Nurmagomedov revealed he is still irked by that incident in Brooklyn just days prior to UFC 223, when he claimed the vacant 155lbs belt with a unanimous points victory over late replacement Al Iaquinta.
Ahead of the first defence of his strap, the Russian said: “If I say no, this is not true. A little bit.
“Of course I am angry and a little bit emotional. But my job when I go to the cage is I control my emotions and stay relaxed. I’ll keep going and maul this guy.
“Sometimes the anger helps, but most important I stay relaxed. This is most important.”
Their fight is being seen as a classic striker versus grappler contest, but McGregor thinks he holds the upper hand.
“He’s afraid of a clatter,” McGregor said. “Make no mistake, he does not like to be hit, he has novice reactions, he’s a flincher. He’s also easily backed up so I’m very prepared and very aware of what to expect. It’s nothing that fazes me.
“I know every shot everyone throws. I know every move everyone makes, that’s it. I keep my eyes on the game that I run, that’s it. I overlook my empire with a hawk eye.
“I believe he’ll spot an exit and try to take it. But I won’t let it happen.”
The wait is almost over!
— UFC (@ufc) October 5, 2018
The pair were due to hold a final news conference on Thursday ahead of their UFC 229 showdown in Las Vegas this weekend, but McGregor did not turn up for the scheduled start of 15:00 local time.
McGregor would later blame the Las Vegas traffic for his late entrance but hinted he was playing mind games when he said: “(Nurmagomedov) knew what he signed up for. I’ve been later than this.”
Nurmagomedov refused to dance to McGregor’s tune, though, and turned up promptly, not hanging around long enough to wait for his bitter rival.
Nurmagomedov’s actions took even White by surprise but he was full of praise for how the Russian handled the situation.
“This one was not how we planned it to go down but, at the end of the day, with McGregor and all the mental warfare games going on, there’s the counter to it right there,” White said.
“‘I’m here on time, I spoke to the media, I’m out of here, I’m not going to play your game and wait for you’, so this is all part of what goes on leading up to the fight.
“They’ll both be at the weigh-ins on time and we’ll get the staredown when it actually matters.
“To be honest, I prefer that anyway. We saw the staredown in New York (at last month’s press conference), I want to see the staredown (on Friday). That’s the one I’m more interested in.”
White wondered whether McGregor would return to the UFC after a lucrative foray into boxing last year to take on former pound-for-pound kingpin Floyd Mayweather.
McGregor will end a near two-year absence from the octagon at the T-Mobile Arena on Saturday to take on an opponent who succeeded him as UFC lightweight champion.
“When a guy makes $100 million you don’t know whether he’s ever going to fight again,” White said.
“Conor made a lot of money, I’m sure he had a lot fun and did what he wanted to do but no matter how much money you make, you can only sit at home for so long before you start to go crazy.
“You can tell this guy’s passionate about fighting, he loves breaking records and he obviously loves making money, so he’s back.”
Mayweather-McGregor did 4.3 million pay-per-view buys, and White revealed what has been billed as the biggest fight in the UFC’s history could do similar numbers.
That would obliterate the previous highest UFC record of 1.65 million buys for McGregor’s rematch against Nate Diaz in 2016.
White added: “All the numbers are tracking higher than Mayweather-McGregor and this fight is a global fight, the whole world will be literally watching this fight.
“It’s huge, it’s massive. I don’t want to say we’re going to do Mayweather-McGregor numbers but we could possibly do Mayweather-McGregor numbers.”
When you read up on the profiles of Conor McGregor and Khabib Nurmagomedov, you’ll no doubt discern that these are indeed two contrasting fighters, and men, in just about every detail.
McGregor the man lives in a spellbinding space of virtual parody, yet it’s difficult not to be swept up by his enchanting Everyman charisma as the masses vicariously live out their wildest fantasies through him.
He is, well, a man of the people, and his tale of Dublin rags to worldly riches has truly transcended him onto a platform of cultural icon status.
But part of McGregor’s appeal lies within the validity of his act and that presents a problem when the divisive Irishman is pushing – or hurling a dolly – through social boundaries.
He is a tricky tangle of charm and crassness, the highly-skilled star that mixed martial arts so desperately needs to launch it into the mainstream consciousness, entwined with an unstable streak this already decaying society can do without being exposed to.
However, perhaps McGregor’s lunacy – the misogynistic and foul-mouthed language, the unseemly UFC 202 press conference, the appalling interference at Bellator 187 and his gatecrashing of the UFC 223 media day – is part of the reason he has become the sport’s most important figure.
By its very nature, MMA requires a splash of crazy because to stand opposite another fighter with bad intentions, demands a pretty savage mentality.
For people on the outside of the cage, can we reasonably expect the same sanity of those on the inside? It’s not to excuse some of McGregor’s deplorable actions, but merely explain them.
That same edge is why he made history as the first concurrent two-weight UFC world champion. It’s why he predicts first-round knockouts and then delivers on that promise.
It’s why with each fight the 30-year-old hunts for the biggest challenge out there. The level of madness is what separates him from the rest, in every aspect.
Admittedly, the line between McGregor the man and McGregor the fighter, is decidedly thin and the intersection is what ultimately may harm the UFC’s ability to harness crossover appeal like some of the other major American sports.
Yet to blanket the crazy is to cloak his absurd ability and achievements.
It is also why we are so invested in Saturday’s (main card UAE start time +1 06:00) UFC 229 headliner in Las Vegas’ T-Mobile arena alongside 155lbs champ Nurmagomedov.
The contrast between the Dagestan destroyer and irresistible Irishman is so stark it makes for a compelling narrative.
Nurmagomedov is a devout Muslim, his identity and life tied to his religion. He is a world away from McGregor, both literally and figuratively, a humble and rather withdrawn personality.
You won’t see him engage in foul-mouthed trash talk or emit much emotion at all, but it is this trait which unites him with the challenger.
Like McGregor, the line between Nurmagomedov the fighter, and Nurmagomedov the man is slight. He is unbeaten through 26 professional bouts (10-0 in the UFC) and has mauled practically every opponent without the disturbance of emotion. There is no talk, Nurmagomedov just delivers a cold and calm “smesh” like his personality suggests.
And so, as fighters the two are indeed at opposite ends of the spectrum, archetypes of their own art, McGregor the knockout specialist with his “death-touch” left hand, Nurmagomedov a smothering and relentless Sambo wrestler.
Yet for both, man and fighter are one and the same, the difference forming in their style. There is one other common quality to keep in mind ahead of their blockbuster showdown.
Through their respective skills, the two have made the shocking become ordinary and one thing we can almost guarantee is a finish one way or another. True to the nature of this bout, it will arrive via two completely different avenues for either fighter.
McGregor using his vaunted and violent left hand, or Nurmagomedov through his suffocating and soul-sapping ground and pound.
They are both irresistible forces but worlds will collide when they take to the Octagon.