Conor McGregor vs. Khabib Nurmagomedov set as main event for UFC 229 in Las Vegas
The two powerhouses will finally collide this October
Conor McGregor is back.
The former UFC two-division champion and the biggest pay-per-view star in MMA history announced Friday he will end a 21-month absence from the Octagon when he faces lightweight champion Khabib Nurmagomedov at UFC 229 on Oct. 6 in Las Vegas.
The fight's announcement turned out to be the surprise climax of UFC's 25th anniversary fall news conference in Los Angeles, held just one day before UFC 227 comes to the Staples Center. UFC president Dana White initially told media members the fight was close but not done in order to protect the announcement, despite the fact that both fighters weren't present at the event.
The 30-year-old McGregor (21-3) hasn't fought since becoming the first UFC fighter to hold two world titles simultaneously when he stopped Eddie Alvarez at UFC 205 in November 2016. Last summer, he made his pro boxing debut in a loss to Floyd Mayweather which reportedly earned him $100 million.
McGregor's return is easily the sport's biggest story and the consummation of his grudge match with Nurmagomedov (26-0) is expected to set a new UFC record for PPV buys, if not become the first MMA fight to ever move 2 million buys.
Although the two fighters had commented publicly about each other in the past, their suddenly intense rivalry didn't begin until fight week of UFC 223 in April. Nurmagomedov approached McGregor's teammate, Artem Lobov, at the fighter's hotel and slapped him for previously running his mouth. McGregor sought revenge days later when he snuck into the Barclays Center in Brooklyn, New York, after a news conference to attack a bus filled with Nurmagomedov and other UFC fighters in the loading dock area.
McGregor broke a window with a dolly and caused injuries, which affected four different fights on the UFC 223 card. Last month in a Brooklyn court, McGregor avoided jail time by pleading guilty to disorderly conduct and was sentenced to community service and anger management. The UFC controversially declined to punish McGregor any further, knowing what his return could do for its sluggish PPV numbers since the brash Irish star stepped away from the Octagon.
White announced the fight by closing the news conference by saying, "we have one more announcement to make," and throwing to a promotional video which featured footage of McGregor's attack. The bus melee was originally called "the worst moment in UFC history" by White, who also referred to McGregor as "disgusting" before softening his stance in the days which followed.
In hindsight, it appeared as if McGregor tipped the announcement by tweeting out a cryptic video of himself laughing just minutes before the news conference's expected start. The former UFC champion at 145 and 155 pounds also sent out a tweet late Thursday that had a similar effect.
The 29-year-old Nurmagomedov has slowly become one of the sport's most dominant fighters in recent years and captured the lightweight championship at UFC 223 when he pitched a dominant shutout against late replacement Al Iaquinta following an injury to then-interim champion Tony Ferguson.
A native of Russia, Nurmagomedov provides stylistically the biggest strength (his wrestling and ground-and-pound) that is also McGregor's weakness defensively. Simultaneously, the same can be said for McGregor's pinpoint striking on his feet, which could dissuade Nurmagomedov from shooting in so aggressively.
McGregor's biggest rival, Nate Diaz, was also at Friday's news conference for the announcement of his Nov. 3 bout against top lightweight contender Dustin Poirier at UFC 230 in New York. Asked why he chose Poirier over seeking a third fight with McGregor, Diaz joked how he already beat McGregor twice (despite their UFC 202 rematch having been won by McGregor via disputed decision).
McGregor lost to Diaz via submission in their welterweight bout at UFC 196 in 2016 and their rematch five months later broke the promotion's record for PPV buys.
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