UFC 229: Conor McGregor's tardiness a massive missed opportunity for UFC's lofty PPV goal
Not getting McGregor vs. Khabib showdown will certainly not help UFC shatter pay-per-view records
LAS VEGAS -- For all of the hope from Conor McGregor and Dana White that this weekend's UFC 229 pay-per-view card was tracking upwards of 3.5 million buys, Thursday's final press conference appeared to badly miss a golden opportunity to make that a believable number. Billed as just the second time the two fighters would appear in the same room since McGregor's infamous felony bus attack in April, the press conference inside the Park MGM Theater failed to deliver the face-off (and subsequent fireworks) that potential consumers were hoping to see.
Nurmagomedov (26-0), who will be making the first defense of the UFC lightweight title he won after McGregor was stripped of the strap, showed up on time and angry for the start of the event, telling the pro-McGregor crowd, "I don't wait for nobody. Three p.m. I be here. Let's go. I not wait for nobody. This press conference begins now."
After 15 minutes of answering questions while the crowd attempted to drown him out, the native of Russia delivered on his threats to leave when McGregor never showed. Just past the 30-minute mark, McGregor finally arrived to a huge cheer and the former two-division champion answered a steady stream of questions. He was as salty as ever but markedly toned down from his more rapid performance on Sept. 20 in New York.
It was at that first press conference at Radio City Music Hall where UFC chose to ban the general public out of security fears, Thursday's verbal rematch was set in front of a packed and energetic crowd but it failed to deliver much more than an infomercial for McGregor's new line of whiskey.
So who's to blame? The answer is a bit difficult and likely needs to be shared by all parties.
McGregor's attempt to play mind games with another delayed grand entrance, similar to prior events against Nate Diaz and Eddie Alvarez, backfired in the sense that he never give himself the chance to square off with Nurmagomedov in front of a partisan crowd. And while Nurmagomedov's decision not bow to McGregor and instead shift his focus to making weight by leaving is a respectable one, the champion made the kind of decision that ultimately could cost him money by doing the minimum to promote the fight.
White, the UFC's brash president, deserves equal blame for not policing his star fighter consistent with others in his company. Not only was McGregor unpunished for his assault in Brooklyn that injured three and affected four fights in total on the UFC 223 card, he was rewarded for his actions with a fight that was hailed as the biggest in the sport's history the moment it was signed.
On Thursday, White not only didn't bat an eye in McGregor's direction after he stormed on the stage late with a whiskey bottle in hand to comically blame the Las Vegas traffic, he didn't have an issue when asked about McGregor's punctuality.
"I don't give a shit right now," White said. "[Nurmagomedov] just said what he had to say. [McGregor] is going to show up here in a minute and answer everybody's questions. Then, [Friday], we are going to have these two face off at the weigh-ins and on Saturday they are going to fight. This is all I care about -- the weigh-ins and the fight."
The normally stone-faced Nurmagomedov (26-0) continued the uncharacteristic behavior he showed at Wednesday's public workout by getting into it with McGregor's fans. Although the 30-year-old admitted he's still upset about the bus attack and that the fight was personal, he largely downplayed any talk that McGregor's antics have gotten him off his game.
"Is he inside my head? We're gonna see," Nurmagomedov said. "On Saturday night, we are going to see this. I don't think about him, I have a schedule. I have to make weight. I have to worry about myself. Why I have to worry about him? If someone is late, that's not my problem.
"He can say whatever he wants. When alcoholic talks, nobody cares."
Asked if he still planned to torture McGregor over five rounds by "sentencing him to 25 minutes in jail," Nurmagomedov said his prediction for how he wins is dependent upon McGregor's toughness.
"I think beginning of first round I have to be careful with him because he has good timing and good boxing but my wrestling is my pressure," Nurmagomedov said. "He has to kill me to stop me. I am going to finish this guy and stop this guy and this is my plan. Maybe, maybe, maybe [the fight goes to a] decision. It all depends on whether he will give up."
McGregor (21-3) was ruthless in how he spoke about both Nurmagomedov ("the little chicken-jawed rat that he is") and his manager Ali Abdelaziz ("he's an informant and a f----ing snitch terrorist and I'd like to fight that rat bastard"). He also ridiculed Nurmagomedov for not waiting for him.
"He knows what he signed up for, it is what it is," McGregor said. "I'm only a few minutes late for f---'s sake. He doesn't want to be around me. He doesn't want to be around these people. He is petrified. It is what it is, f--- it. I don't give a f--- about this guy. I am f---ing ruthless. I am coming to put a hold on this man's skull. I'm starving for this man's head. I'm going to eat that man alive.
"I saw a man that doesn't want to be here, to be honest. You just steam yourself in that sauna and soak you f---ing Dagestani rat. You didn't have the bollocks to stay out here."
McGregor maintained his prediction of a knockout by saying he plans "on knocking that man's nose straight into the nosebleeds" and specifically addressed how he has prepared for Nurmagomedov's dominant wrestling game.
"I have been grappling and wrestling much bigger fighters for months straight," McGregor said. "225-pound fighters. I also don't give a bollocks. I've experienced it all. I've been in every scenario you can be under the brightest lights in the world. I am a veteran."
Asked whether he would look to make peace with Nurmagomedov and bury their grudge after the might, McGregor drew the biggest response of the day.
"F--- peace, there will never be peace here," McGregor said. "I always say you should aim for peace but if you can't aim for peace, aim between the eyes. This is never over; never, ever, ever over."
Already the richest fighter in UFC history and its most marketable PPV star, McGregor revealed he expects to make upwards of $50 million for the fight and expects to be a billionaire in five years. He also expected the Nurmagomedov fight to more than double his own UFC record of 1.6 million buys in his 2016 rematch against Nate Diaz.
If any fighter could produce upwards of 3 million buys for a UFC fight, it's certainly McGregor, who joined Floyd Mayweather in producing an absurd 4.4 million buys for their boxing match last August. According to White's metrics, Saturday's fight has a huge chance.
"I don't want to say that we could possibly do Mayweather-McGregor numbers but we could possibly do Mayweather-McGregor numbers," White said.
Yet for McGregor to approach numbers that insane with Nurmagomedov, it's hard to look past the idea that Thursday's event was a missed opportunity.
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