LAS VEGAS — The mental warfare between Khabib Nurmagomedov and Conor McGregor remained at a fever pitch and showed no signs of slowing down at the final press conference heading into Saturday’s UFC 229.
Instead of exchanging barbs as they did in New York, however, the two fighters didn’t even cross paths at Thursday’s media event.
Nurmagomedov, the reigning UFC lightweight champion, appeared on stage on time and was ready to start the press conference without McGregor.
“I don’t need to wait for anybody,” Nurmagomedov said as a rowdy pro-McGregor crowd vehemently booed him. “I have a schedule. I have to make weight and I have to worry about myself. Why should I wait for him? If somebody is late, this is not my problem.”
Visibly annoyed, Nurmagomedov kept his answers relatively short but made it clear that McGregor’s antics have gotten under his skin. He said, however, that he plans to channel that energy into a “mauling” Saturday night.
“A little bit,” Nurmagomedov said when asked whether he was still upset over the April incident in Brooklyn when McGregor, trying to confront Nurmagomedov prior to UFC 223, smashed windows on a bus carrying other fighters. “If I say that I am not, that would not be true. I’m a little emotional but my job when I get in the cage is to control my emotions. I have to stay relaxed but keep going and maul this guy.”
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“The Eagle” then praised the fans for their support of McGregor and bid everyone farewell. Nurmagomedov spent just a shade under 15 minutes fielding questions from the media before departing.
“All right, this is awkward,” UFC president Dana White said with nobody on either side of him at one of the biggest press conferences in UFC history.
McGregor eventually arrived, 30 minutes late, and was given a hero’s welcome when he appeared. He was wearing a driver’s cap and tank top and carrying a bottle of his Proper Whiskey.
“He knew what (Nurmagomedov) signed up for,” McGregor said about his tardiness. “The traffic was a little heavy so there must be a McGregor fight going on. He’s better off running, anyway.”
In true McGregor fashion, he began tearing down his opponent and predicting how the fight would end as fans showered him with cheers.
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“I plan on knocking that man’s nose straight into the nosebleeds,” McGregor said. “I feel once I hit him he’s going to turn weak. I expect panic in him early but I am prepared for all outcomes. I’ve experienced it all. I’ve gotten tired in there, I’ve been on my back and I’ve been in every scenario you can be in under the brightest lights.”
It has become evident over the past several months that this is no longer just a fight between two competitors. It is extraordinarily personal. Clearly, the plan for McGregor has been to get his opponent out of character, but he also has made it clear that these aren’t simple antics. McGregor said he carried a “black heart” for his opponent and his “f—ing snitch terrorist rat” manager, Ali Abdelaziz.
“There is way deeper s— than this fight on Saturday night. I’m going to settle it inside that cage,” he said.
The former featherweight and lightweight champion has said that he will take back what is rightfully his at UFC 229 and then look for more lucrative financial opportunities moving forward. There was concern that McGregor wouldn’t return to the UFC after raking in just under $100 million last August against Floyd Mayweather, but the Irishman said Thursday that he’s back for the fans and the love of the game. The projected $50 million he stands to make isn’t too shabby, either.
“You know what’s better than money? More f—ing money,” McGregor said.
As vitriolic as his feuds have been, McGregor has always shown respect for his opponents afterward. He’s not interested in burying the hatchet with Nurmagomedov, though.
“F— peace,” McGregor said. “There will never be peace here. I always said that you should aim for peace, but if you can’t aim for peace, aim between the eyes. And that’s what I’m going to do. This is never over.”