Seth Wenig
UFC 229

McGregor and Khabib come face to face in presser that resembles bad sitcom with no laugh track

Unsurprisingly, Conor McGregor did most of the talking, but tonight’s UFC 229 press conference played out to echoes instead of fans.

THERE WAS A clip doing the rounds recently of The Big Bang Theory without a laugh track, and as well as being one of the eeriest things you’ll ever come across, it does a decent job of exposing the CBS comedy for what it is: mostly just a few weirdos making noise.

Dana White confirmed that the decision to forbid fans from attending tonight’s UFC 229 press conference was due to past troubles, but his media-only stipulation saw much of his flagship fighter’s usual shtick fall flat: it turns out that many of Conor McGregor’s punchlines aren’t as impactful as his punches when they’re followed by an echo rather than a chorus of whooping wildmen.

Indeed, without that gauge, there were times when ‘The Notorious’ closer resembled some lad you’d do your best to ignore down the back of the bus (don’t mention the war, says you, although April’s misdeeds in Brooklyn were viciously invoked on several occasions) than his crowd-pleasing self.

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But no matter. White has claimed UFC 229 will do 2.5 million buys — a feat which would see it become one of the top three highest-selling combat sports events of all time — and he’s probably not too far off the mark.

Even allowing for UFC inflation, it would have likely surpassed 2 million with no press conference, and White evinced the sense that he was simply glad to get tonight’s formality ticked off ahead of fight week in Las Vegas next month.

The event’s chief protagonists — McGregor and Khabib Nurmagomedov — squared off for the first time at Radio City Hall in Midtown Manhattan, and given the former’s priors in the Big Apple, they were joined on stage by three NYPD officers when they finally stared each other down ahead of their feverishly anticipated 6 October main event.

If it wasn’t a crime to impersonate a policeman, one might have questioned these gentlemen’s credentials.

Perhaps surprisingly given his actions in the spring, McGregor was wielding a litre bottle of his newly-launched whiskey as he took to the stage first, the challenger also carrying UFC featherweight and lightweight belts.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, it was later confirmed that his Proper No. Twelve brand is among the official sponsors of UFC 229, with McGregor proclaiming of his whiskey label with some glee: “It’s going on the canvas! It’s going on the canvas!”

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The Irishman dusted off his vocal chords with the fervour of a fighter who had been gone for too long, admonishing the decision not to permit fans entry to the press conference, explaining that fighters only do it for their fans — those who truly pay their wages.

It was a fair point.

But the sanctity of sanity was abandoned almost instantaneously, with the wide-eyed Irishman proceeding to label lightweight champion Nurmagomedov “a little rat, a little weasel, a little hard man in groups, who cowers away when confronted.”

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McGregor accused Khabib of “shitting his jocks” when The Notorious and friends infamously gained entry to the loading dock at Barclays Center in April and attempted to confront the Russian for slapping his compatriot, Artem Lobov, an SBG gymmate and friend of McGregor’s.

“I am going to truly, truly love putting a bad, bad beating on this glass-jawed rat,” he roared.

The man was a fanboy. He bought t-shirts of mine. He bought t-shirts to support the cause.

The 30-year-old — up and down from his seat — accused Khabib of turning his back on his country before vowing to destroy him “in the name of the Russian people.”

“This is exactly what I expect,” replied the champion. “I come here to smash this guy.”

“Smash me!” dared McGregor. “Smash me, mate!”

Did you not see me outside the bus? Did you not see me outside the fucking bus? I showed you my hands — no weapons. I showed him my hands to let him know I come here unarmed. He done fucking nothing. He sat and took a shit on that bus. He even hid and cowered behind fucking women and caused what happened to happen.

UFC McGregors Return Nurmagomedov remained reserved for much of the press conference Seth Wenig Seth Wenig

In reponse to Khabib’s claims following the Brooklyn bus attack that McGregor should have sent on his location so they could have settled their feud minus the histrionics and clash of the entourages, McGregor snarled: “Here’s my location you fool! I’m right here! Do something about it!”

He later added:

If you’d have got off that bus, you’d be dead now, and I’d be in a cell!

Nurmagomedov wasn’t really playing ball, however, and so things duly got a bit weird.

Sensing this was his moment, McGregor held aloft his large bottle of Proper No. Twelve — he had also hidden what most Irish people would describe as ‘a shoulder’ of the beverage inside his jacket — and began to champion his whiskey to the echo chamber.

He was quick to diss Jameson, describing the industry titan’s product as “danced-on shit.”

“Jameson is toast,” he said. “This is a direct competitor to Jameson. This is a true, true beast I have in my possession here.”

Having managed to squeeze a few plastic cups off someone sat in and among the press, he poured three ‘Twelves’ for himself, White and Nurmagomedov.

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White obligingly played along and took a sip, but Nurmagomedov — a devout Muslim — replied: “I don’t drink.”

McGregor, perhaps momentarily forgetting his opponent’s creed (or perhaps not), labelled ‘The Eagle’ a “backwards cunt,” before adding, “the bang of shite off ya, mate!” — comments which should sit well with his liberal detractors.

Khabib settled into things somewhat, though, promising McGregor a long night in a fortnight-and-a-bit’s time — the rest of us knowing the feeling, at this point.

“Your wrestling is zero,” he said. “Your grappling is zero!”

McGregor interjected: “You’ll be wrestling my knuckle out of your orbital bone,” but the Dagestani showed his own quick wit, adding:

I don’t understand what this guy is going to do on 6th of October. He think whiskey going to help him? I no understand.

“I make him tired and play with him,” the 30-year-old champion continued, before turning to McGregor and accusing him of quitting on a number of occasions throughout his career — an old one but a sore one: “You tap three times. You tap three times.” Perhaps then remembering McGregor was stopped in the boxing ring by Floyd Mayweather last summer, Khabib cemented his point: “You tap like chicken four times!”

McGregor doubled-down on a recent Instagram post in which he called Khabib’s father, Abdulmanap, “a coward”, accusing him of cosying up to Chechen leader Ramzan Kadyrov despite himself being a Dagestani.

“The Chechen people know what I’m talking about when I called this man a coward,” he said. “When I called his father a quivering coward, him and Kadyrov were at a mosque together, and he posts a picture of Kadyrov on his Instagram.

Kadyrov’s the Chechen dictator, a crazy man, don’t get me wrong. But, Khabib’s father, Lick-ass O’Hoolahan, posts a picture of Kadirov at his mosque and the caption is, ‘Together we are stronger.’

McGregor said Abdulmanap Nurmagomedov hides behind what he described as “fake respect,” but Nurmagomedov Jr wasn’t taking the bait, refusing to be drawn on Tony McGregor, coinage, or slim-fit, hand-fitted Hugo Boss suits.

When asked for his official prediction, McGregor mused that one round would be enough, but that he had been wrong before and he was prepared to go the five-round distance.

I know he’s afraid of a smack. And if you’re afraid of a smack off me, it’ll feel like a double-barrel shotgun. This man is glass-jaw bum, and I’m going to shatter him like that glass, God have mercy on his soul, on October 6th.

The challenger completed his psychological warfare bingo when he accused the Dagestani people of being run off their own turf to the edge of cliffs, proclaiming the McGregors to be a fighting clan who squared off with the English with such maniacal force that their surname was banned by some king or another for the bones of a century.

Those McGregors, of course, were a Scottish people, but while Nurmagomedov initially smiled through McGregor’s barrage, he did turn the tables on Mystic Mac’s native kin as soon as he found an opening:

Why you change your language? The English change your language? Irish have their own language! You don’t speak Irish.

Laughed McGregor: “An bhfuil cead agam dul go dtí an leithreas ar an mbus? I speak Irish!”

Turning to Dana White in convulsions, the Crumlin man said: “Do you know what that means? ‘Can I go for a shite on the bus?’”

McGregor and Khabib faced off in front of White, three of New York’s finest and the rest of the world shortly afterwards.

While still on stage, McGregor then became embroiled in a verbal confrontation with Ali Abdelaziz, Khabib’s controversial manager.

“Shut your mouth, Ali Abdelaziz,” he said. “You terrorist snitch! I know a lot about you as well, you madman. I know a lot about you as well! You keep your mouth shut, kid!

“How’s Noah? How’s Noah? Yeah, shut your mouth! Never speak about me, ever in your life! Watch yourself around me, ‘cause you’ll be out of here quick… Fuck you!”

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In what was surely the most important newsline of the press conference, Dana White confirmed that Jon Jones will “100%” not fight in the UFC 230 main event at Madison Square Garden despite the all-time great ‘Bones’ being free to fight again from a week beforehand following his backdated drugs suspension.

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With Jon Jones back in the picture, who is in the running to headline UFC 230?

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