After 694 days ‘The Notorious’ Conor McGregor steps back into an Octagon for the first time since he defeated Eddie Alvarez for the UFC Lightweight Championship in Madison Square Garden back in November 2016.
A lot has happened since and ahead of UFC 229: Khabib vs McGregor – live & exclusive on OSN Sports Action 2HD on October 7
– we look at how we got to this super fight.
For McGregor; he’s catapulted himself to mainstream recognition, albeit for mixed reasons. In August 2017 he fought arguably the greatest boxer of a generation, Floyd Mayweather, taking the undefeated pugilist to 10 rounds before being TKO’d. On the downside, in April 2018 his actions prior to UFC 223 - when he instigated an attack on a bus in an arena parking lot while pursuing Khabib Nurmagomedov - drew charges of assault and criminal mischief, as well as widespread condemnation from his peers, not least UFC President Dana White.
In the self-proclaimed King’s absence, the UFC has struggled to find a poster boy or girl upon which to pin their fortunes. Cody Garbrandt was styled to be the next big thing in MMA and beyond but has since suffered consecutive defeats to the supremely talented TJ Dillashaw. Others, such as Darren Till, could yet be the company’s next crossover star. Yet all those touted as such seemingly lack the sheer force of will to surpass their skillset and become bigger than the sport they practice. In McGregor the UFC has a unique personality of once-in-a-generation magnitude who brings so much attention to the company, and in a style that can’t be taught or practiced. Natural charisma is truly his x-factor.
When McGregor answered to his criminal charges in a New York court in July, speculation was already rife that anything less than a prison sentence would mean a return to the Octagon. And so when he was handed a soft sentence and avoided detention, the scramble for confirmation about who ‘Notorious’ would fight next began in earnest.
McGregor’s fight with a bus came about due to a juvenile beef with another undefeated fighter, the dangerous Dagestan mauler and current UFC Lightweight Champion; Nurmagomedov. There was never any real doubt McGregor’s return would be anything less than a notable title fight and the logical fight was already there, waiting to be agreed upon. After a brief back-and-forth, the two signed up to face each other and are due to settle their score in Las Vegas in the early hours of October 7. The fight will be another classic grappler versus striker match-up that so often occurs in MMA, and as always there are so many intriguing questions about how the fight will unfold.
Perhaps the biggest question of all centres on whether Nurmagomedov can withstand the pressure that fighting McGregor brings. So many have wilted under the intense spotlight; most notably Eddie Alvarez and Jose Aldo, who were blasted by McGregor. Once in the Octagon, the question of whether Khabib can avoid being starched by McGregor’s fearsome left hand is the most pivotal to the fight’s outcome. If he gets McGregor to the mat, surely Nurmagomedov won’t make the mistake Chad Mendes made in 2013 and relinquish a dominant ground position.
For McGregor, the biggest question is about his desire. Despite his loss to Mayweather, the Irishman walked away $100m richer, opening himself to a world of luxury that would have been pure fantasy just a few years earlier when collecting job allowance cheques in the suburbs of Dublin. As Marvin Hagler once observed about the effect a change of fortunes can have on a fighter: “It’s tough to get out of bed to do roadwork at 5am when you’ve been sleeping in silk pyjamas”. Whatever McGregor’s nightwear choice over the past two years, the fascination lies in whether the snarling beast within him remains. Is the fighter that slept Jose Aldo within 13 seconds still there or is he now just a man that runs on hype and ego?
We’ll get the answers to these questions, and so many more, when Nurmagomedov and McGregor finally stand across from each other in the T-Mobil Arena surrounded by a baying, sold-out crowd, whipped into a frenzy by the bombastic Bruce Buffer. At the same time, the UFC itself will be at a fork in the road, and the outcome of the fight will dictate the company’s direction for years to come.
This is the biggest fight in mixed martial arts in 2018, and once of the biggest sporting events of the year, live and exclusive on OSN.
Watch: OSN Sports Action 2 HD
When: October 7. Prelims from 03:00 KSA, Main Card 05:00 KSA.
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