Five things learned from the Khabib v McGregor UFC 229 press conference

Photo by Andrius Petrucenia. License: CC BY-SA 2.0.

(McGregor admits he dislikes the promotional side of the fight game, but always brings entertainment to press conferences)

Press conferences are mandatory promotional tools that give the fans, and more importantly the media, an opportunity to get insights into fights directly from the fighter’s mouths. A Connor McGregor press conference is rarely boring and can often get heated. He recently had it out at with opponent Khabib Nurmagomedov at the UFC 229 press conference in New York, and here’s what we took away from their meeting.

1. Khabib is a unique challenge

There’s a cliche that no opponent is similar to another. This has never been so true of Khabib Nurmagomedov for Connor McGregor. The Russian has made a name for himself because of his impressive wrestling skills, which helped him accrue an unbeaten record of 26 wins, no draws and no defeats in MMA. McGregor has faced wrestlers before, but nobody quite as clinical as Khabib.

It is also a different challenge in terms of the psychological warfare involved. McGregor’s verbal onslaught and intimidation of Jose Aldo was largely noted as a reason for the subsequent 13-second knockout. With the likes of Eddie Alvarez, we saw a reaction. He tried to talk back to McGregor and beat him at the verbal game – something that few have come close to doing.

Others like Nate Diaz seemingly had no answer to McGregor’s attacks, would almost allow the Irishman to dominate press conferences and supposedly concede the upper-hand – although Diaz did go on to win their first fight.

Photo by Kyle Holdsworth. License: CC BY-SA 3.0.

(Alvarez was the last fighter to face McGregor in the UFC in November 2016)

Khabib seemed very calm. He allowed McGregor to run his mouth, but because he wasn’t 100% on with his insults and the delivery, at times it began to look desperate as he just wasn’t getting the reaction he’s used to.

2. It’s personnel for McGregor… in a non-personal way

Connor certainly is taking this personally – as personal as someone can take a feud that didn’t involve them.

Where did this animosity stem from exactly? Artem Lobov, Connor’s teammate and a good friend, was ‘approached’ by Nurmagomedov and an entourage. They apparently confronted him regarding some sort of Russian politics, with the end result being Lobov getting ‘slapped.’

McGregor hears about this, takes a private jet from Ireland to an event in the U.S where Khabib is to confront him. Then the whole ‘I sit on bus,’ dolley-throwing incident occurred.

So this time, there’s genuine hatred between the two fighters. This was confirmed by McGregor’s admission that ‘I’d be in a cell and you’d be dead if I managed to get on that bus.’ The press conference did little to ease tensions, with the personal attacks only exacerbating the situation.

3. McGregor loves his whiskey

McGregor is the best in the business at selling a fight, which is the main reason why he has accumulated so much wealth in such a short time. In the build-up to his fight with Floyd Mayweather – where McGregor earned over $100m – the hype he created not only generated interest for the bout but actually got people believing he could pull off the impossible.

But now, he has something to sell other than himself as a fighter: Proper 12, McGregor’s very own Irish whiskey. He may have mentioned it in the press conference once or twice…

It shouldn’t be too surprising though. The Irishman drank whiskey regularly during his post-fight press conferences recently, often commenting on the brand as if he was a spirits connoisseur. He later hinted at creating his own brand of whiskey, but many dismissed this as more simple bravado on Connor’s part. However, it now has actually come to fruition.

4. McGregor may have had too much Proper 12

Questions of McGregor’s sobriety were raised after the press conference, and rightly so. The usually-measured speaker was slurring his words, tripping up on sentences and acting even more gloriously-obnoxious than usual.

His typical verbal barrage upon his opponent lacked its usual fluidity. It was as if he’d forgotten parts of a pre-planned speech. Some insults and one-liners were still hilarious, but the ‘shut your mouths’ seemed a little too forced.

Perhaps he had a little too much Proper 12.

5. Khabib more focussed and with a strong reason to win

Khabib seemed focused and was rarely ruffled by McGregor’s assaults. He did not engage with arguing back – something McGregor relishes. The Russian arguably has more on the line as well.

Being a quiet, respectful fighter (in comparison to the typically outlandish characters in the UFC), he doesn’t seem to be a person who will grab headlines and embrace being a celebrity for financial gain. MMA is always what he is going to be known for, unlike McGregor who has already branched out into boxing and whiskey, and has more than embraced his celebrity status.

Therefore, a loss for Khabib would significantly hinder his brand as a fighter, similarly to how Ronda Rousey’s marketability took a hit when she was beaten by Holly Holm. It wouldn’t take anything away from his skill as a fighter, but he certainly would lose a lot of public attention.

McGregor, on the other hand, has admitted that financially, there is no incentive for him to return to the UFC. He is set for life. He can always go into other ventures and will make a name for himself in whatever he does. His ventures away from MMA will have undoubtedly switched his focus, and he surely won’t be as determined as he was before his Mayweather exploits.

At the end of the day, whatever we take from the press conference, is all just speculation and anticipation for the fight. Nothing said will matter on October 6th, when they will battle it out at the T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas. But one thing we do know is that it will be absolutely epic.

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