UFC ignores Conor McGregor’s troubles as it targets Nurmagomedov payday

On a chilly Thursday afternoon in April, Conor McGregor stormed into the Barclays Center in Brooklyn, New York, and proceeded to wreak havoc. The Irishman snuck into the building with the intention of confronting Khabib Nurmagomedov, who was scheduled to compete for the vacant UFC lightweight title that weekend. McGregor, accompanied by an entourage, entered the building’s parking lot and began vandalizing a bus full of fighters before throwing a dolly through one of the windows. Several fighters were hospitalized and removed from their scheduled bouts. The entire scene was captured on video, immortalizing one of the most embarrassing moments in UFC history.

McGregor later turned himself in to New York police and was charged with assault and criminal mischief (prosecutors later dropped the two felonies and related charges following a plea deal).

McGregor’s actions that week had a lasting impact. UFC lightweight Michael Chiesa suffered lacerations after the dolly smashed through the window, while fellow UFC fighter Ray Borg suffered an eye injury from shattered glass. Both men were hospitalized and removed from their respective fights. Others, including UFC straw-weight champion Rose Namajunas, were left shaken by the experience. Even UFC president Dana White – who knows the Irishman hauls in big gates and pay per view numbers – appeared disgusted by McGregor’s actions.

“Do you want to be in business with Conor McGregor right now?” White said during an impromptu media scrum following the incident. “Do you want to chase this guy around for interviews and buy his fights? Do you? I don’t think anybody is going to want to right now. I think everybody is going to be pretty disgusted with Conor McGregor right now.”

The bus incident earned McGregor a significant amount of negative publicity. However, the outrage surrounding the melee died down over the coming months, particularly after McGregor reached a plea agreement in July and pleaded guilty to a single violation of disorderly conduct.

For their part, and despite White’s earlier bluster, the UFC opted not to take any action against McGregor. Instead, they have now repurposed the entire incident to help promote arguably the biggest fights in UFC history.

At a press conference for UFC’s 25th anniversary in early August, White announced that Nurmagomedov would fight McGregor at UFC 229 in Las Vegas. The announcement took place less than a month after the Irishman struck his plea deal, and was capped off with a promotional video that used footage from the bus attack.

In fairness, Nurmagomedov-McGregor is a dream fight for UFC fans, and one that many did not expect to happen. McGregor’s brash style and outlandish persona are in stark contrast to Nurmagomedov’s subdued demeanour and intimidating presence, which only adds more depth to an already compelling contest. It is also a fight that is, according to White, expected to break the UFC’s previous pay-per-view record.

It should be noted that four of the UFC’s top five most profitable PPV events were headlined by McGregor. In McGregor’s absence over the past two years, the UFC has failed to recreate those figures and has struggled on PPV. The only exception was UFC 207, which featured the return of Ronda Rousey, who has since left for WWE. Given these figures, it is clear why UFC jumped at another McGregor fight.

While Nurmagomedov-McGregor is a financial boon for the UFC, it remains a risky venture. The Irishman and his entourage have already caused havoc during the Barclays Center incident. A handful of those men may be present with McGregor this time around, and given that Nurmagomedov also walks around with a sizeable team that has been known to intimidate and confront fighters, the lead-up to the PPV may be explosive.

McGregor has also spent the last few weeks stoking religious and ethnic tensions. He posted pictures on social media with captions referencing him “chilling in Jahannam” (the Arabic word for hell) – Nurmagomedov is Muslim. He also posted a picture of one of Nurmagomedov’s training partners, Chechen fighter Zubaira Tukhugov, with the caption: “A true Chechen would never take orders from a Dagestani man.” Nurmagomedov is from Dagestan.

Given the loaded statements McGregor has incorporated into his fight promotion, the disdain between the fighters’ teams and their respective fans will be palpable come Saturday night. According to a source close to the event, the UFC is taking steps to ensure the appropriate levels of security are in place for the event. While it remains unclear what this entails, it will likely include increased police presence at the arena, which could potentially limit any clashes between fans.

Potential fights are far from the only security concern facing the UFC 229 main event. During a press conference to promote the fight, McGregor attempted to play mind games with Nurmagomedov by referencing some of the shady characters that have been associated with the UFC champion. One of the controversial figures mentioned was the Chechen leader Ramzan Kadyrov, who invited Nurmagomedov to host seminars at his fight club in 2016. McGregor has called Kadyrov a “crazy dictator” and those comments were not well received in Chechnya, where Kadyrov rules with an iron fist. One of the fighters who represents Kadyrov’s fight club posted a video warning McGregor that he will “answer for his words” before demanding a public apology. This was followed by an official statement from the Chechen minister for press and information, who questioned McGregor’s mental health before calling him an “outrageous clown” who acts like a “Mexican rooster.”

While the intimidation tactics used by Kadyrov and his henchmen have been well-documented over the years, few expected him to target one of the most recognizable athletes on the planet. Though Kadyrov has not personally commented on McGregor or the upcoming UFC 229 event, the statements uttered by the dictator’s mouthpieces should be enough to raise security concerns for the Irishman.

The UFC’s decision to place McGregor in this weekend’s main event emphasizes the promotion’s willingness to forfeit punishment for profit. Perhaps more significantly their decision to push ahead with the main event despite the threats directed at McGregor and the rising tension between the Irishman and the Russian’s teams shows UFC is willing to gamble on high-risk situations in order to reap its rewards.

The author: Clémentine FORISSIER

Clémentine Forissier, a youthful journalist hailing from Brussels, has been making waves in the field of media. Despite her relatively young age, she has quickly risen to prominence as a prominent voice in Belgian journalism. Known for her fresh perspective and dynamic reporting, Clémentine has become a recognized figure in the Brussels media scene, offering insightful coverage of various topics.

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