Conor McGregor and Khabib Nurmagomedov sat for a press conference Thursday afternoon, a little more than two weeks ahead of their October 6 showdown at UFC 229. You will be pleased to learn that settling in for this nearly hour-long video is very much worth your time, as an enjoyer of absurdity and shamelessness (jump ahead to about the 18-minute mark to skip a lot of loud music and nothing else).
Nobody in the world understands and executes any role better than McGregor understands and executes his role goosing up a fight with brash performances like these. The first question has barely been asked in this presser before McGregor starts loudly and profanely pandering to fight fans, at the expense of a reddening Dana White. And White is clearly loving every moment. This routine—all the fookin fans and the sweaty improvising and the wild and aggressive shit-talk—is an enormous part of McGregor’s popularity, and White is happy to stand aside and just let the Irishman hold forth. Some highlights:
- 20:10 McGregor interrupts a question for Nurmagomedov to call his opponent a “fanboy bitch.” A minute later he says he’s gonna beat Nurmagomedov “in the name of the Russian people.” Truly a virtuosic monologue.
- 21:30 Nurmagomedov says “I come here for smash this guy,” setting off an enjoyable sequence where Dana White pretends to hold McGregor back while McGregor taunts Nurmagomedov over the infamous bus incident. This is so obviously rigged that even White can hardly keep from guffawing, but never mind, it works!
- 22:40 A dry moment after Dana White gives an abrupt answer to a question about the press conference. McGregor quickly swoops in to fill the empty space with praise for a bottle of his personal brand of whiskey he’s brought for the occasion. Also, lo, there’s a flask in his inside jacket pocket! McGregor is an extremely enthusiastic brand spokesman, it must be said. This goes on for several whole minutes, and culminates with McGregor calling the teetotaling Nurmagomedov a “mad backwards cunt” before doing shots with White.
- 27:37 Nurmagomedov plays cool when asked about McGregor’s antics, saying “I stay relaxed.” Quick-thinking McGregor mocks Nurmagomedov with “I stay on bus! I stay on bus!” Nurmagomedov for the first time speaks directly to McGregor, referencing an exchange held in Twitter direct messages, presumably to make the case that in private McGregor is much nicer. Way to break kayfabe, buddy! At any rate, this sequence seems to genuinely piss McGregor off, perhaps because it undermines the committed performance he’s given to that point.
- 31:57 McGregor loads up an answer about returning to mixed martial arts after his detour to boxing, but Nurmagomedov interrupts him to say something about sending McGregor back to boxing. McGregor rudely mocks Nurmagomedov’s voice by making a loud MER MER MER MER MER noise. I am ashamed to say, I laughed aloud at this. It’s just so fucking petty and low.
- 33:45 A hot exchange over Russian oligarch Ziyavudin Magomedov being locked up for embezzlement—just keep right on moving—leads suddenly to McGregor once again hyping his bottle of whiskey. Really seizing the moment.
- 35:20 “ASK THESE NUTS.”
- 38:55 A reporter opens a question by directing an “As-salaam alaikum” greeting to Nurmagomedov, and immediately follows it with congratulations to McGregor for his whiskey. It’s an awkward, silly choice, and Nurmagomedov checks him for it by saying “you cannot say ‘As-salaam alaikum’ and congrat about whiskey.” McGregor pounces, dares Nurmagomedov to slap the reporter, then returns the Arabic greeting to the reporter. Ugh. This is getting less fun.
- 43:27 Dana White shoots down utterly the possibility of a return to the octagon this year from Jon Jones, who will be reinstated by the USADA next month.
- 47:01 McGregor goes on an extended rant about Nurmagomedov’s father being a “quivering coward” for, uhh, not murdering Ramzan Kadyrov? This press conference has now officially overstayed its welcome.
It’s worth watching the whole thing. I know I will sound like a dupe for saying “these men seem to genuinely dislike each other,” but to the extent that the whole point of these press conferences is to convince suckers like me that the two fighters genuinely dislike each other, it accomplished its mission. And also it made me want to drink some whiskey, but perhaps not for the reason intended.