Even without a live audience of fans, Conor McGregor found his groove.
The former two-division UFC champion was loud and loose during Thursday’s news conference at Radio City Music Hall in Manhattan to promote his UFC 229 headlining bout against lightweight champ Khabib Nurmagomedov.
And little was off limits, including the infamous Barclays Center incident on April 5 in which McGregor and his cohorts attacked a bus full of fighters to goad Nurmagomedov into a confrontation. The Irishman accused his Russian foe of cowardice for remaining on the bus as McGregor threw a dolly at the vehicle, injuring two fighters and throwing the Brooklyn event into chaos. McGregor said the incident would have been worse if he lured Nurmagomedov off the bus.
“If this door had opened, this man would be dead right now,” he said. “He would be in a box, and I would be in a cell.”
McGregor (21-3, 9-1 UFC) was later arrested for his role the incident, which was caught on video and has been used in UFC promotional material for their Oct. 6 fight at T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas. He later pleaded no contest to one count of disorderly conduct and currently faces ongoing litigation.
Nurmagomedov (26-0, 10-0), a native of Dagestan, Russia, who won the vacant 155-pound title two days after the incident, often resisted McGregor’s repeated provocations with a grin. Although never leaving his seat during the half-hour engagement, McGregor’s verbal assaults on his foe’s father and coach, Abdulmanap, clearly annoyed the Dagestani.
Nurmagomedov — who turned 30 on Thursday — appeared just as confident as McGregor, albeit not as colorful. In response to a question about McGregor’s one-time foe Floyd Mayweather Jr., the Russian equated himself to the fellow unbeaten fighter.
“I am the Floyd Mayweather of MMA,” he said.
Nurmagomedov vs. McGregor is widely considered the biggest fight MMA can put together right now. Although the Dublin native hasn’t competed in the octagon since claiming the lightweight title at Madison Square Garden in November 2016 — and faced Mayweather in a megabucks boxing match last August — he remains the star attraction in combat sports.
Nurmagomedov’s perfect run, in which he has yet to lose a round in UFC competition, has been fueled by a relentless wrestling base and vicious ground striking. His strength is the perceived weakness of McGregor, a talented southpaw striker. Not that the Irishman showed much respect for it Thursday, of course.
“You’re going to be wrestling my knuckle out of your orbital bone,” McGregor said.
Dana White said the decision to keep Thursday’s event a media-only affair was to avoid a major incident, alluding to the April mess.
“We’ve had problems in New York,” he said. “I don’t want any problems in New York today.”
When not looking to provoke Nurmagomedov, McGregor liberally touted his new whiskey label, Proper No. Twelve. He even merged fight hype with pitching his booze, which is an official sponsor of UFC 229, with a zinger to close the presser.
“It’s on the canvas,” McGregor shouted with glee. “Like [Nurmagomedov’s] blood will be on the canvas.”