We know what the promotion would love to stage as a main event in Russia, but fans may have to settle for Nurmagomedov vs. Ferguson: Part 5.
The UFC’s 25th anniversary press conference was supposed to be a forward gazing event that also celebrated a quarter century of MMA marvels and deeds.
What we got was a mix of fighters hyping upcoming bouts and questions about what the UFC are going to do about the Conor McGregor situation.
‘The Notorious’ was reportedly, and originally, set to have his fighting return announced at the event but the Barclays Center bus attack of Thursday stymied those plans. As it transpired, on Friday, McGregor was finishing up with a bail hearing at a Brooklyn courthouse while the 25th anniversary presser was being set up.
Fans had to settle for McGregor-lite Colby Covington strutting out in a pin-stripe suit and sunglasses and calling people “son” and “junior”. Other fighters took trash-talking moves from the McGregor playbook but only Kamaru Usman and the ongoing TJ Dillashaw and Cody Garbrandt feud piqued interest.
The press conference was kicked off with UFC 223 main event stars Khabib Nurmagomedov and Al Iaquinta [drafted in at late, late notice] as they tried to talk up a fight that did not exist until shortly after 2:30pm [New York time] on Friday.Credit: UFC
Both men had been on the ‘red corner’ bus that had been attacked by McGregor and several of his crew on Thursday afternoon and, 24 hours later, they had been pitched together. Only Nurmagomedov can claim the lightweight belt but UFC president Dana White insisted Iaquinta would be perceived as the promotions’ champion if he pulled off what would be a shock win.
Nurmagomedov knows exactly who he wants to fight if he wins UFC gold this weekend. “Me and Conor will have to fix our problem. Inside the cage or outside, it doesn’t matter. We have to fix this.”
It is altogether good timing, then, that the UFC is planning on staging a major event in Russia before the end of 2018.
“We haven’t announced anything yet,” UFC president Dana White admitted, “but Khabib did! But we are coming. We will come to Russia this year. Definitely.”
McGregor will face a number of legal, and potentially bout licencing, issues in the United States over the coming months – he is due back in court on June 14 – but it may not prevent him from fighting in Russia. The Dubliner apparently told White, last year, that he wanted to take on Nurmagomedov in Russia upon his UFC return.
Last June, White told MMA Junkie: “You know what Conor told me? He said, ‘I want Khabib in Russia’. Isn’t he f***ing awesome?
“He’s like, ‘I want Khabib, in Russia’. He’s awesome. Conor McGregor is a f***ing unicorn. There’s nothing like him. He’s working on boxing Floyd Mayweather and then he’s talking about fighting Khabib in Russia right after.”
Following the press conference, White told reporters that McGregor’s priorities should be sorting his legal and personal issues. To his mind, it could be a year before ‘The Notorious’ gets his life back together, and that is before one considers the prospect of potential jail time.
Were Nurmagomedov to claim the lightweight belt, he would be the perfect UFC star to headline a massive event in Russia. The Dagestani may want McGregor next but interim 155lbs champion Tony Ferguson will not slip into the shadows on this one.
The promotion has tried and failed to get both ‘The Eagle’ and ‘El Cucuy’ in the Octagon on four occasions. Russia in late 2018 may prove to be fifth time lucky.