It’s been awhile since the biggest star in mixed martial arts stepped into the octagon, but Conor McGregor is set to return to the sport’s biggest stage this weekend.
The trash-talking Irishman will take on rival Khabib Nurmagomedov in the main event of UFC 229, which gets underway Saturday Night at the T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas.
It marks his first MMA fight in nearly two years. McGregor made more than $5 million when he knocked out Eddie Alvarez in November, 2016 to become the first fighter ever to hold two titles at once.
But that doesn’t mean he’s been out of the spotlight. McGregor crossed over into the boxing realm last summer, taking on the undefeated Floyd Mayweather in a super fight which generated hundreds of millions of dollars in revenue.
With McGregor having made so much money over the past few years, UFC boss Dana White wasn’t sure this weekend’s fight would ever materialize.
“When a guy makes $100 million, you don’t know if he’s ever going to fight again,” White said at Thursday’s weigh in. “No matter how much you make, you can only sit home for so long and you start to go crazy.”
There are manufactured rivalries used to sell tickets, and then there are rivalries where someone almost ends up in jail.
The hate between these two fighters is real, and it boiled over to the point where a rage-fueled outburst just about ended McGregor’s career.
Nurmagomedov was the target of McGregor’s infamous attack on a bus in the bowels of Brooklyn’s Barclay’s Center ahead of UFC 223. The Notorious One was caught on video slamming a dolly into a bus full of fighters, including his Russian rival.
White was convinced that McGregor was “going to jail,” but in the end, the 29-year old was hit with just a slap on the wrist.
It leaves him free to pick up another huge payday and regain the UFC lightweight championship belt he once held.
Can he do it? Bookmakers peg McGregor (24-3) as an underdog to knock off the undefeated Russian (26-0) on Saturday night.
Most sports books have Nurmagomedov as a 4/7 to 5/9 favorite to win the fight, meaning a $100 bet would net you about $57 in profit.
Those looking to back the Irishman will be rewarded with a $160 profit on a $100 bet (8/6 odds) if he can pull of the upset.
Fight experts say the key to the tilt will be whether or not it’s fought upright or on the ground. McGregor is at his best when he’s on his feet and throwing punches, a skill that his opponent is only all-too aware of.
“I think beginning of first round I have to be careful with him because he has good boxing but my wrestling is my pressure,” Nurmagomedov said at Thursday’s weigh in.
“The Eagle” knows he’s going to have to take the fight to the mat to defeat McGregor, although the former champ doesn’t see that as a problem.
“I’ve been grappling and wrestling much heavier man this whole camp,” said McGregor. “200 pounders, 25 minutes straight. I am ready for all outcomes.