In a time where absolutely nothing is certain and virtually everyone is confused, I tried to lay out a few things worth knowing about Khabib Nurmagomedov vs. Conor McGregor, as we wait patiently for the fight to be signed.
When and where could it take place?
Well, obviously, nothing is yet confirmed but if the rumour-mill is to be believed, the UFC have two dates in mind.
UFC 229 – Oct 6, 2018 – T-Mobile Arena, Las Vegas
UFC 232 – Dec 29, 2018 – T-Mobile Arena, Las Vegas
It’s been so long since we’ve seen McGregor in action that I’m sure everyone will be hoping that the date in October is booked. And yes, there are a number of reasons why that would be the move to make – but a quick look back on UFC 189 and the unprecedented world-tour it produced may hold some clues to the UFC’s intentions.
They confirmed the fight just twelve days after Conor defeated Dennis Siver at UFC Fight Night: Boston on January 18, making the event’s date about six months away from its original announcement.
— UFC (@ufc) January 30, 2015
The difference here might be that the McGregor/Siver fight was set up with the stipulation that if Conor were to win, he would earn himself the next shot at the belt.
So while we knew the fight was coming that time, we could well find ourselves caught off-guard with this one.
The question is whether the UFC – in a year where their pay-per-view numbers have been dipping – want to cash in quickly on their returning superstar’s guaranteed figures – or if they’re looking to draw things out and do the whole ‘Khabib/Conor: World Tour’ thing.
Another factor worth mentioning is their recent run of bad luck when it comes to fighters missing weight and getting themselves injured in freakish accidents.
Khabib may have gained some consistency of late – but he has a long history of issues.
UFC 232 would give everyone ample time to make this the best-produced fight of all-time, but would putting it off by another two-and-a-half months really be worth it?
Could the fight take place in New York, given Conor’s recent legal issues?
On paper, it appears as though his ability to travel has not been affected whatsoever, so unless the New York State Athletic Commission were so disgusted by his actions that they would be willing to deprive the city of those McGregor-dollars when the UFC’s next stop in the ‘Big Apple’ comes around, I don’t see why not!
It hasn’t yet been reported, however.
UFC 230 is set to take place in Madison Square Garden and already features a trio of scintillating middleweight matchups.
I would definitely put my money on this one being in Vegas, though.
The UFC clearly need Conor, but are the relations between the two healthy enough to get a deal done?
Again, it’s hard to know. We don’t see everything that goes on and while the power struggle between McGregor and the UFC has been clear for some time, both parties want to make money.
Dana White was very vocal in his feelings of disgust for Conor after the UFC 223 media day but in a recent interview with MMAJunkie, he made it clear that he and the Irishman are ‘good’.
“Conor has faced a lot of repercussions. Conor has lost a lot of money and a lot of time. Conor and I are good. We’re good.”
It’s amazing what money will do!
What are Conor’s options?
I would argue that the fight with Khabib is the most challenging, the most historically significant and also, the most lucrative option available to him right now.
I’m certain he wants that title back – even though he appears to understand that belts just don’t hold that much significance anymore.
Nate Diaz is another option. It’s a hard sell, though.
The narrative isn’t there for a matchup with Georges St-Pierre (just yet) and a pairing of him and the winner of Woodley/Till for the 170lb belt would be too far in the future to book right away. Not to mention that it would be the final nail in the coffin designated to hold the promotion’s last shreds of integrity.
On a sidenote, the unlikely options aren’t at all realistic. Max Holloway’s future is unclear, nobody would buy McGregor in a boxing matchup given that he hasn’t won a fight in nearly two years and as for a title-eliminator against the likes of Dustin Poirier or Tony Ferguson… come on.. really?
What are Khabib’s options?
Nurmagomedov is actually in a pretty good spot, provided that he doesn’t lose.
He would certainly be the bookies favourite in a matchup against anyone in the weight-class and with the likes of Dustin Poirier, Kevin Lee and Tony Ferguson lying in wait, if he does wish to carve out a GSP, Silva or Aldo-esque legacy for himself, he doesn’t necessarily need to rush himself here.
If he remains the lightweight champion, Conor will come to him sooner or later.
Whether McGregor goes and fights Nate again, jumps up to have a go at 170lbs or even decides to take off on another ridiculous tangent altogether – Khabib is in a position of power here, because in all honesty, I can see him beating anyone at 155lbs in dominant fashion.
In a parallel universe where Conor found himself in jail for 2-3 years, there would be every chance that the Russian would still be sitting atop the 155lb division when he got out.
What are the UFC’s options?
In a year where the highest pay-per-view buy-rate came in at just under 400k, it really is desperation stations for Dana and co.
Sure, you’ve got Brock Lesnar bringing the circus back for what we’ll assume to be one night only whenever he takes on Daniel Cormier, but when he inevitably gets humbled on the big-stage, the UFC’s well of star-power will be all-but-depleted.
And I don’t see that fight happening this year either.
As I mentioned before, the question of whether they want to milk the promotion or jump the gun for Khabib/McGregor will dictate a lot – but the pressure they are under could well work against them at the negotiations table.
And Khabib knows this too.
Speaking to the media during UFC Calgary last night, he outlined his own view on the negotiation process this time around – making it clear that he will not settle for a measly $200k.
So who holds the power advantage here?
Well, as much as he is willing to fight – and I’m sure he’ll get paid what he deserves – it really isn’t as much about Khabib as it is the struggle between McGregor and the UFC.
After tasting those nine-figures he earned against Floyd Mayweather last August – as well as knowing the potential he has to turn in an absolutely gargantuan pay-per-view score this time around – Conor will definitely have more of a say than he did for his last UFC outing at UFC 205.
With that being said, he still needs to budge somewhat because as a UFC-contracted athlete, he still needs them to fight.
The Mayweather showdown was allowed due to its historical significance and those dollar bills but now, he’ll be back playing ball with Dana.
I doubt you’ll see the words ‘McGregor Promotions’ anywhere near this matchup.
So how many PPV’s can he actually sell at this rate?
Mayweather/McGregor did fall short of Mayweather/Pacquiao by a narrow margin and with both fights cracking the four-million mark, it would be easy to assume that this was a result of a lot of heavy-lifting on the part of Floyd.
Conor’s highest number before then was 1.65 million, a figure he drew fighting Nate Diaz for the second time at UFC 202 – making it the most-bought MMA event of all-time.
According to SocialBlade, an social media statistics website, on the 20th of August, 2016 – the date of that fight with Diaz – Conor had 6.07 million followers on Instagram.
Jump forward to June 14, when MayMac was announced – Conor had 13.65 million followers whereas Mayweather had 15.6 million.
On August 21, the day after the fight – McGregor had overtaken Mayweather with his own number of 17 million to Floyd’s 16.46 million.
Now, almost a year later, at the date of writing, the Irishman is just short of 23 million.
We’re not going to rely on Instagram followers as a definitive measurement of popularity but when your number almost quadruples in the space of two years, you can be damn sure that more people are watching and paying for your fights.
Khabib is a massive star in his home country of Russia also and this is a point that should not be understated – especially since he will come in as champion.
There have been predictions saying that Conor’s next fight could do upwards of 2 million PPV buys.
I feel as though that’s a very safe and unambitious shout, to be honest.
Will it happen?
Will it happen this year?
Will it be the greatest spectacle the sport has ever seen?
Until we know more, all we can do is spend hours watching tape, debating the tantalising clash of styles and refreshing our respective Twitter feeds as we wait for even the slightest hint that this mega-fight is finally upon us.
Then and only then will the circus return to town.
Cillian Cunningham, Pundit Arena