Everyone in attendance at the Park Theatre in Las Vegas on Thursday — including UFC lightweight champion Khabib Nurmagomedov and UFC president Dana White — knew what was coming.
The odds of Conor McGregor arriving on stage for the UFC 229 press conference at the appointed 3 p.m. local time start were so slim, Vegas itself wouldn’t take odds on it.
But while many a fighter over the years has sat around and waited for the former UFC lightweight and featherweight champion’s arrival at press conferences, Nurmagomedov wasn’t going to have any part of it.
The champion arrived on time for the event hyping his main event bout with McGregor scheduled for Saturday night at T-Mobile Arena, took questions from media in front of a hostile, pro-McGregor capacity crowd, and then abruptly left 15 minutes into the affair, declaring McGregor’s absence a “big disrespect” and showing off his belt for the fans before exiting the stage.
“Fifteen minutes. I’m here. This guy is not,” Nurmagomedov said. “This is big disrespect.”
Earlier, Nurmagomedov, who at times appeared agitated, explained that with Thursday being the day of his big weight cut before Friday morning weigh-ins, he wasn’t going to let McGregor dictate his schedule on the toughest day of fight week.
“He’s late,” Nurmagomedov said. “I have schedule, 3 p.m it is time for this conference to begin. Because I have schedule. I have to make weight, I have to worry about myself. Why do I have to worry about him? If somebody is late, it is not my fault.
“Weight cut is always hard,” the champion later added. “Always is hard. Thursday, this is my weight-cut day, that’s why I don’t want to be waiting for someone 30 minutes, 40 minutes. Three p.m. is press conference.”
Nurmagomedov’s sudden departure made for an awkward time for White, who had to filibuster through an impromptu media scrum to kill time before McGregor finally arrived.
“Listen this sh*t happens, like I said,” White said. “This one was not what we planned or how we planned it to go down, but at the end of the day, you know, like I always say about McGregor with the mental warfare that goes on and all the things that were said, there’s your counter to it right there. ‘I’m here on time, I spoke to the media, I’m out of here. I’m not going to play your game and wait for you,’ so you know, this is all part of the sh*t that goes on leading up to the fight.”
While some expressed disappointment that the missed connection between Saturday’s two main eventers deprived fans of what no doubt would have been an intense staredown following the press conference, White noted the duo had a staredown at the previous presser in New York City, and also said the one he’s most anticipating is on Friday, following weigh-ins.
“They’ll both be at the weigh-ins on time,” White said. “We’ll get the staredown tomorrow when it matters, when the fight’s actually gonna ... to be honest with you, I prefer that anyway. We saw the staredown in New York, I want to see the staredown tomorrow, that’s the one I want.”
McGregor finally showed up for the event about a half-hour late. Wearing a Cheshire Cat grin while basking in the adulation of the crowd, McGregor said Nurmagomedov shouldn’t have expected him to be on time.
“He knew what he f*cking signed up for,” McGregor said. “He didn’t say anything the last time, so, it is what it is. F*ck it. These things happen.”
McGregor also unconvincingly said he tried to arrive at the press conference on time, then said Nurmagomedov didn’t want any part of the event.
“Yeah, look, you can’t plan this,” McGregor said. “I tried to get here. Like I said, I’m only a couple of minutes late, for God’s sake. That backwards c*nt, he should have stayed. That’s a sign. He doesn’t want to be around me, he doesn’t want to be around these people. He is petrified, and that’s it.”