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Khabib Nurmagomedov uses visit to Calgary to set stage for ‘The Fight’

Esther Lin, MMA Fighting

UFC Fight Week isn’t what it used to be, but it helps when you have Khabib Nurmagomedov in town for the festivities just as Conor McGregor resolves his legal trouble for trying to throw a dolly through a bus window to kill him. That was Calgary this past weekend. Nurmagomedov — still very much alive and intact — was in Alberta to corner his pal Islam Makhachev, yet everybody wanted to know when he’s fighting McGregor, how he plans to hurt him, and whether he’d do it quick or dole out 25 minutes of old country justice.

Mark it down: This was the weekend The Fight truly began to take shape.

You could tell because the media no longer held itself in check. The superlatives came to life the instant the floodgates opened, which was at the precise moment McGregor pled guilty for disorderly conduct and received community service out in Brooklyn, and just before UFC president Dana White essentially said “we all good” when asked if the UFC would punish the Irishman any further. Dana is focused on making this fight. People with cameras in their faces were calling Khabib vs. McGregor the biggest bout in UFC history, right out there in the open where Dustin Poirier, Eddie Alvarez, Jose Aldo and poor goddamn Jeremy Stephens — all McGregor victims in one way or another — were prepping for a quiet five-star event.

It has begun.

And Nurmagomedov was ready. He handled all the McGregor queries with a total understanding that it was him that everyone wanted to see mash the Irish coxcomb into meal, not minding at all if there were those fickle few who believed he was deluding himself. “If you think I’m going to stay with him with my Muhammad Ali jab [like I did with Al Iaquinta], no way brother,” he said, allowing the visuals to soak in. “No way. I’m going to try and take him down. Even if he tries to defend my takedown, he’s going to be tired.”

He even went so far as to say his ultimate goal was to turn McGregor’s features into a Picasso.

“To make him humble,” he said. “Not only smash, but change his face. I want to change his face. Of course, with face I can change his mind, too. This is what I want.”

Of course! With face is the mind too. Who in the fight game doesn’t appreciate that kind of parlay? All punches should carry life lessons.

One of the things bothering Nurmagomedov, who protects his humbleness in a steel vault somewhere deep inside his chest, is that McGregor exists. That he exists on Forbes’ best-paid lists, and private planes, on yachts and in galas. McGregor always has a new watch and his shirts are tucked in conspicuously tight. His whiskers are always waxed and his chest always puffed so that his arms dangle at his side. Even the people around him forego socks when breaking out the expensive loafers, like exemplars of contentment. It’s the fine fettle Khabib wants to shatter like so much china. The smug satisfaction. The way of life.

That’s what’s festering out in the open now. The stylistic match-up between not just a striker and a grappler, but of two wildly divergent champions. If fight fans are a little “in limbo” with their enthusiasms for some of these UFC cards, it’s because that fight — the granddaddy of them all — is swirling out there like an enthusiasm-sucking black hole.

Nurmagomedov understands the chemistry between him and McGregor, as well as the psychology of a million pent-up fans. He can deliver, and he knows that too. He wants the fight and suspects McGregor doesn’t — or at least didn’t — details that fans pack into their disdain. He knows the fight has only blossomed since McGregor won his UFC titles, snatched a nine-digit payday in the boxing ring with Floyd Mayweather, and then threw that tantrum at the Barclays with his roving band of acolytes. It’s for everyone in the lurch that he speaks. Two years of bratty millionaire social media posts has strengthened his personal sense of mission to smash everything that is Conor McGregor.

He makes that known in three simple words. “Send me location,” he says. That’s about as effective of a sales pitch as you’ll ever get.

And that’s all we’re waiting on now. The compliance from the other side, and a date. October 6, at UFC 229 in Las Vegas? That’s when Khabib says he’d prefer the fight happen. UFC 230, at Madison Square Garden, on November 3? Hey, McGregor has plenty of memories in New York, from beating Eddie Alvarez at UFC 205 to showing up dressed as a pimp during the third leg of the Mayweather promotional tour. End of the year card, on Dec. 29 in Vegas?

That would work, too. In Calgary the “ifs” changed to “whens,” and now the thing is in motion. That fight has to happen.

“I have a plan,” Nurmagomedov said. “Make him tired. Make him look bad.”

Sweet music to a fight fan’s ears.

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