By Osama Malik
The term an unstoppable force meets an immovable object is oft repeated in the realm of professional sports, but no phrase fits better for the seismic clash between Russia’s Khabib Nurmagomedov and Ireland’s Conor McGregor. As the world waits for the 6th of October with bated breath, it seems pertinent to look back at how both fighters got here.
Conor McGregor, an Irish fighter, previously a two-division champion from the Cage Warriors promotion in Europe joined the UFC in 2013, making his promotional debut against Marcus Brimage in April, dispatching his opponent by knockout in a little over a minute, winning Knockout of the Night honours. What followed was a string of impressive wins against veterans of the game such as Dennis Siver and Chad Mendes with McGregor introducing the fight game to his unique brand of showmanship before and after each fight. It was his performance against Jose Aldo that truly made the world stand up and take notice though, with McGregor’s trash talk prompting the champion, who was undefeated for the past 9 years, to rush forward in abandon resulting in McGregor knocking him out to become the undisputed Featherweight Champion. Two grueling wars against Nate Diaz established him as the face of the UFC, breaking Pay-Per-View records.
He then went onto defeat the Lightweight Champion to become the first ever two-division champion in the UFC. What followed was surely the peak of McGregor’s career, when he crossed sports to take on the undisputed king of boxing over the last decade, Floyd Mayweather, in a fight that showed his massive fan following and also reportedly paid him a 100 million dollars. Truly cemented as a cross-sport talent, McGregor now looks to return to the UFC after nearly two years to cement his legacy as the face of the promotion.
While McGregor received a significant push by the promotion due to his marketability, Khabib’s career took an opposite route. Injuries derailed the quiet Dagestanis career even as he continued his undefeated streak and rose up the rankings. The fight that truly brought him mainstream attention was against Michael Johnson, on the same card where McGregor became the “Double Champ”, where Khabib ruthlessly beat down his opponent controlling him throughout the fight and then finishing him off with a sickening Kimura hold. With the limelight finally on him, he wasted little time in calling out McGregor and asking for a title shot. It took him another ruthless beatdown of one of the best strikers in the division in Edson Barboza to finally get his title shot.
When his opponent backed out of the title fight due to injury he was rescheduled to fight with the new featherweight champion for the lightweight title. When his opponent had to pull out due to a bad weight cut, Al Iaquinta stepped in to take his place and the fight was finally made official for the title. Those who thought the drama was over were in the wrong. Conor McGregor showed up with a group of teammates and assaulted the bus in which Khabib was traveling to the Media Day event. He then threw a dolly onto the bus window shattering it causing severe emotional trauma and physical injury to several of the fighters on the bus. What followed for Khabib was a win that finally earned him his title while McGregor faced a lawsuit that threatened his fight career in the USA.
The prospects for a potential Khabib McGregor fight looked bleak, till Conor resolved his suit in court and a couple of months ago the UFC announced that the fight between the two had been made official for UFC 229 in Las Vegas. The fight is now more than a clash between two elite fighters, it is now a grudge match with Khabib’s altercation with McGregors teammate and McGregors verbal attacks on Khabibs father and team signifying a deeper issue. One one hand the quiet Khabib, a Muslim from the Dagestan region in Russia, on the other hand, the brash, outspoken McGregor who wastes no chance for self-promotion whether of his whiskey, his fitness program or his new line of suits.
What is for certain at this point is that fight fans around the world will get to see one of the most iconic fights between two of the greatest fighters ever in the UFC and no matter which way it goes, fans will not be cheated for entertainment. The fight cannot come soon enough.