McGregor needs Khabib rematch in Russia next to continue ‘real life Rocky story’ after sensational UFC comeback
After a stunning 40-second victory over Donald ‘Cowboy’ Cerrone at UFC 246, Conor McGregor must now fight tooth and nail for a Moscow rematch with lightweight champion Khabib Nurmagomedov to return to the top of MMA.
McGregor spectacularly announced himself back onto the MMA scene after more than a year-long hiatus with a chilling first-round demolition over UFC legend Cerrone at the T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas on Saturday.Also on rt.com Conor McGregor crushes Donald Cerrone in just 40 seconds at UFC 246
A kick to the jaw followed up by spectacular shoulder work in the clinch and clinical ground and pound all in the first minute catapulted McGregor smack bang into the middle of the UFC landscape.
Now the only real route back to relevance for the former ‘Champ Champ’ must be to chase a mega-money rematch with ‘Dagestani Eagle’ Nurmagomedov in Moscow to continue the ‘real life Rocky story’ he promised to the Russian people at his presser back in October.
RT Sport takes you through the reasons why.
It’s the only fight that will fully restore McGregor's credibility
Downtown Moscow, a stage perhaps cherry-picked to antagonize homeland hero Khabib, was where the 31-year-old headed a profanity-laden press conference to announce his January 18 return to the octagon.
Cerrone and Justin Gaethje were initially earmarked as potential and extremely willing and capable opponents, but the Western drawl-talking, stetson-sporting cowboy from Colorado was ultimately chosen and then disposed by The Notorious.
The second leg of McGregor’s master plan was outlined during a characteristically venomous rant that seem to watermark McGregor’s public speaking, outlining his desire for a date with seemingly indestructible UFC lightweight champion Khabib to in Russia.
The reason? “I want to gift to the people of Russia a real life Rocky story,” McGregor nobly told an expectant crowd, fully assuming his hero of the people role in the absence of Khabib, to whom he succumbed in four rounds for the lightweight title in late 2018.
The Russian is currently pencilled in to defend his title against Tony Ferguson on April 19, the fifth time the perennially-delayed bout between the two has been slated to take place.
Regardless of the winner of that fight - the Dublin fighter personally is picking his former foe to better the popular ‘El Cucuy’ - the UFC’s golden goose must shovel all his eggs into the Khabib basket and force a rematch if he is to remain relevant in the fight game, even if that risks falling further out of favor with his throng of fans and followers with another loss.
Laying down the gauntlet to Khabib in his home country as the route back to relevance brings equal risk and reward but the Dubliner’s aspirations have never been short of sky high and it is exactly that which makes a second installment of the McGrgeor-Khabib saga such an entertaining and intriguing prospect.
McGregor can implement his proposed 'Russian takeover'
McGregor could have an ulterior motive for wanting the fight in Moscow - to usurp Khabib's Russian fans. The entirety of McGregor’s October presser featured Conor at his cut-throat best.
Impeccably dressed and close to the knuckle, those knuckles apparently itching to get into the Makhachkala man, whom he called him a “jockstrap sniffer” and a “coward” running from a Moscow rematch, something ingrained in the Dagestani man.
Aside from the crass and uncouth volley of insults there was something that became more apparent in McGregor’s tone: he promised to deliver to the people and, in Khabib’s absence, could convince the public that the Makhachkala man is a villain, and then invent a hero role for himself to step into.
“The old saying is: ‘From Russia with love’ and I feel the love every time I set foot in this great country and especially in this great city,” came the typical schmoozing from the enigmatic Irishman.
A fighter’s “territory” is considered sacred, but the fast-talking, fast-punching McGregor is a masterful speaker renowned for his verbal gymnastics. Here he was waxing lyrical about the enemy’s home fans.
“I have some news for you all for the world here: for me, I wish to compete in Moscow, Russia, we know that. We know what bout I am seeking here in Russia. The Russian people deserve this inevitable rematch to take place here in Moscow. And it will happen,” McGregor announced, gifting his new favorite audience exclusivity to his plans and the promise of what would be the biggest show in UFC history.
Having laid a claim to Russian fans, McGregor the wnet after Khabib’s allegiance, separating the Dagestani peoples of the South Russian Republic in the North Caucasus region from the country. It was classic divide and conquer tactics.
“I’m not sure does he represent Russia? I don’t think he does represent Russia. I’ve never seen the man represent Russia in my life. Have you ever seen him raise a Russian flag like I raise the Irish flag with pride? I’ve never seen it once in my life. He is running from the bout in Moscow,” McGregor spewed.
“He can run and he does run. It is in the nature of the Dagestani man to run. Every great Russian knows this about the Dagestani men. Every Chechen knows this about the Dagestani men - they run and they cower.”
In full infallible hero mode, McGregor was able to relegate Khabib to villain status and an enemy of the people while setting the foundations to maneuver himself to usurp Khabib’s place as the golden boy of Russian sport.
Portraying himself as the saviour of sport to a nation of 150 million people would also pay dividends in the business sense. In the big bright lights of Moscow, his magnetic commercial presence and sharp business acumen has won fans in many different professional spheres and would be the perfect stage on which to build his whiskey brand.
Outside of young MMA fans attracted by the cocksure swagger and UFC belts, there are journalists, influencers and those from the fringes of the sports world present that admire his brand-building skills.
During McGregor’s meteoric rise through the UFC ranks, the likes of which had never been witnessed in professional MMA, his trusty catchphrase became the simple yet effective: “We’re not here to take part, we’re here to take over”, and that would ring especially true as regards a rematch with Khabib.
Who else can match Conor-Khabib II?
In his pre-fight media engagements, a notably more reserved McGregor listed everyone from Manny Pacquiao and Paulie Malignaggi to to Floyd Mayweather.
In the UFC, a swathe of fighter's are lining up to join McGregor's multi-million dollar fight club'. One is Justin Gaethje, who was touted as a possible opponent for the Irishman's UFC return, and also recently bettered of Cerrone by TKO.
Each of the American’s performances in the UFC have ended with fight bonuses, even in his two defeats under the organization against seasoned veterans Dustin Poirier and Eddie Alvarez, and all have ended by knockout or TKO, which would ensure an electric meeting should he clash with the ever-entertaining McGregor.
Gaethje holds a place over McGregor in the UFC’s lightweight rankings, but the American holds no belt and his hard to pronounce name hardly carries household status outside of MMA purists, which are the two main components for generating cash.
Also outlined in the McGregor manifesto at the Moscow presser was the owner of the ‘Baddest Motherfucker Belt’, which became Jorge Masvidal via a third-round doctor stoppage over fan favorite and former Mac foe Nate Diaz in November.
Masvidal has repeatedly claimed that dollar signs ping in his eyes at the thought of a lucrative showdown with McGregor, 'GameBred' and is ready to put his pursuit of welterweight champion Kamaru Usman on hold to get a shot at the UFC's cash cow.
“Usman’s always there the belt’s always gonna be there. The Conor fight won’t always be there, we don’t know. And that one happens to make the most money possible. We gotta take it,” the 35-year-old told RT Sport in Las Vegas.
Dana White has made his position on that fight clear and believes Conor is too small for a fly fledged career welterweight and would be aiming to keep the two apart.
White has already promised Conor will get rematch with Khabib if both come through their respective matches. UFC’s head honcho is clearly wanting to cash in on what he believes would become “the biggest pay-per-view ever in UFC history”.
“He gets what he’s been waiting for,” White answered when asked what comes next for McGregor. “He gets what he’s been asking for. He has been chomping at the bit for the Khabib rematch. I think it’s no big secret.
“If he wins this weekend, he will get that shot at the title and it will be the biggest pay-per-view ever in UFC history.”
It’s also not beyond the realms of possibility that Nate Diaz, who bowed out from the fight game after defeat to Masvidal, could be tempted back to complete an epic trilogy against McGregor, given that their last meeting at UFC 202 broke the record for the all-time pay per view buys.
All would be viable options but none would come close to the monetary gravity and still scathing fascination of a rematch with Khabib and the golden chance to outright hijack his home nation fans and tap into the Russian market in the process.
If McGregor wants his 'real life Rocky story' to be a box office success, he must dare to chase the eagle and make a sequel to his fight with Khabib Nurmagomedov.Also on rt.com 'Irish clown!' Russian TV forced to remove UFC 246 promo over Conor McGregor insults (VIDEO)