Even with the absence of the main event stars Khabib Nurmagomedov and Conor McGregor (who would meet just a short time later at a press conference), the official UFC 229 Media Day was jam-packed as if they were.
Journalists from every corner of the globe crowded the ballroom at Park MGM, pumping out coverage of what promises to be one of the biggest if not the biggest event in MMA history. For even the smallest of shows, these pros labor endless hours and days, plying their craft and bringing the stories of the sport we love to the masses. We spent a few minutes with some of these writers, commentators and correspondents to get their unique takes on the mayhem of a McGregor fight week, and how they anticipated it all playing out Saturday night.
Today at #UFC229 media day, we talked with some of the hardest working MMA journalists in the business and got their takes on fight week insanity and the massive event about to go down. Here's what they had to say: https://t.co/qsKrIjxI4S pic.twitter.com/t5tigI3CW1
— UFC News (@UFCNews) October 5, 2018
UFC: Where does UFC 229 fight week rank with other McGregor fight weeks you’ve been a part of?
John Morgan (MMAjunkie.com): Conor events are on a level all their own. The only thing you could possibly compare it to is Ronda Rousey or Brock Lesnar, but with Conor the international attention is even higher. It’s nuts. You can see how many people are in this room, and Conor is not even here right now. It’s pretty incredible.
Heidi Fang (Las Vegas Review-Journal): As far as McGregor is concerned it’s a little more low-key despite the rivalry. We’re not seeing the same trash talk levels we have in the past. For instance, if you look at the Nate Diaz buildup, that was huge. There were a few other fights, Aldo comes to mind, where he was really at the top of his trash talk game. But yesterday he had his son out [at the open workouts]; a bit more of a family feeling. It’s like he’s being playful and having fun with it, not trash talking and jabbing at every possible opportunity.
Aaron Bronsteter (TSN Sports): This is the biggest I’ve seen in terms of the UFC; I mean May/Mac was its own animal. But this is crazy, we’ve got a full room of media talking to just about everyone on the card. This is the most media I’ve seen at an event in a long time. It seems like it might be more than UFC 205.
My interviews with Tonya Evinger, Dominick Reyes and Yana Kunitskaya and @robinblackmma interviews with Anthony Pettis, Dan Hardy and Felice Herrig
Plus more to come soon...
— Aaron Bronsteter (@aaronbronsteter) October 4, 2018
Kevin Iole (Yahoo! Sports): This reminds me the most of the May/Mac fight; all the media that’s here, all the hype that’s going on. It’s different in that the Mayweather fight had been anticipated for so long. This fight was kind of a surprise. We weren’t sure if Conor ever was going to fight again. But once we got to fight week, maybe even the week before, it really has been over the top and you get that same feeling that this is going to be a massive event.
Dan Hardy (UFC Commentator & Analyst): It’s different. It’s a lot less “everyone for Conor.” It seems to be far more divided. Khabib has got a big fan base as well. Conor’s got a big fan base. They’re both going to be arriving into town, and I feel like then we’ll get a gauge of how the arena is going to sit. It’s far more 50/50 than it ever has been for a Conor fight.
UFC: Khabib is notoriously stoic and unflappable, but Conor is the master of trash talk. Have you seen any evidence that McGregor has gotten under the champ’s skin?
Bronsteter: This is my evidence that he did: at yesterday’s open workouts Khabib comes out, does his open workout, and then afterwards starts talking about McGregor’s background; his dad, the English and the Irish, etc. There’s no way Khabib would have ever touched on that if not for the original press conference where Conor had done a deep dive on all things Khabib outside of the Octagon. Just by virtue of that, seeing that Khabib went that way, it means to me that he thought “I need to do a little research of my own.” Whether or not that rattled him, I couldn’t tell you definitively. But clearly it had an influence on his preparation for this fight.
Hardy: I didn’t see that at all when Conor and Khabib were together [in NYC]. But at open workouts when Khabib was doing some ground and pound and the crowd starts to boo, he actually got a hold of the microphone, and that for me was the first time I’ve seen Khabib get a little bit emotional. It surprised me a bit.
Thank you so much to everyone that has watched and supported the #UFC229 #InsideTheOctagon - I can’t believe we are at almost 2 million views already! https://t.co/tfrnKgB8BS
— Dan Hardy (@danhardymma) October 2, 2018
Iole: I spent a lot of time with Khabib the other day and I don’t think that’s the case. He had a couple things he wanted to say just to make a point. I think if he was going to get upset, he would have got upset when Conor was handing him whiskey and insulting his father at the press conference. I thought he handled that pretty well. The fight is going to be what it is, not mind games. Nobody will get an edge that way.
Morgan: I thought Khabib handled himself pretty well at the New York press conference. When I saw open workouts, and Khabib took the opportunity to address the crowd and lay out his own scenario, I found that to be pretty interesting. If it really wasn’t getting to him at all, you’d think Khabib would say “I’m gonna do my workout. Thank you very much. Have a nice day.” But for him to actually take the time to address the people that were booing him, that were chanting Conor’s name, it makes you think that maybe there’s a little bit [of frustration]. And I caution, because Conor’s been able to get under nearly every opponent’s skin. It’s not just annoy them or promote, it causes them to fight outside of themselves. I remember Eddie Alvarez, I remember how great I thought he was handling himself going into [UFC 205], and at the Thursday press conference, you saw things shift. You saw things change. You saw him get upset. I think you’ve got to monitor this thing all the way to the end.
UFC: How do you see the main event going down tomorrow? Do you have a prediction?
Fang: That’s tough, I’ve been wavering with it all week as far as my prediction goes, but I’m leaning with Conor. I think the fight starts on the feet, and Khabib leaves a lot of holes in his striking game. Conor is too accurate to miss those opportunities, and I think he’s going to take full advantage when he sees the opening.
Bronsteter: I keep bouncing back and forth. When it was first announced, my thought was “Khabib is gonna win this fight. Nobody has been able to touch this guy.” But the more you watch McGregor, the more you watch his command of distance, the more you see how devastating his left hand can be, you see that there is a very good chance that he could catch Khabib. If you asked me to pick one or other, I’d pick Khabib. But it’s a coin toss.
Iole: I can make a case for both guys, but I pick Khabib, and the reason I did is because if he survives that early assault, Conor has a history of tiring. Khabib’s grappling is so pressure-filled that it really wears guys down. Grappling will always wear you down, but when you do it against the best in the world, it will really wear you down, so the longer Conor goes in the fight, the more if will favor Khabib.
Hardy: I’m so close to 50/50 on this. I’m leaning slightly towards Conor because the deficit in Conor’s ground game isn’t as big as the deficit in Khabib’s striking game. I feel like Conor’s ground game is underestimated, and the reason they question his ground game is because people have seen him struggle when he runs out of gas. I don’t think we’re going to see that at lightweight, as long as he’s controlling the pace of the fight. Ultimately it’s down to the range of the fight, it’s down to Conor stopping Khabib rushing forward and managing that distance so he can walk him into the left hand.
Morgan: [Sighs] Man, I have been saying all along I’m leaning towards Khabib in this. The wrestling he presents. The pace he presents. The fact he’s been fighting…Conor hasn’t had an MMA fight in 2 years. I’m leaning toward Khabib. That said, if that left hand lands, it changes everything. That’s what makes this fight so intriguing. Anyone that tells you they know exactly what is going to happen is lying to you, because one of two things is going to happen, and that’s why we have to tune in Saturday night to find out.
Steve Latrell, Gavin Porter & Zac Pacleb are writers and producers for UFC.com. You can follow them on Twitter @TheUFSteve, @PorterUFCnews and @ZacPacleb