UFC officials have beefed up security in anticipation of Thursday’s UFC 229 news conference featuring main-event combatants Conor McGregor and lightweight champion Khabib Nurmagomedov.
Following a blistering verbal attack by Ireland’s McGregor of Russia’s Nurmagomedov at a September news conference at New York’s Radio City Music Hall that was staged without an audience, an estimated 2,500 fans are expected at the Park Theater for the late-afternoon event.
The tension between the fighters exploded in April when McGregor, after boarding a flight from Europe to defend a stablemate who had a confrontation with Nurmagomedov, charged into Brooklyn’s Barclays Center with a band of associates and threw a hand truck at a bus carrying Nurmagomedov, earning a night in jail and felony charges ultimately settled without further incarceration.
How that vitriol will inflate with a roaring crowd urging matters on has prompted the UFC to retain at least 75 combined members of the Las Vegas Metropolitan Police Department, a specialist strike force, a security team from the Park MGM casino, as well as the organization’s own security staff.
“There have been no promises from Conor,” one official charged with the security detail said Thursday morning, referring to McGregor’s expected confrontational behavior.
The official implied Nurmagomedov will keep his cool.
“Khabib – we know,” the official said.
During the press conference, former lightweight champ McGregor and current belt holder Nurmagomedov will sit across the stage from each other, separated by UFC President Dana White at the podium.
The wild card is the 2,500 fans, many having traveled from McGregor’s native Ireland.
At a similar event in 2016, McGregor was involved in a violent skirmish with water-bottle-throwing UFC 202 opponent Nate Diaz, which resulted in McGregor answering by hurling loaded aluminum cans and being fined $150,000 by the Nevada Athletic Commission.
The bus attack at the Barclays Center in Brooklyn also took place at the UFC’s public, pre-event Thursday media conference.
“When we do stuff like this today, I’ve got to make sure that nobody touches each other or shows any signs of disrespect because then you want to retaliate, so I will do the best I can to make sure nobody touches each other the next two days,” White said. “They can touch all they want on Saturday.”
McGregor, as is his habit, has turned up the mental warfare on Nurmagomedov with a series of personal attacks, including insults about his heritage, his religious beliefs and his relationship with Russian president Vladimir Putin. Nurmagomedov also has done research, using a public event on Wednesday to effectively question McGregor’s Irishness, pointing out that his grandfather fought in the British navy.
“It is the least of my concerns. We have done tons of events where guys don’t like each other,” White said. “What happens is when guys have the animosity these two have, no matter who it is, by the time it is over there is a mutual respect once you’ve gone in there and battled.”