Conor McGregor’s two-year hiatus from the UFC will end Oct. 6 when the electric Irishman will meet unbeaten Russian Khabib Nurmagomedov for the lightweight belt, UFC President Dana White announced Friday.
McGregor, who once held two titles in the UFC, led a band of associates into Barclays Center in Brooklyn in April and vandalized a bus occupied by Nurmagomedov and other UFC fighters.
The incident resulted in two felony charges against McGregor, who ultimately pleaded guilty to a disorderly conduct count last month that kept him out of jail.
Nurmagomedov (26-0) proceeded to overwhelm Al Iaquinta in Brooklyn to capture the lightweight belt that the UFC had stripped from McGregor.
In a video interview this week, the San Jose-based Nurmagomedov touted his belt and his dominance in pushing the UFC to properly pay him in accordance with McGregor, the organization’s leading draw.
“If it’s a money fight, pay me the money,” Nurmagomedov said.
McGregor has posted several photos on social media this week hyping his physical fitness in advance of the announcement, which neither fighter attended.
McGregor (21-3) rose to prominence by first knocking out reigning featherweight champion Jose Aldo in a record 13 seconds in 2015, then becoming the first to hold two belts in November 2016 by knocking out lightweight champion Eddie Alvarez in the second round at Madison Square Garden.
McGregor never defended either belt. After he took a break to attend the birth of his son last year, he participated in a boxing match against Floyd Mayweather Jr. and earned a reported $100 million while losing by 10th-round technical knockout.
The announcement at Orpheum Theater in downtown Los Angeles — made via a pre-produced video that included footage of the Barclays Center incident — was made at a UFC seasonal news conference to reveal fight cards running through the end of the year.
Those include a Sept. 8 pay-per-view card in Dallas headlined by the Tyron Woodley-Darren Till welterweight title fight and a Dec. 29 card in Las Vegas likely to feature a fight between women’s champions Cris Cyborg and Amanda Nunes, although negotiations continue.
There’s also a compelling Nov. 3 co-main event bout at Madison Square Garden between McGregor’s heated lightweight rival Nate Diaz and gritty Dustin Poirier, who has claimed three fight-of-the-night bonuses and one performance-of-the-night bonus in his last four bouts.
“It’s time to roll,” Diaz said following his own two-year absence. He blamed an unspecified lawsuit as a reason he was gone from the UFC for so long. “I don’t know why nobody told you guys that.”
Added Poirier: “We’re going to show up, I promise you that. This is going to be one of the greatest fights you’ve ever seen.”
White, who’s experienced frustrating talks with Diaz and his brother, Nick, for more than a decade, said, “Stylistically, it’s an incredible fight. It’s good to have Nate back.”
Before it was official that McGregor would fight Nurmagomedov in October at T-Mobile Arena, Diaz said he didn’t view his fight with Poirier as a semifinal to set up a possible trilogy bout with the Irishman after they each won a fight in two 2016 battles.
“This is a championship fight right here … I already won that one twice,” Diaz said before storming off the stage as the McGregor-Nurmagomedov presentation was aired.
Diaz told reporters outside he was upset at being “under-promoted,” and needs to be “over-promoted” before his fight against Poirier.