Khabib Nurmagomedov hated all of it.
The grappling-heavy fight style. The ties to a dictator. The sleazy manager.
Conor McGregor hated all of that.
And so last week's UFC 229 press conference, the first face-to-face meeting of lightweight champion Nurmagomedov and challenger-who-never-technically-lost-his-belt McGregor, encapsulated everything that makes their battle interesting.
It is the ultimate study of contrasts. A clash of lifestyles, combat styles and cultures. The martial yin and yang meeting to determine the king of a sport.
The bout is a modern-day battle between men who could not possibly be more different.
It's Rocky-Drago, Flair-Dusty, Tyson-Lewis or Jones-Cormier.
[NSFW language in tweet below]
It's a fight where the two men not only carry different approaches to combat, but different approaches to existing on this planet. It represents so much more than who can punch whom the hardest—it almost has a seismic, cultural quality that makes it bigger than MMA itself.
Anyone who has watched McGregor lord over the UFC or watched Nurmagomedov blister his way to the top of the rankings understands that.
They understand that the meshing of styles here—where McGregor's studied hands will test Nurmagomedov's rudimentary entries into range and Nurmagomedov's ragdoll wrestling will test McGregor's ability to stay on his feet—will create one of the most compelling bouts in MMA history.
They understand that the presser revealed the depths to which the differences go with these men, with McGregor's sharp tongue and sharper dress contrasted against the brooding quiet of Nurmagomedov in a plain black crew neck.
McGregor, for his flaws, has proved to be a man of action. He shows up for fights when he signs on the dotted lines, he puts his heart and soul into promoting them and he gets people invested in his ventures for better or worse.
JE Snowden @JESnowden
Conor McGregor offered a treatise on the history of the Gaelic + Avar peoples, discussed linguistics, provided a crash course in modern Russian politics and shattered Khabib's manager in his down time MMA Fans: "Same old Conor." What more can this man possibly do promotionally? https://t.co/5SaQO89sEL
Nurmagomedov, often tucked away on the other side of the world and only occasionally emerging into public for training camps in the U.S., is a complicated athlete to understand. He's a devout Muslim and defines his life through that lens, but he's been tied to unsavory political characters and has mockingly posted Instagram videos that would not have looked out of place on a Bum Fights DVD fifteen years ago.
It's fascinating to see these two engage in a war of words ahead of their fight because it all ties together on some meta level. Beyond being one of the most intriguing fights in UFC history, the men involved tie to one another with just as much intrigue.
On fight night, once whatever lead-up there is has finally come to a close—and based on the limited presence the event has had so far, it's not hard to imagine there only being a fight-week presser and the weigh-ins to get this thing over the promotional finish line—there is honestly no telling what might happen when the cage door closes.
Does McGregor land that vaunted left hand and lay Nurmagomedov flat on his back, toes curled and belt swiftly removed from his waist?
Or does Nurmagmedov take McGregor down over and over again, beating on him until he breaks and loses his grip on consciousness or surrenders his neck or a limb in hopes of finding a way out?
It's impossible to say.
What is not impossible to say, though, is that these two men contrast more strongly than any two opponents in the history of the UFC.
We've seen it already, and we'll only see more of it as this feud draws to its conclusion.