Las Vegas—Conor McGregor makes a long-awaited return to the mixed martial arts octagon on Saturday, facing off against unbeaten lightweight champion Khabib Nurmagomedov in a money-spinning grudge match tipped to break pay-per-view records.
Trash-talking Irish star McGregor was one of the highest earners in the sporting world in 2017 after pocketing around $100 million from his cross-combat boxing bout against Floyd Mayweather, which ended in defeat.
Now the 30-year-old former UFC champion is set for another hefty payday when he faces Nurmagomedov at the T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas on Saturday in what will be his first MMA bout since November 2016.
Bookmakers have installed Nurmagomedov as favorite to retain his UFC crown, pointing to the Russian’s formidable record.
Nurmagomedov has won all 26 of his fights, and so far in his career has not lost a single round.
Taking on the powerful champion from Dagestan in his comeback fight represents a colossal gamble by McGregor.
But the drumbeat for a showdown between the outspoken former plumber from Dublin and Nurmagomedov intensified earlier this year when McGregor was at the centre of a extraordinary melee in New York in April.
McGregor and his entourage reportedly sought to confront Nurmagomedov following a press conference at the Barclays Center, claiming the Russian had intimidated one of the Irish fighter’s friends, Artem Lobov.
McGregor was filmed hurling a dolly through a window of a bus carrying Nurmagomedov and other fighters as it moved through a loading dock at the venue.
The former champion was later given five days community service and ordered to undergo treatment for anger management.
With that violent encounter offering UFC chiefs a built-in marketing campaign, it was only a matter of time before a fight between McGregor and Nurmagomedov was inked.