Conor McGregor's latest press conference was like the weirdest history lesson ever
I think we can say we all learned a lot from the UFC 229 press conference.
Not about like... fighting or anything. More so about other things. Things like Chechnya, and the history of the McGregor clan.
We learned that the level of research that Conor McGregor puts into his opponents, and his opponents' families, and their crew, and... their crew's estranged children, is bizarre.
At the end of the face-off, some noticed that he called Khabib's manager, Ali Abdelaziz a "mad terrorist snitch". Which, as far as statements go, is going to be wildly inappropriate maybe 99.999% of the time. But the guy actually worked as an informant on terrorist cells at the NYPD.
It's covered in detail in a book from 2002 called Enemies Within: Inside the NYPD’s Secret Spying Unit and Bin Laden’s Final Plot Against America by Matt Apuzzo and Adam Goldman. McGregor also started bringing up the name "Noah" while shouting at Abdelaziz — that's Abdelaziz's son whom he apparently left behind to become an informant.
So that was a lot to take on. Did McGregor read that whole book?
Okay, maybe not. It's not that crazy for Conor McGregor to know this. Abdelaziz is an important figure in MMA and he manages several UFC talents, including one of the biggest names in Khabib, McGregor's next opponent.
Much more startling was McGregor's extremely keen knowledge of Russian ethno-politics, and his readiness, nay, his impatience, to show it off.
McGregor delved into the fraught politics of Chechnya, a territory in the Caucasus region of Russia that borders Khabib's native Dagestan to the east. Fights between both populations along that border are not infrequent.
It was the 1999 invasion of Dagestan that actually prompted the Second Chechen War. McGregor made many references to Chechnya and his Chechen friends throughout the press conference, most notably, accusing Khabib's father of cowardice in front of Chechen ruler Ramzan Kadyrov.
"The Chechen people know what I am talking about when I called his father a quivering coward," McGregor said.
"Him and Kadyrov were at a mosque together and he posted a picture of Kadyrov on his Instagram site."
At this point, Conor broke stride to explain that "Kadyrov is the Chechen dictator, a crazy man, don't get me wrong," but went on to say that Khabib's father shared a photo with a Chechen leader with a caption that said: "Together we are strong."
"It's such fake respect, out of fear," said McGregor. Kadyrov has been accused of many atrocities, including the execution of Chechnya's gay population.
The complicated relationship between Dagestan and Chechnya is not the kind of casual knowledge you pick from occasionally reading a newspaper in 2018. You have to actively learn this stuff. And McGregor has. For some reason. You'd think he'd be able to trash talk and promote his whiskey without exploring the geopolitical climate of the Caucasus but... I guess he just wants to.
McGregor also played the Putin card when Khabib was asked if he was jealous of McGregor's photo with the Russian premiere, taken at the World Cup final. Diplomatically, Khabib said, "I never want to take picture with someone, it doesn't matter if it's a president—" which prompted McGregor to interrupt and ask if Khabib was "disrespecting" President Putin.
Russia fought a war in Dagestan in 1999 against an Islamic separatist movement — made up primarily of Avars, people of the same ethnicity as Khabib. Vladimir Putin became Prime Minister a week after the war began, and later that year became President, in large part due to his approach to Chechnya and Dagestan. He still holds that position today.
And Conor McGregor, for some reason, appears to be aware of all of this. Were you aware of this? Be really honest. Because I have no problem admitting that I had to check my facts.
Seriously, last night, the amount of time spent talking about Russian civil wars from the '90s and early 2000s compared to the amount of time spent talking about fighting was pretty much even.
And yet, for all the background research he does, not one of his opponents has ever paid him back in kind until Khabib. The low point probably came when Conor McGregor referred to his opponent Nate Diaz as a wounded gazelle, which prompted Diaz to say: "Nobody knows what a gazelle is anyway."
But that all changed last night. When McGregor was boasting about his family having fought off the English, Khabib hit back by asking, if the Irish beat the English, what are we speaking English for?
Sure, it misses a lot of the nuance that a conversation about the preservation of the Irish language demands, but it was a salient issue to raise. Not enough of us do speak the Irish language and if we're so proud of our independence, hey, maybe that should involve a little more devotion to what is perhaps the core factor that separates us from the rest of the world.
But then you get into a debate about how Irish is taught in schools and whether or not it's a systemic failure from the top down. Fortunately, there are more than two weeks to go until the fight, with plenty more promo to do, so hopefully we'll get Khabib's thoughts on that too.
Similarly, Khabib took the step of correcting a journalist who greeted him with the traditional Muslim greeting "As-salāmu ʿalaykum" before congratulating McGregor on the release of his new whiskey, Proper No. 12: "You cannot say As-salāmu ʿalaykum and then congrats about whiskey."
McGregor's obsession with the nationalities and ethnicities of his opponents is an ugly one. Between Jose Aldo, Floyd Mayweather, Dennis Siver and now Khabib, McGregor has targeted many of his high-profile opponents on the basis of their ethnicities.
In amongst all the political cross-talk, McGregor called Khabib "a backwards cunt" for not drinking alcohol (Khabib is Muslim), said that Dagestani people have "chicken jaws" and made fun of Khabib's accent.
It's a real shame Conor McGregor won't use his influence for good. If he did, we'd probably all learn a lot.