LAS VEGAS • Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) president Dana White was not certain tonight's headliner between Conor McGregor and Khabib Nurmagomedov would ever happen.
At times, he was pretty confident it would not. After all, McGregor had struck it rich. As the mixed martial arts promotion's biggest star and the most recognisable name in combat sports, McGregor was routinely earning millions.
The last time he entered the octagon - a second-round knockout of Eddie Alvarez in November 2016 - he raked in a guaranteed US$3 million (S$4.1 million).
When he crossed over into boxing for a mega fight with Floyd Mayweather last summer, he banked an eight-figure cheque.
So the mere sight of the sport's biggest attraction once again sitting on the dais brought a smile to White's face on Thursday.
"No matter how much you make, you can only sit at home for so long and you start to go crazy," he said.
The Irishman did not just sit at home, though. And he did go crazy. He made an unexpected appearance at a media day to promote UFC 223 in April, and proceeded to throw a hand truck at a bus transporting many of his fellow fighters, including Nurmagomedov.
The dolly was actually aimed at the Russian, whom McGregor will meet at UFC 229 at the T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas.
Nurmagomedov had been in an earlier dust-up with McGregor's friend, Artem Lobov, sending him into a rage. That incident has since been used as a promotional vehicle to hype up the showdown.
White projects the event could surpass three million pay-per-view buys, which would double the previous mark, which McGregor also set with his rematch victory over Nate Diaz in 2016.
With all the bad blood swirling between both camps, and a tantalising match-up, maybe White's prediction will prove right.
McGregor is actually the underdog this time, with bookmakers like Bovada pegging his undefeated opponent as a slight favourite at minus-160 to McGregor's plus-130.
Nurmagomedov matches up well with McGregor, who excels on his feet, as a skilled wrestler who finds ways to score repeated takedowns.
The Irishman must contend with a two-year layoff from MMA, and a determined Nurmagomedov, who is looking to etch his name in lore.
"Beginning of first round, I have to be careful with him because he has good boxing but my wrestling is my pressure," lightweight champion Nurmagomedov said on Thursday at the final press conference.
"This is more than about defending my title, more than a main event. For me, it's personal. He has to kill me to stop me."
And that was the nature of McGregor's threats, who vowed to "knock that man's nose into the nose bleeds".
"I do not give a f***. I'm ruthless. My heart is black towards this man, his team, his people. I am coming to put a hole into this man's skull and dig my knuckle into his orbital bone," he said to cheers from the largely partisan crowd.
"There will never be peace. I'm going to aim right between that man's eyes. I'm going to knock him clean out. Once I hit him, he is going to turn weak. I expect panic early."
While Nurmagomedov possesses the superior grappling ability, and McGregor has tapped out before, to Diaz, he has a game plan in place.
"I've been grappling and wrestling much heavier men this whole camp, 25 minutes straight. I am ready for all outcomes. This is what I love," he added.
AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE, THE GUARDIAN
UFC 229: KHABIB V MCGREGOR
Singtel TV Ch114 & StarHub Ch208, tomorrow, 10am
2.21 Knockdowns per 15 minutes, the fourth-highest in UFC history.
"The Notorious" is arguably the best stand-up fighter in the Ultimate Fighting Championship with 18 knockouts and even Nurmagomedov's coach Javier Mendez has acknowledged his prowess at striking.
Ring rust: It can be a factor as McGregor has been out of the UFC cage for almost two years while his opponent last fought in April.
Cardio: McGregor's stamina has long been questioned by his critics as he's known to slow down and appear gassed out in later rounds, as shown by his submission loss to Nate Diaz.
SPECIALIST ON THE MAT
5.44 Takedowns per 15 minutes, the highest in the lightweight division.
"The Eagle" is considered the most dangerous fighter on the ground in the lightweight division, with eight wins coming by way of submission. He is unbeaten for a reason, and is one of MMA's best takedown specialists, preferring a ground-and-pound approach.
Slow starter: Taking time to warm up could be a dangerous strategy against McGregor, who is explosive in the opening exchanges. His striking is also not on the same level, and he often prefers to grapple.
Defence: The Russian has shown problems with closing the distance, notably getting caught several times in the Michael Johnson fight.