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World Cup final 2018: Conor McGregor hails Russia president Vladimir Putin as ‘one of the greatest leaders of our time’

Jack de Menezes

The World Cup has certainly thrown up plenty of surprises in Russia after what has been a successful five weeks, yet no one would have expected the tournament to end with President Vladimir Putin posing with UFC star Conor McGregor.

Yet that’s exactly what happened inside the Luzhniki Stadium as the Irish fighter was pictured with the Russian president ahead of France’s thrilling 4-2 victory over Croatia, labelling him “one of the greatest leaders of our time”.

A day after turning 30, McGregor celebrated his birthday in Russia in the only way they know how, with the former two-weight UFC champion taking centre stage.

But after posting a video of himself and his entourage in Russia, McGregor bagged himself VIP seats inside the Luzhniki Stadium on behalf of President Putin to watch the biggest sporting event on the planet.

“Today I was invited to the World Cup final as a guest of Russian President Vladimir Putin,” McGregor wrote on Instagram.

“This man is one of the greatest leaders of our time and I was honoured to attend such a landmark event alongside him.

“Today was an honour for me Mr. Putin. Thank you and congratulations on an amazing World Cup.

“Россия вперёд! [Go Russia!]”

Putin meanwhile may have been busy hosting both Emmanuel Macron and Kolinda Grabar-Kitarovic, the French and Croatian presidents respectively, but he still found time to pose with McGregor in what was a collision of two unlikely powerhouses – albeit in very different circumstances.

Russia president Vladimir Putin poses for a picture with UFC star Conor McGregor (EPA)

It is unlikely to be the last time that McGregor graces Russian soil with speculation rife that he could return to the UFC in the near-future to fight Khabib Nurmagomedov in Moscow. The undefeated undisputed UFC lightweight champion is determined to fight McGregor, who has not been seen in action since losing a boxing match to Floyd Mayweather last year, and his return to the Octagon has been delayed by his arrest following an incident in New York last July – with his court case ongoing.

In an attempt to send a message to McGregor and the UFC, Nurmagomedov posted a video of him training on a dummy with the message: "UFC bring this guy, or give me the next one in line, lightweight division have to move. I’m ready."

It’s not known if McGregor will fight again, with the Irishman expecting his second child with partner Dee Devlin and earning an estimated $99m [£74.83].