Khabib Nurmagomedov won the battle, and lost the war in a childless and classes act of stupidity at UFC 229.
It would be perfectly easy, nearly expected, to given the final showdown at UFC 229 a lengthy introduction. A thousand words or more, and you would barely scratch the surface of all that led up to the main event between Conor McGregor and Khabib Nurmagomedov. How we got here is without question an interesting tale, and some day, we’ll likely get a theatrical retelling, and at least a thorough documentary, of all things McGregor (yes, the Irish star already had a documentary about him, but given his story still isn’t finished, that seems a bit premature).
In any case, unless you’ve been living under a rock, or simply aren’t a combat sports fan (so then, why are you reading this?), you know about the bus attack. You know about Khabib Nurmagomedov, who became UFC lightweight champion in McGregor’s absence, long ago calling out the UFC’s “chicken.” You know that McGregor cut to the bone in the build-up to UFC 229, bringing up Khabib’s father kowtowing to Chechen dictator Ramzan Kadryov, and lambasting the champ’s manager Ali Abdelaziz for his shady background and terrorist ties.
That’s a whole lot of context for a fist fight in a cage. On Saturday, however, the fight was finally upon us. There are moments in sporting history where everyone stops. Your glass is put down. The chatter is paused. The main event at UFC 229 was one of those.
McGregor was looking to reclaim not his throne, but his title. His throne, as King of the UFC, he never lost, still the promotion’s biggest draw despite holding no belts and having been absent from MMA for two years.
McGregor went on the attack early, landing his first punch. Khabib shot wild, grabbing an ankle, working up to a leg. McGregor displayed impressive takedown defense, spinning around, but Khabib finally completed as McGregor scooted back to the fence. Nurmagomedov, however, struggled to improve position, though he complained of McGregor holding his shorts. Still, the champion maintained top control, moving to half guard, and riding out most of the first round on top, despite struggling to do any damage.
Conor fired a knee early in the second, but Khabib dropped him with a right hand! McGregor avoided the follow-up, and threw a knee, but the complexion of the fight was changed! Khabib stormed in for a takedown, and unlike the first round, he progressed to mount quickly. McGregor forced him back to guard, but could not escape. Ground n’ pound followed. Vicious ground n’ pound. McGregor covered up. Ate more and more shots. Khabib worked for a kimura. McGregor looked exhausted. Yet he defended. Stood up. A moral victory if little else. Nurmagomedov stayed on him to the bell.
Round three saw McGregor moving in, landing once, twice. McGregor went to the body. Khabib backed off. Nurmagomedov shot in, Conor stuffed it. Landed an elbow, but Khabib landed a right. The pair then traded, with Khabib egging McGregor on. The champ tried to set up a takedown with a big swing. Missed, and McGregor fired back. Khabib tried for a trip, but McGregor didn’t fully go down, and continued to fight off the takedown attempt for the remainder of the round.
In the championship rounds, McGregor needed to turn things up. He landed early. Fired off a push kick. But Nurmagoemdov stormed back in for another takedown, and this time, McGregor gave up the back. Nearly anyway, as McGregor transitioned, but that allowed Nurmagomedov to get on top. McGregor held his hands out a moment, looking for a standup, but Herb Dean allowed the action to continue. Nurmagomedov, however, would take the back again, and sink in a rear-naked choke, earning a submission win.
Celebration was short lived. Nurmagomedov, in one of the most classless acts in MMA history, stormed over to McGregor’s corner, screaming at his team. He then jumped into the crowd, and began brawling with McGregor’s teammate Dillon Danis. Khabib’s team and entourage then entered the cage and sucker-punched McGregor from behind. Dozens of UFC staff and security worked to break up the melee.
Dana White later refused to put the belt on the champion, out of fear that the crowd would throw things into the cage in disgust. Khabib Nurmagomedov may have defended the lightweight championship at UFC 229, but he was anything but a champion. A heavy suspension, at the very least, is in order. Stripping Nurmagomedov would not be out of the question, and Dana White later refused to take that option off the table at the UFC 229 post-fight press conference.
Khabib Nurmagomedov def. Conor McGregor by submission (neck crank), Round 4, 3:03