Neither Man Innocent in UFC 229 Aftermath

Conor McGregor UFC
Conor McGregor. Credit: Mike Sloan/

Neither Khabib Nurmagomedov nor Conor McGregor had the moral high ground when the dust settled after UFC 229.

As brilliantly put by Brett Okamoto, “There is even a case to be made that, at times, some ugliness can make a fight more compelling.”  That was certainly the selling point on Saturday night at UFC 229.  Conor McGregor, MMA’s biggest star, came back to face lightweight champion Khabib Nurmagomedov after having incited violence and assaulting a bus full of fighters in April.  But following the actions of Khabib Nurmagomedov and company following the fight, the end result were two men who stooped to low levels on the sport’s biggest stage.

Seconds after submitting McGregor to retain the lightweight championship, Nurmagomedov leapt out of the cage to engage with McGregor’s teammate, Bellator middleweight Dillon Danis, who was visibly jeering Nurmagomedov following the bout.  The incident caused commotion, with Nurmagomedov and Danis exchanging and staff attempting to separate the two in the midst of a packed T-Mobile Arena floor.

At the same time, footage shows McGregor moving to join the fray before security stopped him from jumping over the cage.  On top of the fence, one of Nurmagomedov’s teammates also attempted to join the champion but McGregor threw a punch that incited another brawl inside the cage.  That individual was restrained.  As McGregor appeared to settle down, Nurmagomedov teammate Islam Makhachev is seen in a black shirt rushing McGregor and the Irishman subsequently defending himself.  As Makhachev was being restrained, Zubaira Tukhugov is seen in a red shirt leaping over the cage and sucker-punching McGregor as more individuals invaded the cage to separate the fighters and control the situation.

When it was all said and done, all parties were escorted out of the arena by several guards and Dana White instructed Nurmagomedov to leave the cage without presenting him the championship belt nor allowing him to remain as Bruce Buffer announced the official decision.

Following the fight, Nurmagomedov apologized to the Nevada athletic commission for the way he conducted himself as well as stating that his family would be disappointed with him when he returned home.  However, he left without fielding questions from the media and instead asked why the media was condemning his actions yet allowing McGregor to talk about his family, country, and religion.

In the end, the truth is that both men crossed lines between that infamous day in April and Saturday night.  As much as the UFC pushed the narrative of McGregor defending Artem Lobov, the Irishman was already expected to be in Brooklyn that week.  Whether it was personal or an attempt at marketing gone horribly wrong, McGregor stormed the bus containing Nurmagomedov, Michael Chiesa, Ray Borg, and Rose Namajunas.  He threw a handcart at the bus that broke a window and caused harm to several individuals within.  He was the reason several fighters were unable to compete at UFC 223.  While he has settled his case with the state of New York, he still faces a date in civil court for those actions.

At the press conference in September, McGregor dominated the show with a slew of personal attacks.  He spoke disparagingly of Nurmagomedov’s father.  He taunted Nurmagomedov’s religion, mockingly using his greeting in Hebrew and offering him a sip of his whiskey despite the knowledge that as a Muslim he did not consume alcohol.  McGregor even went as far as attacking Nurmagomedov’s manager Ali Abdelaziz, calling him a terrorist and invoking the name of his son whom he had not been paying child support for.

Throughout it all, Nurmagomedov took the moral high ground.  He was not the one who attacked a bus while surrounded by his people.  During fight week, he was the one who showed up on time to the press conference.  Then on fight night, he was the one who handled business and defeated McGregor man-to-man.

Seconds later, that pedestal crumbled ground.  He appeared every bit the individual that he condoned McGregor for being, leaping out of the cage to continue a battle he had already won while causing a commotion that risked the safety of the crowd.  Inside the cage, Nurmagomedov’s teammates and McGregor only escalated the situation rather than help things arrive at a conclusion.

But that was the point wasn’t it?  Both men said their grudge would not be over when the fight was over.  It was personal, and it was personal because of what McGregor chose to say leading up to the fight.  It was personal because Nurmagomedov chose to confront Artem and McGregor chose to retaliate in his defense.  It made for the biggest event of the year.  The UFC ended with two stars, now both divisive and lightening rods of attention for what they may do next.

There will be no stripping of Khabib Nurmagomedov following Saturday’s event.  Nick Diaz and Jason Miller incited a similar event following a Strikeforce event in 2010 that aired on CBS.  Both men went on to continue their careers, even getting a shot at the UFC title and a coaching stint on The Ultimate Fighter respectively.  Conor McGregor resumed his fighting career four months after the incident in Brooklyn.  To think that there will be long-term consequences for Nurmagomedov following this indiscretion would be folly.

What should be discussed is where the UFC should go from here in terms of delivering consequences.  Because if fighters will continue to make things personal, how can you ever expect them to treat it like business?