Khabib Nurmagomedov took the high road at every turn leading up to the biggest fight of his career against Conor McGregor at UFC 229. However, after the deed was done and McGregor was stricken with defeat, that road violently collapsed, sending Nurmagomedov crashing into a crowd of bystanders like a loose wrecking ball.
All hell broke loose at the T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas—from the arena floor to the hallways—with Nurmagomedov leading the charge of an all-out brawl between fight teams. The pre-fight banter that laid the foundation for the proposed biggest fight in MMA history culminated into a truly embarrassing and disappointing night for the sport.
— Shaheen Al-Shatti (@shaunalshatti) October 7, 2018
According to UFC President Dana White, during the post-fight press conference, Nevada Governor Brian Sandoval, who was in attendance at the event, had to be escorted to safety during the skirmish. On a night when the world was watching, street fights were breaking out inside and outside the Octagon. McGregor was even on the receiving end of several punches thrown after the fight by alleged members of Nurmagomedov’s entourage.
Make no mistake, there were no winners in the UFC 229 main event.
Nurmagomedov hastily chose vengeance over a rare opportunity to stake his claim as the best pound-for-pound fighter in the world. Now, he faces possible repercussions from the Nevada Athletic Commission that could ruin everything he’s worked for as a fighter. There is a chance he is stripped of the lightweight title and suspended long-term, and that might even be a positive compared to the possibility of losing his visa to fight in the states.
There is no question McGregor crossed uncomfortable lines with his bombastic talk at the pre-fight press conference, but it still doesn’t excuse Nurmagomedov’s actions after the fight.
Athletes from all sports say disparaging things about one another, and the recipients of those comments are typically expected to bottle those emotions with no opportunity to physically act on them. Nurmagomedov, on the other hand, was given license for 25 minutes, if needed, to physically assault McGregor. He pummeled, bloodied and dominated the Irishman in every way possible in a fist fight, and it still wasn’t enough.
The consequences for those actions had a direct effect on not only Nurmagomedov but quite possibly his teammates as well, if any of the ones directly involved were UFC fighters.
“The guys who jumped in will never fight here,” White said. “They’ll never fight here.”
Nurmagomedov faces a completely different set of circumstances than McGregor following the infamous bus incident back in April, when McGregor threw a steel dolly through a window.
McGregor wasn’t licensed by the New York State Athletic Commission at the time of the incident, which occurred at the Barclays Center in Brooklyn ahead of UFC 223. The entire incident was essentially placed in the hands of the legal system, and he was ultimately slapped with a misdemeanor after facing felony charges and possible jail time.
Nurmagomedov was a licensed participant involved in a physical altercation during a live event, which is far less likely to receive the backseat treatment from the commission.
The UFC loses in this situation because one of the most ambitious events ever assembled now has a dark cloud hanging over it. It was such a volatile situation that White couldn’t even put the belt around Nurmagomedov’s waist without fear of inciting a riot. During Nurmagomedov’s long walk back to the locker rooms, boos and trash rained upon a once-in-a-generation talent that would have otherwise been celebrated.
— FOX Sports: UFC (@UFCONFOX) October 7, 2018
As for the fans, they could potentially miss out on a rematch or robbed of the possibility of seeing Nurmagomedov defend his title against other intriguing lightweight contenders like Tony Ferguson, Dustin Poirier and Nate Diaz.
UFC 229 could have reset the bar for the betterment of all MMA.
It was the night where UFC up-and-comers like Dominick Reyes and Aspen Ladd had their coming out parties; the night where Michelle Waterson reminded the world why she is one of the women’s flyweight division’s top contenders; the night where heavyweight phenom Derrick Lewis gave the greatest post-fight interview in combat sports history and the night when Ferguson and Anthony Pettis put on a Fight of the Year performance.
It should have ended with Nurmagomedov’s crowning moment in the cage after besting the biggest star in MMA history. An event filled with so much promise is now marred with controversy. Conor McGregor sold the fight, Khabib Nurmagomedov got even and we all lost in the end.
This article first appeared on BJPENN.COM on 10/8/2018.