It wasn’t what happened during the UFC 229 fight between Conor McGregor and Khabib Nurmagomedov that had people buzzing hours after Nurmagomedov defended his title, winning by fourth-round submission Saturday night. It’s what happened afterward, when Nurmagomedov plowed into the crowd and started a wild brawl.
The scene inside T-Mobile Arena was “unimaginable,” Mike Tyson tweeted and he would know.
“[I] never thought it would go down like this,” he wrote. “Crazier than my fight riot.”
At least no one’s ear was bitten off, but that’s about the best anyone could say after Nurmagomedov made McGregor tap with a rear naked chokehold, retaining his lightweight title and raising questions about what is next for both him and for McGregor, the sport’s biggest star.
Nurmagomedov left the arena with the champion’s belt, but the fallout from the post-fight ugliness figures to be costly. The bad blood between Nurmagomedov and McGregor dates back months, when Nurmagomedov confronted McGregor’s teammate Artem Lobov. That prompted McGregor’s attack on a bus carrying the Nurmagomedov and other UFC fighters at the Barclays Center in Brooklyn. The nastiness spilled over into last week’s pre-fight trash talk, which included insults about Nurmagomedov’s Dagestan homeland.
The brawl left UFC President Dana White “disgusted and sick” and vowing severe penalties, possibly stripping Nurmagomedov of his title. There were arrests, too, in the mayhem’s aftermath and White promised “these guys are in big trouble.”
Nurmagomedov’s $2 million paycheck was withheld by the Nevada State Athletic Commission pending an investigation. The commission reviewed video of the incident, interviewed McGregor and allowed him to be paid. The commission could fine Nurmagomedov or take away his title.
The incident began after McGregor tapped. Referee Herb Dean had to restrain Numagomedov, who then pointed to members of McGregor’s corner and threw his mouthpiece at them. He leaped from the Octagon and went after Dillon Danis, a Bellator welterweight who is McGregor’s jiu-jitsu coach and sparring partner.
The two camps then went at it, with security and police restraining participants from both sides. Two men who were believed to be part of Nurmagomedov’s team jumped into the Octagon, according to ESPN, and one struck McGregor in the back of the head twice before being restrained. According to White, three members of Nurmagomedov’s team were arrested and released, with White saying that McGregor did not plan to press charges.
Nurmagomedov later apologized, but pointed a finger at McGregor. “I know this is not my best side,” he told reporters, but McGregor “talked about my religion, he talked about my country. He talked about my father. He came to Brooklyn and he broke a bus. He almost killed a couple of people. What about this? What about this [expletive]? Why people talk about [how] I jumped over the cage? Why [do] people talk about this?”
McGregor left the arena without speaking to reporters, but issued a statement, calling for a rematch, just as he did after his loss to Nate Diaz.
“Good knock,” McGregor tersely tweeted. “Looking forward to the rematch.”
Will that happen? No doubt there is a ton of money to be made from another fight, if that’s what McGregor wants. The Irish fighter, who was making his first UFC appearance in nearly two years, also has indicated that he’d like to again face Floyd Mayweather Jr., to whom he lost in August 2017.
According to UFC statistics, McGregor (21-4) was taken down on three out of seven attempts Saturday night and struggled to get to his feet. Before the submission, Nurmagomedov (27-0) landed 70 significant strikes and 104 total strikes. McGregor landed 50 significant strikes and 96 overall.
Rematches can ratchet up the financial stakes, and the comments by Nurmagomedov bore the aroma of “rematch” at some point even if, as White pointed out, it is unclear whether Nurmagomedov would be granted a visa to return to the U.S.
“Another historical night,” McGregor’s coach, John Kavanagh, tweeted. “Amazing atmosphere, technical fight with excitement all the way thru. All that makes MMA a great sport. Shame about the ending. On to the next one.”
But will that include Nurmagomedov?
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