Written by Anthony Mahon
UFC 229 was supposed to be the biggest night in the mixed martial arts organization’s near 25-year history. While “biggest night in history” is usually a hyperbole-based marketing tool, the UFC more than backed it up. The main event of the card saw 26-0 UFC Lightweight Champion Khabib Nurmagomedov defend against former Lightweight and Featherweight Champion Conor McGregor.
Considering the box-office appeal of Conor McGregor, the fight was bound to be talked about regardless of the outcome. However, with championship aspirations and the possibility of the longest streak in professional mixed martial arts history coming to an end, all eyes were on the UFC. What followed the hype was absolute madness.
McGregor has built his reputation on the Muhammad Ali-esque tactic of promoting his fights through trash talk. While his method has helped turn him into the biggest draw in UFC history, it also created a storm of problems when he made ominous threats towards Khabib, his team and his family during a UFC 229 press conference.
“If you pull out of this fight, I’m gonna love what happens to you, your family and your team even more on your own soil,” said McGregor prior to the fight.
When it was time for the fight itself, McGregor was thoroughly dominated in his first fight in nearly two years. After being repeatedly pummeled on the ground while Khabib simultaneously shouted, “Let’s talk”, McGregor tapped out to a rear-naked choke in the fourth round. Had the night ended there, the story would’ve been about Khabib defeating the biggest name in martial arts. Everyone would’ve been talking about how Khabib retained his title and extended his already impressive winning streak to 27. The main question on everybody’s mind at the end of the night should’ve been, “Who can stop Khabib Nurmagomedov?” Apparently himself.
Khabib—unsatisfied with merely winning the contest—began jaw-jacking at Conor, having to be restrained by referee, Herb Dean. To make matters worse, Khabib hopped over the octagon cage to jump full-force at McGregor’s corner team, inciting a wild pull-apart brawl. As hell was breaking loose via Khabib’s diving foot-stomp at cageside, Khabib’s corner team entered the cage to rush at McGregor.
For Khabib’s safety—and likely everyone else’s—Dana White skipped the post-fight ceremony of putting the Lightweight title around his waist. Khabib and McGregor were both escorted out by security, ending UFC’s night of glory with a WTF-moment-of-the-year candidate.
In the aftermath, all three members of Khabib’s corner team who jumped McGregor were arrested. Although McGregor refused to press charges, UFC President Dana White confirmed that the three aspiring professional mixed martial artists would never fight in the UFC. The Lightweight champ, Khabib’s $2 million that he earned for his fight is currently being withheld by the Nevada Athletic Commission and a massive fine is expected for both he and McGregor. A suspension is also likely which—depending on the severity—may force Khabib to relinquish the UFC Lightweight Championship.
Due to the absolute madness of UFC 229’s events, people may feel a sense of sympathy for the organization having to deal with a massive PR-disaster on a night that yielded over 2 million pay-per-view buys. However, a deeper look into the UFC’s history of giving slaps on the wrist to fighters who can draw them a lot of quick money shows one thing: This is the UFC’s fault.
Following a media event to promote UFC 223 back in April, chaos ensued in the Barclays Center when McGregor threw multiple objects at a bus filled with MMA personnel. McGregor—reportedly on the hunt for Khabib after a confrontation with one of the Irishman’s teammates—broke the bus’ glass windows. Michael Chiesa and Ray Borg—both set to compete at UFC 223—had to pull out of their fights due to injuries suffered from being hit with shards of glass while inside the bus. Conor subsequently turned himself in to the New York Police Department. After receiving multiple assault charges, he was released on $50,000 bail.
Despite the black mark McGregor put on himself and the UFC, he was promptly rewarded for his recklessness by receiving a headlining championship opportunity six months later. Yes, McGregor is a huge money magnet for the UFC, but he has injured fighters and forced changes to a pay-per-view event. Why should he have received a championship opportunity, especially after not having fought on a UFC card since November 2016?
Beyond just McGregor, the UFC has also been biased towards other top stars. Rousey was granted permission to sit out of media sessions—which all of the promotion’s fighters are required to do—in the build-up to UFC 207. Former UFC Middleweight Champion, Anderson Silva and former Light Heavyweight Champion, Jon Jones have been welcomed back to the organization with open arms after multiple PED violations. This leniency may not have been granted with any run-of-the-mill MMA fighter. With Silva and Jones both being cornerstones of the mixed martial arts sport as a whole, wrist-slaps and five minute timeouts are adequate punishments apparently.
When discussing the brawl on the post-UFC 449 show, White said he was, “disgusted and sick over it”. He expressed similar sentiments when Conor McGregor endangered dozens of people on a bus and gave him a prime time slot in his very next fight. In the midst of the controversy, there are rumors of a rematch between Khabib and McGregor happening in the near future. Financially, it makes sense as the brawl brought a lot of attention—positive or negative—to the UFC and Khabib/Conor 2 is a goldmine waiting to happen. Logically and ethically, a rematch should not happen.
McGregor’s bus attack alone should not have warranted a title fight but when he got it, he was obviously outmatched by Khabib. Khabib—pre-fight comments or not—was unprofessional and put an arena of spectators at risk by instigating a bar-room like atmosphere. After all the trouble that has been caused in the build to this fight, the UFC should cut its losses and not put these two rivals in a cage against each other again.