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Monday 20 May 2019

Brawl overshadows sad demise of 'The Notorious', for so long the face of MMA


Leap of shame: The antics at the end of the contest have brought the sport of MMA to a new low
Leap of shame: The antics at the end of the contest have brought the sport of MMA to a new low

Ewan MacKenna in Las Vegas

Even by the standards of both Las Vegas and of the UFC, this was quite the circus act.

Quite the freak show. Quite the disgrace - a word that's overused so as to detract from its true and important meaning.

That Conor McGregor was outclassed from pillar to post should have been the story and, regardless of what you make of him as a person, to see such a great athlete and warrior dismantled is always sad.

No other sport does the end of the legend like mixed martial arts, as it isn't merely a 3-0 defeat or a deteriorating second serve or the kick no longer there on the final lap. Instead it's to see a man pinned down and beaten up to the point you can't miss the fear in his eyes.

But frankly that doesn't really matter a whole lot, for the fights that followed this fight are the real takeaway here.

Coming out of the T-Mobile Arena, scuffles broke out all over, just minutes away from the entrance a man lay unconscious having been floored in a punch-up, and there was an edge that took off down the Strip and on into the night.

Alcohol and anger are a bad cocktail but make no mistake that a riot-like situation was all incited by Khabib Nurmagomedov and his team.

"Not 100pc certain (he won't be stripped of his title)," UFC president Dana White said afterwards, looking frustrated and embarrassed, although his talk and his walk have rarely been in sync.

"He doesn't have to worry about me, he has to worry about Nevada. The governor was here tonight, he went running out of the building. He's in trouble. But I saw one of Conor's guys shouting and Khabib ran and jumped out of the octagon. I couldn't believe it was happening though. It's just a bad night. Eventually two of Khabib's guys got into the octagon and one hit Conor with some shots from behind.

"The Nevada State Athletic Commission pulled the footage from us, they are withholding Khabib's purse, they are not withholding Conor's.

"But being in there in the middle as it was going on, I have to start worrying about the fans and people that are inside the arena. I felt that if we put the belt on him it was going to rain, people would throw whatever they have and it would be a dangerous situation. But Conor was one of the guys who was attacked and he refused to press charges, the guys they arrested have been released.

"I've been working hard for 18 years to build this sport, I promise you this is not what a mixed martial arts event is normally like. A s**t show went on. The biggest night ever and I couldn't be more disappointed."

He should be, especially after he was so happy to use the New York incident - the one just six months back that resulted in criminal charges after McGregor's entourage attacked Khabib's bus - to sell this event. Reap and sow.

Pent-up anger is all well and good, and for sure the Russian had every right to be furious having had his faith, country, culture and very identity mocked throughout the build-up by the usual and insulting nonsense that turns so many off the Dubliner. Yet even if you are to accept that his words crossed a line and kept on going, next to this they pale.

Upon having his opponent tap out from a choke in round four, long after we knew there was only going to be one winner, Khabib leapt from the octagon feet first, going after McGregor's coach Dillon Danis.

The worst part though was what happened to McGregor himself. Regardless of what you think of him, to have a fighter blindsided after losing by a member of his opponent's team is the lowest of the low, and frankly makes this entire promotion feel so grubby as to leave you wanting to step away and never come back.

Eventually McGregor, startled, was led away by bouncers; Danis was led away by security; Khabib left surrounded by police as the beer and cups rained down on his head. He may have retained the belt, but he's a champion in no reasonable eyes.

His talent is remarkable and from the first bell of this lightweight title fight, you were assured he would be victorious. In each of the four rounds he took McGregor to the canvas, draining him as he was forced to defend a technically superior ground game. And, when they went toe-to-toe, the Russian was arguably the better boxer too, his overhand right rocking McGregor on several occasions as the Irishman looked like the man who has been away two years.

"I want to say sorry to the athletic commission, sorry to Vegas, I know this is not my best side," the Russian said afterwards. "I'm a human being and I don't understand how people can talk about how I jumped from the cage. He talked about my father, my religion, my country. He came to Brooklyn and attacked my bus and almost killed a couple of people. What about this s**t? It's not people, it's media. This is a respect sport, not a trash-talking sport."

No matter what you think of McGregor, for once none of this was on him. Instead, as he disappeared, you actually felt for the athlete which, given the person, is telling. Indeed, that he didn't press charges shows what really bothered him about this night - so long the present and future of the sport, he became the past.

Irish Independent

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