Saturday 20 April 2019

Shameful scenes on huge night for UFC hard to erase

Conor McGregor sits in the ocotgon after his defeat to Khabib Nurmagomedov at T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas on Saturday night. Photo by Stephen McCarthy/Sportsfile
Conor McGregor sits in the ocotgon after his defeat to Khabib Nurmagomedov at T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas on Saturday night. Photo by Stephen McCarthy/Sportsfile

Ronan O'Flaherty

Khabib Nurmagomedov cemented his status as the best lightweight on the planet with a thoroughly deserved victory over Conor McGregor in Las Vegas on Saturday night.

However, UFC 229 is unlikely to be remembered for any of its fights, but instead the unscheduled brawl that broke out after the Russian had forced McGregor to tap out at 3:03 of the fourth round.

Nurmagomedov lands a blow. Photo by Stephen McCarthy/Sportsfile
Nurmagomedov lands a blow. Photo by Stephen McCarthy/Sportsfile

In a moment of madness, Nurmagomedov scaled the cage to attack a member of Conor McGregor's team who had been goading him.

The lightweight champion waded through the seats nearest the octagon in pursuit of his target as a huge security presence gave chase.

Meanwhile, McGregor - still dazed from the choke hold that forced him to submit - was set upon by three men who climbed into the octagon, with the Irishman taking a number of punches.

It was a chaotic, disturbing scene that, in hindsight, has been brewing for the past six months.

The Russian submits McGregor in the fourth round. Photo by Stephen McCarthy/Sportsfile
The Russian submits McGregor in the fourth round. Photo by Stephen McCarthy/Sportsfile

Toxic

The toxic atmosphere spread like wildfire, with fights breaking out in pockets of the T-Mobile Arena. McGregor was given a security escort from the octagon to his dressing room. Moments later, Nurmagomedov received his own security detail, who shielded him as he made a dash for the changing rooms. All manner of objects rained down on the Dagestani from sections of the agitated crowd.

By the time Bruce Buffer announced that Nurmagomedov had successfully defended his lightweight title, the 30-year-old wasn't present in the octagon. There was no celebration ceremony, no post-fight interview from inside the octagon. These are all customary moments reserved for winners, but Nurmagomedov robbed himself of all of that.

None of the conversation afterwards focused on the fight. UFC president Dana White confirmed that all three men who stormed the octagon had been arrested, but that McGregor refused to press charges against them.

White added - as if it needed saying - that the rivalry between McGregor and Nurmagomedov was much deeper than a sporting one. "This is some street s**t," he said.

There was genuine surprise in the media tent next to the T-Mobile Arena when Nurmagomedov arrived in to say his piece.

Wearing his papakha hat and carrying the UFC lightweight championship belt, his demeanour was sheepish as he apologised to the Nevada State Athletic Commission for his actions. The Commission withheld Nurmagomedov's pay cheque after analysing a video of the post-fight scenes. They didn't withhold McGregor's cheque, which would suggest that they deem him the victim.

In truth, the victims were the many members of the 20,000 crowd who were terrified by what they had witnessed. For those sitting close to the octagon, caught up in the madness, it was a frightening ordeal.

White claimed he was horrified by the scenes, but he perhaps shouldn't be surprised it happened. During last Thursday's press conference at the Park Theatre in Las Vegas, Nurmagomedov admitted that he was still deeply bothered by the infamous incident in Brooklyn from back in April, when McGregor and his associates attacked a busload of UFC fighters, one of whom was the Russian.

At the time, White described McGregor's actions as "the most disgusting thing that has ever happened in the history of the company". However, that same company saw fit to use footage of the bus attack - during which McGregor smashed a window by launching a hand truck - in promotional videos for the fight to drum up pay-per-view sales.

During last month's New York press conference, and the latest instalment three days ago, McGregor was merciless in his jeering of Nurmagomedov's heritage, his religion and even his family. The Russian feels McGregor has been given something of a free pass.

"First of all, I want to say sorry to Athletic Commission, sorry to Vegas," he said. "I know this is not my best side. I'm human being. I don't understand how people can talk about I jump on the cage. What about he talk about my religion?

"He talk about my religion, he talk about my country, he talk about my father. He come to Brooklyn and he broke bus. He almost killed a couple of people. What about this s**t?"

The greatest disappointment, from Nurmagomedov's perspective, is that he managed to overshadow the greatest night of his career.

He outfought and outclassed McGregor and - while he did follow the script in his many attempts to bring this fight to the ground - he also displayed talents that so many people insist he doesn't possess.

The consensus was that McGregor would have to land a first-or-second-round knockout to win, while Khabib would be hell-bent on locking in a submission due to his lack of punching power. In the end, he did see out the victory with a choke submission, but he also managed to dispel the myth that there is a lack of power in his fists by rocking McGregor with a venomous right in the second round.

The Irishman spent much of the fight trying to squirm away from submission holds. He was rarely the aggressor and was behind on the judges' scorecards at the end.

Deplorable

When a champion defends his title, the conversation quickly moves on to who he will make his next defence against. However, in Nurmagomedov's case, the immediate future is unclear. The deplorable scenes at the end of the fight could lead to the Nevada State Athletic Commission revoking his fighter's licence.

If the event had passed off without controversy, fans would now be reading about the exciting prospect of a lightweight title fight between Nurmagomedov and Tony Ferguson.

In the second last fight of the event, Ferguson recovered from some difficult moments to beat Anthony Pettis. With Pettis in a badly-beaten state, his cornermen threw in the towel at the end of the second round.

That fight was the most engrossing of the evening and duly won Fight of the Night honours, an award that carries a $50,000 bonus for both fighters. Ferguson's movement, agility and shot selection is a joy to behold. It's hard to believe he's 34. These are the things pundits should be talking about following an event that is expected to have set a new pay-per-view record.

All anybody could talk about, though, was those shameful, frightening scenes.

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