UFC president Dana White couldn’t believe what he was watching.
“I was like, ‘No way,’” White said during a Saturday night news conference – when asked to describe his state of mind as an unfathomable scene played out before him. “This is not happening, man. This is not happening.”
Just moments after Khabib Nurmagomedov triumphed by submission over Conor McGregor to retain his UFC lightweight championship Saturday night in Las Vegas, the winning fighter climbed the cage and charged at Dillon Danis – McGregor’s jujitsu coach. The attack resulted in a full-on melee. Several of Nurmagomedov’s team members entered the octagon and charged McGregor – with one punching him in the back of the head.
Security personnel eventually gained control of the situation and escorted both fighters to safety. The official decision was met with heavy boos from the pro-McGregor crowd – with Nurmagomedov having departed the octagon.
It was a horrific postscript to a fight which should’ve launched Nurmagomedov to superstardom. An emphatic victory over the UFC’s biggest star, McGregor, ought to have culminated with a coronation. Instead, there were arrests.
“Three of his guys were arrested,” White said – referring to Nurmagomedov’s team. “I don’t know who they were. But then they went to Conor McGregor to press charges. And McGregor said he would not press charges. So they were released.”
That news provided little comfort for the UFC chief, though. Indeed, it was a dejected executive who appeared at the post-fight news conference. White, who had predicted as many as three million pay-per-view buys for Saturday night’s card, was concerned that casual fans who had dropped in for the night would be left with a sour taste.
“This is one of those spillover events where soccer moms are buying the pay-per-view, and watching it at big parties and stuff,” White said. “And this is how the night ends? It’s just really disgusting and disappointing for me.”
Nurmagomedov, clearly, was unconcerned with the greater good of the sport in the seconds after his victory. The 30-year-old Russian defended his actions as a justifiable response to some of McGregor’s ethnic and religiously-charged trash talk leading up to the match – as well the Irishman’s attack on a bus carrying Nurmagomedov this past April.
“I don’t understand how people can talk about – I jump on the cage,” Nurmagomedov said in the post-fight news conference. “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 couple of people. What about this?”
Nurmagomedov (27-0-0), during his brief remarks after the contest, tried to steer the conversation toward what happened before the fracas. Inside the octagon, he was masterful. The two-time sambo world champion got the fight to the ground within the first 30 seconds – which allowed him to sap McGregor’s strength and neutralize his prolific striking ability.
The champion went on to dominate the second round – nearly finishing the match with some strong ground and pound. He did drop the third on all three judges’ scorecards, marking the first time he’d lost a round in the UFC. But in the fourth, he took McGregor down and eventually got in position to apply a rear naked choke. The hold wasn’t applied squarely on McGregor’s neck but, the challenger tapped out nonetheless – as the Russian had predicted leading up to the fight.
“When you put him wrong way, he gonna tap,” Nurmagomedov said. “What happened today? They call him two-time world champion, two weight classes. But today, he tap.”
McGregor (21-4-0) left T-Mobile Arena without speaking to the media. He did speak with Nevada State Athletic Commission personnel, who eventually released his purse for the contest. Nurmagedov’s earnings from Saturday night are, on the other hand, being withheld.
But the purse freeze appears to be the least of the Russian’s problems. White, afterward, suggested a long suspension by the Nevada State Athletic Commission was possible. The UFC president added that a lengthy suspension would result in Nurmagomedov being stripped of the lightweight title.
Where does that leave the lightweight division, and the UFC as a whole? Who knows? No. 2 ranked lightweight Tony Ferguson won impressively over Anthony Pettis earlier in the night on the UFC 229 undercard. It’s not impossible to imagine Ferguson tussling with McGregor for a vacated title belt sometime down the road.
In a strange way, the post-fight circus managed to take attention off the fact that McGregor was soundly beaten. And the UFC’s signature star emerges from the night with many fans having sympathy for him following the attacks from Nurmagomedov and his team. McGregor backers will surely talk themselves into thinking that their man’s performance on Saturday was hampered, in part, by his nearly two-year absence from the octagon coming into the fight. And his next contest – whether it’s against Nurmagomedov, Ferguson, or whomever – will be just as highly-anticipated as this one was.
And as for Nurmagomedov, he’d undoubtedly love the cash that would come with a second fight against McGregor. But after Saturday night’s match, the Russian seemed to understand he would be fortunate to fight anyone, anywhere, anytime soon. Which was why, in the post-fight news conference, he offered words of contrition to the jurisdiction which controls his fate.
“Nevada, sorry,” Nurmagomedov said. “Vegas, sorry.”
But will Nevada – whose governor, Brian Sandoval, was in attendance on Saturday – accept the apology?
“The governor was here tonight,” Dana White said. “The governor went running out of the building. That’s not good.”
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