Where to start with last night’s UFC?
Probably with why an exclusively boxing site is covering it at all. Tenuous link; McGregor is a former professional boxer. Genuine reason; I’m one of a rare breed of fans of both boxing and mixed martial arts. And within MMA, I’m a fan of the UFC and in turn Conor McGregor.
I’ve followed his career closely since watching him become a two-weight ‘world’ champion in Cage Warriors, an Irish based now defunct MMA promotion. I really don’t have time to reminisce over why I became enamoured with the ‘Notorious’ or his successes in the cage.
So, let’s get straight to last night’s events. In the cage, McGregor was dominated. For a multitude of reasons he was rightly considered the underdog going into UFC 229. One of those was his self-enforced absence from the Octagon, during which he made many, many millions of dollars ‘boxing’ against Floyd Mayweather. He also spent a portion of his time away committing the amusingly named Criminal Mischief. This was incurred during the much publicised attack on the bus during the build up to UFC 223 in Brooklyn. The insane act of revenge was in the name of Artem Lobov (McGregor’s long-time training partner and friend) whom Khabib Nurmagomedov and his entourage confronted a few days prior.
Khabib emerged from “busgate” unscathed and went on to win the Lightweight title that weekend. The same belt formerly held by McGregor himself. In the immediate aftermath, UFC supremo Dana White slammed McGregor but ultimately refused any official sanction. It is worth noting an arrest warrant was put out on McGregor and he did proceed through the courts. Whether you agree with the leniency of his punishment is irrelevant. He was punished, by the letter of the law, for his crime.
Where the UFC messed up, in my humble opinion, was by not issuing any official punishment (or at least not making it public if they did anything) as they set a precedent for this weekend’s chaos. Conor McGregor is bigger than the UFC. The organisation has benefited immensely from the extra eyes he has brought to the Octagon. As a result, he has been given increasingly free reign on how he behaves. Turning up late, throwing bottles and trashing a bus. Less important commodities, I mean fighters, would’ve been long since dispensed with.
Not only did they welcome McGregor back into a world title fight, they were happy to use the ‘leaked’ footage of the Brooklyn Bus Battering (BBB) as part of the advertising campaign. Hardly the actions of an organisation that deplores the criminal actions of its employees.
During the press conferences, Khabib was appearing to show cracks in his normally ice-cold demeanour. Hindsight shows us that McGregor’s jibes about Khabib’s father, his team and offering him (a devout Muslim) a glass of his infamous Proper 12 whiskey, pushed the Russian further than anyone could’ve envisaged. Plenty have been quick to castigate McGregor as taking trash talk too far and becoming overly personal. To be honest though, there was little difference between this and the past evidence.
The only difference being that Khabib didn’t consider the one-sided beating he dished out as sufficient revenge. Normally, win lose or draw, these bitter feuds are left in the cage. Having outclassed his vanquished foe, Khabib however continued to talk down to the fallen McGregor and proceeded to spit out his mouthguard and launch it towards the now world famous Dillon Danis. For those who still don’t know, Danis is a jiu-jistsu practitioner and has played a key role in McGregor’s recent fight preparations.
Whether Danis instigated the mouthguard segment is unknown but no amount of trash talking constitutes Khabib scaling the cage and launching himself into the crowd. Now, while I’m a self-confessed McGregor fan, I always feared the worst for him against Khabib. And in no way I am bitter about the outcome of the fight. The best man, by a distance, won. That doesn’t mean I can defend his actions. His assault was the spark that fuelled the chaotic fire that followed. McGregor attempted to follow, ended up swinging at a member of Team Khabib and was then on the end of some cheap shots by cage invaders. The brawl in the arena crowd spilled out around the Las Vegas venue, between Russian and Irish fans. They say all news is good news but this sort of widespread exposure serves only to set back the progress of an already disparaged sport.
I’m not actually one for some of the fake rivalries and intense ‘beef’ that is becoming more and more prevalent in combat sports. Its become all too forced and pantomime for my liking. There has to be a line, yet who decides where it is drawn? Religion and family derision are too far but personal slurs are ok? Truth is, there are many different triggers that will impact each individual so it’s tough to draw that figurative line.
The whole essence of the trash talk is that the viewers are presented with a picture. The picture shows that the two combatants have a dislike (genuine or otherwise) for each other and you should tune in to see them settle the score. Problems arise when that score remains unsettled.
Had Khabib kept his emotions in check, this would have been his crowning glory. The standout victory of his all-conquering career so far. He would have maintained his calm, respectful image and shown that the brash, cocky attitude of McGregor can be quashed by a combination of skill, will and a vicious desire to inflict damage.
As it is, we are left with a sense of confusion and disappointment. Neither side has covered themselves in glory and leave some big stains on their reputations and that of combat sports. Khabib’s respectful image has taken a severe hit and McGregor has come nowhere near to backing up his bravado.
Where next is anyone’s guess. Just think of the rematch vignettes though…