Sunday, Oct. 7, 2018 | 2:26 a.m.
The only attempt that failed more spectacularly than Conor McGregor’s shot at winning back his lightweight championship belt Saturday night at UFC 229 was Khabib Nurmagomedov’s bid at a sincere apology for sparking a post-fight brawl at T-Mobile Arena.
More than two hours after Nurmagomedov tarnished his fourth-round submission victory over McGregor by leaping out of the cage to confront one of his opponent’s corner men, he gave a three-minute statement that failed to account for his actions. Nurmagomedov went with the infamous, “sorry…but,” defense before abruptly ignoring any more questions, putting on his papakha hat, picking up his belt and leaving.
“I know this is not my best side,” Nurmagomedov said. “I’m a human being, and I don’t understand how people can talk about how I jump over the cage. What about, he talked about my religion, he talked about my country, he talked about my father and he come to Brooklyn, he broke bus and almost killed a couple people? What about all this? What about all this (expletive)?”
The path to staging the bout between Nurmagomedov and McGregor started with one of the fighters committing criminal assault. It ended similarly, only with the roles reversed.
Nurmagomedov had clearly not gotten over McGregor’s bus attack from April. Nurmagomedov screamed at McGregor in the immediate aftermath of his victory before turning his attention to one of his opponent’s coaches, Dillon Danis, outside of the cage.
Nurmagomedov fought past a security guard, jumped over the octagon’s railing and tried to hit Danis while associates joined in on the attack. It took nearly a minute before Metro Police restored order.
“This is not what we do; this is not what we’re about; this is not how we act,” UFC President Dana White said. “It’s unfortunate that tonight when the most people are watching, this (expletive) show goes on.”
Three members of Nurmagomedov’s entourage were arrested, though later released when McGregor and his team declined to press charges, White said.
McGregor did not speak to the media, though White talked with him briefly. White said McGregor told him that he was upset over losing, but not about the brawl.
“We don’t like each other; whatever,” McGregor said according to White.
Security guards were able to prevent McGregor from leaving the octagon during the brawl, but two of Nurmagomedov’s teammates — reportedly UFC fighters Zaubaria Tukhugov and Islam Makachev — climbed into the cage and swung on him. White said no one who entered the cage would ever fight in the UFC again.
He was less definitive over Nurmagomedov’s punishment. But for starters, the Nevada State Athletic Commission withheld Nurmagomedov's $2 million fight-night check.
The governing body also initially didn’t pay McGregor his $3 million purse, but reversed course after reviewing footage of the brawl.
Both fighters stand to make much more after full pay-per-view numbers are tallied — the fight was expected to break a record 1.6 million buys at a minimum — but White said that won’t happen for several more weeks. None of that revenue will be held back from the fighters.
The UFC will cede to the commission on Nurmagomedov’s fate, at least at first.
“They’re the regulators; they’re the ones that oversee us,” White said. “We’ll see what happens. Obviously, if they give him a really light punishment, which I highly doubt is going to happen, then we’ll go from there.”
“He’s probably going to get stripped (of the title) if it’s a long suspension.”
Nurmagomedov never appeared to comprehend the consequences of the melee he incited. After the situation stabilized, he re-entered the cage and demanded White bring his championship belt.
White refused, but couldn’t get Nurmagomedov to take a security escort out of the building until fellow UFC fighters and American Kickboxing Academy teammates Daniel Cormier and Luke Rockhold persuaded him. Nurmagomedov had a few drinks thrown at him as he left the arena, but White surmised a belt would have made it much more dangerous.
Even hours later, Nurmagomedov seemed like he didn't understand the gravity of everything that occurred. He boasted about receiving a congratulatory call from Russian President Vladimir Putin in between repeated rebukes of McGregor.
“People need to change MMA,” Nurmagomedov said. “This is a respect sport. This is not a trash-talking sport. I want to change this game.”
Nurmagomedov ensured he would never be the one to implement to change with his violent and misguided post-fight outburst. McGregor may have crossed the line with some of his fight-week trash talk, but that’s a practice engrained in combat sports — and it’s not as if Nurmagomedov didn’t attempt to strike back with incendiary comments of his own.
McGregor’s incident in April, which he pleaded down to disorderly conduct, was senseless and justifiably received significant scorn. That doesn’t make Nurmagomedov’s exploits that endangered a sold-out venue of 20,034 people any more excusable.
Both are fully deserving of derision.
A popular counter argument on Saturday night was that everyone ultimately wins in the end because of the interest, and by extension, money the brawl stimulated. That’s another short-sighted view.
The UFC’s biggest fight as an organization has always been one of relevance and respect. The promotion wants to stand next to America’s biggest sports leagues in terms of prestige, and UFC 229 was one of the rare events where it reached that level.
Instead of being remembered like a Super Bowl or Stanley Cup Final where the greatest athletes in the world compete, however, it will go down as a night that Nurmagomedov spun out of control.
“This is one of those spillover events where soccer moms are buying the pay-per-view and watching it at big parties and stuff, and this is how the night ends?,” White asked. “It’s just really disgusting and disappointing for me.”