Sports

‘It is going to be ugly’: Khabib Nurmagomedov’s $2 million purse in jeopardy following nasty UFC 229 brawl

LAS VEGAS — Khabib Nurmagomedov was the calm, glowering foil to
Conor McGregor’s antics for six months while the loquacious
Irishman built a frenzy of hype around their UFC lightweight
title fight.

When Nurmagomedov forced the biggest star in mixed martial arts
to tap out Saturday night to end what’s likely to be the most
lucrative show in UFC history, he had fashioned the perfect
response to McGregor’s verbal insults and physical attacks.

But when Nurmagomedov promptly hurdled over the cage and fought
with McGregor’s taunting cornermen while his own teammates
ambushed McGregor in the octagon, the Russian champion and his
friends might have seriously damaged careers that were just
about to take off.

“These guys are in big trouble,” UFC President Dana White said.
“It is going to be ugly.”

Executive director Bob Bennett said the Nevada Athletic
Commission intends to file a complaint following its
investigation into the actions of Nurmagomedov and his team for
setting off a post-fight melee at UFC 229 immediately after
McGregor submitted to Nurmagomedov’s choke in the fourth round.
Nurmagomedov’s $2 million purse has been withheld, and he could
face a hefty fine along with a lengthy suspension.

White said three members of Nurmagomedov’s team were detained
by police, but released after McGregor refused to press
charges. White acknowledged Nurmagomedov’s lightweight title
could be stripped if his actions result in a significant
suspension.

“There’s going to be fines,” White said. “There’s going to be
God knows what. Can these guys get visas to get back in the
country? We’ll see how this plays out, but I’ve been doing this
for 18 years, and this is the biggest night ever, and I
couldn’t be more disappointed.”

McGregor’s $3 million purse was not withheld after commission
officials examined video footage and determined his side had
done nothing wrong in the melee. While Nurmagomedov brawled
with McGregor teammate Dillon Danis outside the cage, a few men
from Nurmagomedov’s camp — at least two of whom appeared to be
UFC fighters, although the promotion and the commission haven’t
formally identified them — climbed into the cage and confronted
McGregor, who defended himself while getting sucker-punched
from behind.

McGregor’s first public response to the drama came on Twitter
early Sunday morning: “Good knock. Looking forward to the
rematch.”

By following his masterful victory with a reckless response to
McGregor’s lengthy campaign of verbal and physical aggression,
Nurmagomedov showcased the best and worst sides of mixed
martial arts in a 30-second span. The Dagestan native who
trains in San Jose, California, also overshadowed his years of
steady progress to become one of MMA’s top pound-for-pound
fighters.

Khabib
Nurmagomedov of Russia (R) and Conor McGregor of Ireland (L)
start their UFC lightweight championship bout during the UFC 229
event inside T-Mobile Arena on October 6, 2018 in Las Vegas,
Nevada.
Harry How/Getty Images

But Nurmagomedov said he had been brought to a boil by
McGregor’s behaviour since April, when McGregor infamously
attacked a bus carrying Nurmagomedov and several other UFC
fighters. McGregor was incensed after Nurmagomedov confronted a
member of his team in New York earlier in that week, which
ended with Nurmagomedov winning the UFC 155-pound belt.

“I don’t understand how people can talk about I jump on the
cage, you know?” Nurmagomedov said after apologizing to the
Nevada commission during a brief post-fight statement to
reporters, his title belt displayed on the dais before him.

“What about he talked 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? … I don’t understand. I’m respectful. My father teaches
me, ’Hey, you have to be always respectful.”’

After McGregor agreed this summer to return from a 23-month UFC
absence for this highly lucrative bout, Nurmagomedov absorbed
the Irish superstar’s gleeful taunts related to his family,
friends and Muslim faith during their fight promotion.

McGregor crowed when Abdulmanap Nurmagomedov, the champion’s
beloved father and a longtime wrestling coach, couldn’t attend
UFC 229 because he couldn’t secure a U.S. visa in time.
McGregor called Nurmagomedov’s father a “quivering coward”
during a boisterous news conference.

This isn’t the last time guys are going to say mean things to
each other

On Thursday, McGregor referred to Nurmagomedov’s manager, Ali
Abdelaziz, as a “snitch terrorist rat.” McGregor appeared to be
referring to a book written several years ago which claimed
that Abdelaziz once worked as an informant for the NYPD and FBI
among U.S. Muslims in the wake of the Sept. 11 terrorist
attacks.

McGregor’s barbs were pointed, as usual for a fighter who built
his massive fortune both with heavy fists and cutting words.
White knew that Nurmagomedov and his teammates took it all very
personally, but he was shocked by their response.

“This isn’t the last time guys are going to say mean things to
each other,” White said. “This is the fight business. That’s
how it works. People have been saying mean things to each other
for 18 years here in the UFC. Nothing like this has ever
happened.”

White was at Mike Tyson’s fight with Evander Holyfield in 1997
when Tyson bit Holyfield’s ear and went on a rampage that
spilled into the stands. The UFC 229 scene also recalled Floyd
Mayweather’s fight with Zab Judah in 2006, in which the
fighters’ trainers brawled in the ring between rounds and
nearly set off a riot; the post-fight fracas between entourages
and fans at heavyweight champion Riddick Bowe’s fight with
Andrew Golota in 1996; and a Strikeforce MMA show in Nashville
in 2010 which ended with a post-fight brawl carried live on
CBS.

McGregor’s fame attracted attention to UFC 229 from millions of
people who don’t watch MMA regularly, and the embarrassing
post-fight events fit neatly into many casual stereotypes of
the sport as a barbaric, exploitative spectacle. In truth, such
displays of poor sportsmanship are fairly rare in MMA.

Khabib
Nurmagomedov, right, is pushed back by referee Herb Dean after
defeating Conor McGregor, bottom, during a lightweight title
mixed martial arts bout at UFC 229 in Las Vegas, Saturday, Oct.
6, 2018.
John Locher/AP Photo

“I promise you this is not what a mixed martial arts event is
normally like,” White said. “When you have such an amazing
event that we’ve worked hard to build for several months, and
it goes perfect … this is not what we’re about. This is not
what we do. This isn’t how we act.”

Although White said he was “disgusted” by McGregor’s behaviour
in Brooklyn, the UFC promoted this bout using video footage of
McGregor’s violent attack, which traumatized strawweight
champion Rose Namajunas and left two other fighters unable to
compete due to injuries from the shattered glass.

When asked about the UFC’s exploitation of the bus attack,
White said he would do it all again, calling it “part of the
story.”

And whatever punishment Nurmagomedov faces, his drawing power
will be increased exponentially when he returns to MMA. The
gifted grappler from a little-known republic on the shores of
the Caspian Sea acquired enormous cultural notoriety with his
renegade actions and the show’s success.

UFC 229 shattered the promotion’s previous gate record with
$17.2 million in ticket sales at T-Mobile Arena, and White
expects the pay-per-view sales to break the promotion’s record
as well. That massive audience saw Nurmagomedov put on a
beautiful display of well-rounded fighting against the biggest
puncher in MMA.

“He had the opportunity to walk out of that place a champion,”
White said. “He would have looked like a stud, instead of
flying over the cage and doing the things that he did. It
should have been a very different night for him.”

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