As the bell rang, ending the final fight on the UFC 229 fight card, lightweight phenom Khabib ‘The Eagle’ Nurmagomedov put a giant, golden capstone on his mixed martial arts legacy: beating and mauling Conor ‘The Notorious’ McGregor, a man many believe has transcended the UFC.
Nurmagomedov’s win was supposed to be the talking point of the night, until ‘The Eagle’ jumped over the octagon wall and leaped into the audience to fight McGregor’s teammate, Dillon Danis. Seconds after the shocking turn of events, a massive brawl enveloped both inside and outside of the octagon, captivating the attention of all who were in attendance.
‘The Eagle’ is known to show respect to his opponents throughout his career, and has never spat verbal barbs unless provoked. But after months of abuse from ‘The Notorious’ and his team, Danis’ alleged provocation could have been one incident too far. UFC commentator Joe Rogan said he heard Danis throwing insults at Nurmagomedov, provoking him.
After the dust settled, Nurmagomedov was rushed off the stage, with his belt returned to him after escaping the sight of the audience. Many of the attendees threw stuff at ‘The Eagle’ as he was making his exit. Both Nurmagomedov and McGregor are now temporarily suspended by the Nevada Athletic Commission.
Nurmagomedov’s leap into the crowd was thought to be the spark that ignited the brawl, but there is a question of whether McGregor’s personal trash talking laid the groundwork for Nurmagomedov’s reaction.
“He talk about my religion, he talk about my country, he talk about my father, he came to Brooklyn and broke bus (referring the April bus incident),” Nurmagomedov said in his post-fight press interview.
Nurmagomedov, a Dagestani Muslim that values his faith, took insults about his religion, nation and father very personally, and this was more than just a fight for him. McGregor decided to disgrace most of what Khabib values, and said insults that would be tough for any person to let pass.
It is not the first time McGregor verbally trashed someone to promote his fights. In fact, McGregor’s brash personality and foul tongue are some of the biggest reasons why ‘The Notorious’ McGregor is the most marketable fighter in mixed martial arts history.
But when promoting their fights with trash talk, fighters have to ask after this latest incident: ‘How personal is too personal?’
While trying to promote their brand and make as much money as possible from every pay per view, the UFC also shows mixed martial arts on a global stage to millions of fans. A sport that was shaped by respect of classical martial artists like Lyoto Machida and Georges St. Pierre. To them, the sport was about respect, and what happens in the cage.
The modern mixed martial arts stage has set norm for those pay-per-view juggernauts like McGregor, who can talk and sell fights to get better paychecks, and fights, than those who may fight better.
McGregor’s antics go further than verbal sparring though. The bus incident Nurmagomedov referenced happened in April this year, when McGregor threw a metal dolly at a bus full of fighters, an issue that had to be settled in court. The UFC decided to respond by giving him a title shot against Nurmagomedov.
On the other hand, Nurmagomedov is now facing a fine and a possible termination of UFC contracts for his teammates who were involved in the massive brawl. Nurmagomedov sided with his teammates in an Instagram post.
“If you still decide to fire him, don’t forget to send me my broken contract, otherwise I’ll break it myself,” read Nurmagomedov’s Instagram post, referring to UFC possibly firing his teammate, Zubaira Tukhugov, for playing a part in the brawl.
While trash talk can certainly sell the fight, going after one’s family and religion can be considered crossing the line, and not all take those words lightly. Nurmagomedov certainly didn’t.
“I want to change the game,” Nurmagomedov said in the post-fight press conference. “I don’t want people talk shit about opponents. I don’t want people talk shit about his father, religion. You cannot talk about religion, nation, you cannot talk about this stuff.”
Inciting brawls might not change the game for the better, but it sure sent a strong message to one of UFC’s most notorious trash talkers about the consequences of getting too personal with verbal attacks when promoting a fight.
Trash talking as personal as McGregor’s against Khabib is too personal, and can lead to more incidents like this brawl. McGregor was not just promoting this fight, he was also smearing all over Nurmagomedov’s family, nation and religion.
This kind of verbal confrontation warrants a response, and is rarely seen in legitimate sports on the global stage. On the rare moments that it happens, it is punished severely by the leagues and athletic commissions.
If the potential rematch does come to fruition, there’s no doubt it will sell more tickets and make a lot of money for the UFC, but the promotion will have to decide whether this money is worth further tainting the legacy of a sport they worked for twenty five years to get to a global phenomenon that it is today.