By Austin Santiago
Published: October 17th, 2018
“Fucking Muslim rat” – those were the three words that made Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) fighter Khabib Nurmagomedov leap into the crowd at T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas and kick-start a post-fight brawl that has never been seen in the world of mixed martial arts. Though the post-fight brawl between Khabib’s team and the team of his opponent, Connor McGregor, started in the blink of an eye, it had in fact been months in the making. The rivalry between two of UFC’s premier fighters began in April when McGregor incited a brawl in the parking lot of Barclays Center after a UFC pay-per-view media day. The incident involved McGregor hurling a dolly through a bus window, said bus carrying Khabib and his team. The aftermath of the incident saw two fighters, Ray Borg and Michael Chiesa, forced to withdraw from their respective bouts at the upcoming UFC 223 event due to facial lacerations from the shattered bus window. Despite getting the champion’s attention, McGregor was arrested by the NYPD. It was not until July that the charges were dropped.
Khabib’s response to the bus incident only added fuel to the flames. He claimed he was anything but afraid of McGregor at the time of the attack. “I am laughing inside,” he said. “You broke window? Why? Come inside [the bus]. You know UFC don’t let you come inside. If you real gangster, why don’t you come inside?” After a summer of back and forth between the two headliners, UFC President Dana White announced that the two would finally meet in the Octagon to settle the rivalry once and for all. It was a main event made in heaven.
McGregor is a perennial UFC all-star sporting a record of 21-3 and has a larger-than-life personality never before seen in MMA. The Irishman has become the flag-bearer for the sport, bringing it into the world of pop culture and helping to take cage fighting out from the underground. He would square up against the entity only referred to as Khabib, the 5’10 juggernaut who is the favorite of every fight purist. With a record of 27-0, it appeared as though the only fighter who could possibly end the 30 years old’s undefeated streak was McGregor himself.
The main event of UFC 229 did not disappoint. Over four rounds, the two fighters tested each other’s limits and will power. During the fourth round, Khabib locked McGregor into a rear naked choke, and after a few agonizing seconds, McGregor was forced to tap out. Immediately following McGregor’s tap, Khabib proceeded to spit on the back of his head and walk towards his own corner. It was then that Dillon Danis, a member of McGregor’s team, began hurling insults at the Russian fighter. According to Khabib in a post-fight interview, the member of McGregor’s team was making statements that he simply could not let stand. “I know this is not my best side. He talked about my religion, he talked about my country, he talked about my father.”
Not only was their chaos outside of the Octagon but as Khabib brawled with members of McGregor’s team outside, two members of Khabib’s team jumped into the cage and began throwing punches at McGregor, several of which connected with his face and the back of his head. Though the repercussions of Khabib’s actions can alter his career, in the form of suspension as well as possibly being stripped of his title, the ramifications could be even worse for the UFC as a whole. “The biggest night of the year, and I’m disgusted,” White told media after the event. His disgust is understandable because for an organization such as the UFC, which is just now getting the mainstream recognition it deserves, this is a major step backwards. Not only has the UFC lost a fair amount of legitimacy after this incident but the organization may also lose one of its premier talents, Khabib.
On Saturday, Khabib made a public statement citing his frustration with the disciplinary action taken on his team, specifically his teammate Zubaira Tukhugov who had his fight cancelled. “If you decide to fire him, you should know that you’ll lose me too. We never give up on our brothers in Russia, and I will go to the end for my brother.” Only time will tell how the UFC will respond to the post-brawl backlash.