October 6, 2018 was supposed to be a huge win for the UFC. Pay-per-view numbers were trending at a historic pace. Celebrities filled front row seats in the T-Mobile Arena. Media outlets that hardly ever cover MMA sent out reporters in droves. And above all else, the fights at UFC 229 absolutely delivered. But unfortunately, no one will remember the fights after UFC lightweight champion Khabib Nurmagomedov incited a melee after defeating Conor McGregor to retain his title.
We won’t remember Derrick Lewis’ huge comeback knockout victory over Alexander Volkov, nor his hilarious post-fight interview. We won’t remember undefeated light heavyweight Dominick Reyes rising from prospect to contender with a unanimous decision win over veteran Ovince St. Preux. We won’t remember the absolute insanity that was Tony Ferguson vs. Anthony Pettis, which featured arguably the round of the year and a huge victory for Ferguson in his return from knee surgery less than six months ago.
Even more disappointing, we won’t remember Nurmagomedov’s brilliant performance in the biggest fight in UFC history. We won’t remember how Nurmagomedov, the world-class wrestler and grappler, knocked down the superior striker McGregor. We won’t remember how much toughness McGregor showed to survive and defend for as long as long he did. We won’t remember how Nurmagomedov outstruck McGregor and then forced him to tap out to a neck crank to defend his belt and remain undefeated.
Instead, what everyone will remember is Nurmagomedov jumping over the cage to attack one of McGregor’s cornermen, and then some of Nurmagomedov’s supporters coming out of the crowd and jumping over the fence to assault McGregor. The lasting image on everyone’s mind will not be Nurmagomedov getting his hand raised and his belt wrapped around his waist, because that didn’t happen when UFC president Dana White nixed the presentation out of fear of fans negatively reacting. The lasting image on everyone’s mind will be the chaos that ensued during the wild brawl.
It’s unfortunate that this type of thing happened on this night in particular, because of just how many eyes were on this event. The interest in UFC 229 transcended diehard fight fans and drew the attention of the general public. There was a large part of the audience that was probably watching a UFC event for the very first time. It’s likely that a significant amount of people hold a perception of the UFC being some sort of hub for uncivilized barbarians. After what transpired last night, it’s likely that perception has only been amplified.
It should be pointed out that prior to last night, Nurmagomedov was a picture of class. Throughout the buildup to this fight, he withstood a barrage of trash talk from the sharp-tongued McGregor. Countless times, lines were crossed when McGregor and his team mentioned Nurmagomedov’s political beliefs, his religion and his family. It’s not uncommon for a fighter to be so fired up after winning a fight that he is still angry enough to pick a fight with someone else.
But for this to go as far as it did, people will only view Nurmagomedov as a maniac who jumped the cage. They won’t see him for what he really was in that moment: a person whose anger boiled over after being insulted.
Instead, now there are questions about whether Nurmagomedov will be stripped of his title. It’s likely that a fine and a suspension from the Nevada State Athletic Commission are coming, but there might be even more repercussions. It’s possible Nurmagomedov’s work visa could be affected. He could be banned from fighting in the state of Nevada, which would hinder his chances of being allowed to fight anywhere else in the United States. With Las Vegas being the fight capital of the world, most state athletic commissions follow the precedents that are set by the NSAC.
Some might argue that this is great for the UFC because of how much publicity this is likely to generate. And maybe this will all blow over in a few days and everyone will forget about it when the next big fight comes around. But let me be clear: there is nothing good about the type of publicity that is coming.
Dana White looked absolutely distraught in the post-fight press conference because he knows how much of an embarrassment this was for his organization. The UFC recently struck a broadcast deal with ESPN and was hoping this event would set up for a huge 2019. For an undefeated champion to jump the fence to attack a a cornerman, and then his teammates jumping into the cage to attack his opponent, it’s not the type of image the UFC wants to portray.
As a fan of Mixed Martial Arts, the most prominent feeling I have right now is sadness. This sport is more than the brutality and violence that it’s perceived to be. These fighters are more than the savage barbarians they are perceived to be. I’m sad because there are people who are unaware of the true beauty they witnessed all throughout this exciting and entertaining event. Last night was a great night of fights.
It’s just unfortunate we won’t remember them.