LAS VEGAS – Khabib Nurmagomedov said “my father is going to smash me,” when he returns home to Russia following the wildest night in UFC history.
It was a night when seconds after submitting Conor McGregor, the sport’s biggest star, with a fourth-round rear-naked choke Saturday in the main event of UFC 229 at T-Mobile Arena, the unbeaten and largely unchallenged lightweight champion leaped over the cage to attack Dillon Danis, one of McGregor’s teammates.
While a brief skirmish ensued between Nurmagomedov, Danis, members of each fighter’s teams, the police, arena security and members of the Nevada Athletic Commission, two men who are suspected of being on Nurmagomedov’s team entered the ring and sucker punched McGregor.
While that was going on, Nevada Gov. Brian Sandoval was hustled out of the building by security.
Asked where it ranked among the craziest nights of a colorful career, a downcast UFC president Dana White didn’t hesitate.
“It’s No. 1,” White said, drawing a breath before adding, “two and three.”
White was frustrated because of what he said were extraordinary precautions to prevent an incident in a promotion in which McGregor attacked Nurmagomedov repeatedly with verbal assaults. Though it was a horrific night for White, he didn’t lose his sense of humor.
“I don’t know if the city was safe tonight,” White said. “There were so many police here.”
The post-fight brawl ended a wild five month period in which this fight was made after McGregor flew from Dublin to New York, where Nurmagomedov was about to fight Al Iaquinta at UFC 223 at the Barclays Center in Brooklyn. McGregor was angered because of a confrontation earlier in the week between UFC fighter Artem Lobov, his teammate and friend, and Nurmagomedov at the fighter hotel.
McGregor was arrested and placed in handcuffs after surrendering to police the day after the incident. McGregor pleaded guilty to reduced charges and avoided jail time.
Nurmagomedov avoided getting arrested Saturday, though he faces a slew of trouble. The Nevada Athletic Commission is likely to fine and suspend him and, White admitted, the length of any suspension will impact whether he retains his lightweight title. White said if it is a lengthy suspension, it’s conceivable Nurmagomedov could be stripped.
It was an ugly end to a dominant performance by the Russian as well as a terrific night of fights.
After a dramatic last-second knockout of Alexander Volkov that sent the crowd into a frenzy, heavyweight Derrick Lewis explained why he took his shorts off in the cage, said that he’d received a call from President Trump urging him to beat up the Russian and asked UFC broadcaster Joe Rogan if they could smoke marijuana together on Rogan’s podcast.
In the co-main event, Tony Ferguson stopped Anthony Pettis after two rounds in the Fight of the Night when Pettis trainer Duke Roufus called it because Pettis had a broken right hand. The second round was one of the greatest rounds in UFC history. Ferguson, who seems to be in line to fight for the lightweight title, wasn’t thrilled with what occurred following the main event.
“You have these knuckleheads over there making this sport look bad,” Ferguson said. “ … We don’t need that [expletive].”
Nurmagomedov coach Javier Mendez raved about his fighter’s performance, which included a straight right hand that briefly dropped McGregor in the second.
McGregor came in with the reputation as one of the UFC’s elite strikers, but he didn’t do any damage to Nurmagomedov, who, as expected, dominated the fight on the ground.
“He looked fantastic,” Mendez said. “His stand-up is improving all the time and you saw that tonight. We drilled that so much. People say they see holes in his game, but let me ask you: What holes did you see? If there were any holes, I didn’t see them. Why weren’t they exposed? He fought the greatest striker in the history of the sport and you saw what went on.”
Mendez said he was disappointed by what occurred following the fight, because it isn’t representative of the way fighters normally conduct themselves.
But Mendez said McGregor’s pre-fight taunts – McGregor blasted Nurmagomedov’s religion, ripped his father and accused Nurmagomedov manager Ali Abdelaziz of being involved in the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks on New York – caused the outburst.
“We have to keep politics and religion out of this,” Mendez said. “How much can one man be expected to take?”
Nurmagomedov had clearly reached his limit, though he didn’t cover himself in glory by reacting as he did. The best course of action after winning the grudge match was to embrace McGregor, thank him for taking the fight and then bask in the glow of a dominant performance.
Instead, he put everything on the line with an ill-conceived attack.
Nurmagomedov, though, didn’t see it that way. Asked what happened, the only question he took at the post-fight news conference, Nurmagomedov didn’t understand why he was being singled out.
“I don’t understand why people say I jumped over the cage,” Nurmagomedov said. “What about he talked about my religion; he talked about my country; he talked about my father? He came to Brooklyn and he broke the bus. He almost killed people? What about this? What about this? Why do people talk about I jumped over the cage? Why are people still talking about this. I don’t understand.”
They’re going to be talking about it for a long time, though. The fight undoubtedly set a UFC pay-per-view record, and many first-time fans viewed the bout. But White, who had been talking about breaking three- and four-million pay-per-view sales all week, declined to discuss them after the incident.
It could wind up as the second-largest pay-per-view ever and White said at the post-fight news conference that he didn’t care.
“It wasn’t a great night for me and I’m not in a great mood,” White said. “I should be in here telling you what a great night this was, but I don’t give a s–t how many pay-per-views we did. I couldn’t care less right now. Literally, it’s all I’ve been talking about and thinking about all week, but right now, honestly, from the bottom of my heart on my daughter’s life, I don’t give a s–t. I don’t care.”
It probably didn’t do much long-term damage. Not many people were complaining after it ended, and White said he knows “there are probably a lot of people who love that s–t, but it’s a bad night for me.”
On what should have been its best night, it turned out to be one of its worst.
But it will recover. It always does.