Nine months after one of the most infamous nights in UFC history, the wounds clearly haven’t healed for Khabib Nurmagomedov. In a bid to promote a fight with Nurmagomedov for the lightweight title, Conor McGregor stooped lower than any man had ever done in the build-up to their match at UFC 229 in Las Vegas last October.
It had started at UFC 223 six months prior to that, when McGregor apparently lost all sense of right and wrong and chartered a plane and flew to Brooklyn. McGregor’s intent was to mug Nurmagomedov because of a perceived slight Nurmagomedov did to McGregor teammate Artem Lobov in the fighter’s hotel that week.
McGregor infamously threw a dolly at a bus on which Nurmagomedov was seated and wound up being arrested.
That was bad enough.
But when UFC 229 was finally made and Nurmagomedov and McGregor met for the title at T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas, McGregor spent months going as low-brow as possible. He insulted Nurmagomedov’s religion. He insulted his family. He blasted his country.
It was personal and it was offensive and it was far beyond the kind of trash talking one would do to sell tickets and pay-per-views to a fight.
It led, of course, to the post-fight melee, when Nurmagomedov leaped over the cage to get after McGregor teammate Dillon Danis.
It was bad, and could have been much worse.
Both men were suspended for their roles in that affair, but while Nurmagomedov should never have jumped into the crowd, it’s clear the brawl would never have occurred had it not been for McGregor’s low-brow taunts for six consecutive months.
It was relieving, then, to hear Nurmagomedov shoot down the possibility of a rematch with McGregor, assuming he defeats Dustin Poirier at UFC 242.
“In the last three years, he has only one victory, in amateur boxing,” Nurmagomedov said of a rematch. “How [does] he deserve a rematch? He tapped. He begged me, ‘Please don’t kill me,’ and now he’s talking about a rematch. Tony Ferguson is on the line. People who have win streaks are on the line, but not a guy who don’t win nothing the last three years. I have a lot of works without him, and right now, I’m focused on Sept. 7.”
McGregor’s last win was a second-round stoppage of Eddie Alvarez at Madison Square Garden in New York on Nov. 12, 2016.
McGregor-Nurmagomedov was a massive box office success, and generated more than 2.4 million pay-per-view sales. A rematch would do similar business.
But what McGregor did both in the bus incident and in the build-up to UFC 229 is put a lot of innocent people in harm’s way. Security was prepared in Las Vegas and the incident that occurred was prevented from being far uglier than it might have been. It’s not a stretch to think the brawling could have spilled into the stands and that people who had just bought a ticket to a sporting event would have been in physical danger simply by being in the vicinity.
Usually when bitter rivals fight, it eases the tensions, but it seems through their actions that it has only heightened the anxiety between them. It would be a massive risk to put them in against each other considering the sordid history between them.
There are, as Nurmagomedov said, a number of interesting fights for him at lightweight, starting with Poirier. If he defeats Poirier, Ferguson unquestionably deserves a shot. He’s on a 12-fight winning streak and has quietly become one of the best fighters in the world.
Nurmagomedov wants to fight the retired former welterweight and middleweight champion Georges St-Pierre, and had a clause written into the new contract that he signed that will give him that bout should St-Pierre decide to make a comeback. St-Pierre said at his retirement news conference he had been interested in a bout with Nurmagomedov, so it’s not out of the question that he could come back for that bout.
McGregor has made so much money over the last couple of years, particularly in his boxing match with Floyd Mayweather and the match with Nurmagomedov, that his interest in fighting again comes and goes. He’s got successful businesses outside the cage and can make money without risking his health, but one of the reasons for McGregor’s popularity is because he so loves to fight, and his passion for it is embraced by the fans.
He made his name by being a fearless and exciting fighter willing to challenge himself, and by using his wit to promote expertly. But as time wore on, his efforts to promote became more dark, more personal and more nasty. It wasn’t so much fun to see him.
A rematch with Nurmagomedov would simply be taking too big of a security risk given the history between the men.
There are several great fights out there for McGregor in the unlikely event he chooses to fight in the UFC again. A rubber match with Nate Diaz, who has a bout with Anthony Pettis scheduled in August, would be near the top of the list. So, too, would the much talked about fight with Donald Cerrone, who revealed on social media Tuesday that he didn’t suffer any broken bones or major injuries in his loss to Ferguson last week.
A McGregor-Justin Gaethje bout would be a third one that makes sense if the former champion decides to come back.
Nurmagomedov seems to have the right idea about where things should go from here in terms of his upcoming opponents.
“I don’t know if [St-Pierre] is going to come back or not, but if I want to make my legacy big, if I want to improve my legacy, I have to beat Dustin,” Nurmagomedov said. “I have to beat Tony Ferguson and [then] GSP. Then I can become No. 1 pound-for-pound fighter.”
Those fights make sense and would be box-office hits. Potential McGregor fights with Diaz, Cerrone or Gaethje would also be fascinating in the cage and do well financially.
And significantly, none of those will bring a reoccurrence of the nastiness we saw at UFC 229, nor will they put any innocent people at risk.
It’s probably a moot point because McGregor likely won’t fight again. If he does, though, the UFC needs to resist the lure and take a hard line against another bout between these truly hated rivals.
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