Khabib Nurmagomedov made Conor McGregor tap out and validated himself as the rightful UFC Lightweight champion, but UFC 229 will be remembered for the unsavoury scenes that followed.
It was the biggest fight in UFC history, and it lived up to all the hype, until chaos ensued when the victorious Eagle swooped down from the octagon on McGregor’s teammate Dillon Danis, igniting the melee that followed.
It was the classic mixed martial arts matchup: elite striker vs elite wrestler. The Russian champion held a 26-0 undefeated record, but had yet to prove himself against the division’s top challengers. McGregor had been stripped of his belts for inactivity after crossing over to boxing for his super fight with Floyd Mayweather. This was the fight to decide who would be the undisputed UFC Lightweight champion.
Curiosity of whether McGregor could withstand Nurmagomedov’s takedown attempts were answered early in the first round, he couldn’t. Despite finding himself on the mat, McGregor defended excellently to avoid any sort of punishment, although the balance of the fight had dramatically shifted into the Russian’s favour.
Wary of the huge takedown threat, the Irishman was dropped by a huge right from the Eagle in round two. And once in the dominating position, Nurmagomedov unleashed a ground and pound on McGregor that had the Notorious in survival mode.
The champion then may have lost his first round since joining the UFC: McGregor defended several takedown attempts and held the upper hand in the trade-offs, although Nurmagomedov could claim a moral victory just for standing toe-to-toe with one of the sport’s best strikers. The Dubliner, visibly fatigued after a gruelling second round, looked to have worked his way back into contention.
Any optimism McGregor may have had then evaporated when he was again taken down in the fourth. This time there was no ground and pound. Nurmagomedov worked his way into rear naked choke, and before the submission was fully locked in, McGregor tapped out.
The referee Herb Dean then ushered away Nurmagomedov, as he gloated in front of the defeated Irishman. Still pumped up, the Russian went straight to McGregor’s team and threw his mouth-guard in their direction. After an exchange of words with Dillon Danis from McGregor’s team, the Russian scaled the octagon and swooped down on Danis, igniting a post-fight melee.
McGregor approached the top of the cage, and was met by one of Nurmagomedov’s team who he exchanged with. From there, McGregor found himself against three of his Khabib’s teammates in the octagon as the sport descended into a farce.
UFC President Dana White was left “disappointed” after the biggest event in the sport’s history. “There’s going to be fines,” White said.
“Can these guys get visas to get back in the country? We’ll see how this plays out, but I’ve been doing this for 18 years, and this is the biggest night ever, and I couldn’t be more disappointed.”
Nurmagomedov – who had his purse withheld – faces a hefty fine and a lengthy suspension which could see him stripped of his belt. In the aftermath, he admitted he had not shown his best side but blamed the prefight trash-talk for his actions. “This is a respectful sport. This is not trash-talking. This is respectful,” Khabib said.
“You cannot talk about religion or nations. Guys, you cannot talk about this stuff and, for me, this is very important.”
McGregor was unavailable for comment after the fight but took to Twitter to confirm his desire for a rematch: “Good knock. Looking forward to the rematch,” McGregor tweeted.