UFC 229 was a great card overshadowed by a monumental disaster. Looking back on it, we should’ve expected this.
The hype for this fight was unlike any other. Khabib Nurmagomedov versus Conor McGregor for the UFC Lightweight Championship was marketed as a war between nations. It was Russia versus Ireland. As it turns out, this was more than just a marketing ploy.
Portraying two guys as eternal rivals that genuinely hate each other is nothing new to the sport. It’s nothing new to McGregor even. Before his fight with Jose Aldo, the UFC marketed it as a battle between a Brazilian juggernaut and an Irish underdog. Leading up to both fights with Nate Diaz, the UFC pitched a bitter rivalry between two of the “baddest” fighters on the planet.
However, the UFC has never dug a hole this deep. This time, it was real.
There was a clear path to get to this match. It started at UFC 223 with Nurmagomedov’s confrontation with McGregor’s teammate Artem Lobov. This brought McGregor all the way to New York to commit the infamous bus attack, an event that UFC president Dana White described as “the most disgusting thing that has ever happened in the history of the company,” per MMAJunkie.
Of course, only a few months later that same “disgusting” act was used as promotional material for the UFC 229 headliner.
There was a surprisingly small amount of press conferences leading up to this fight, especially compared to the world tour that McGregor went on before his boxing match with Floyd Mayweather. Still, McGregor used his time to promote his new Proper Twelve Irish whiskey and hurl personal insults at his adversary.
This is nothing new from McGregor. He does his research before fights and learns to hit his opponent where it hurts. McGregor pushed all the right buttons this time.
Nurmagomedov didn’t show it, but he wasn’t simply chalking these insults up as pre-fight banter. The jabs McGregor threw regarding Nurmagomedov’s family, his management and his religion-fueled his legitimate hatred for McGregor.
Nurmagomedov is not a showman. He’s simply a fighter. He’s never been involved in anything even close to as big as this. Nurmagomedov is not used to all the lights and cameras and trash-talking to promote a fight. This is McGregor’s world, and Nurmagomedov wanted no part of it.
All of this harbored anger burst out on Saturday night after the fight.
Nurmagomedov could’ve just left it in the cage. He dominated McGregor and forced him to tap with a neck crank. The beef should’ve been squashed then and there.
Obviously, it didn’t. Words from Dillon Danis, one of McGregor’s teammates, set Nurmagomedov off and caused him to hop out of the cage. Then all hell broke loose.
We have the power of hindsight now, but when you look back at all the little pieces that preceded this moment, it’s not hard to put the puzzle together.
Brendan Schaub was the first to publicly talk about the issues before the event happened. On the Joe Rogan Experience, Schaub voiced his concern for those in attendance and said that he wouldn’t go to this fight.
“It’s gotten bigger than just a UFC fight,” Schaub said.
He was spot on. The culmination of every event leading up to this elevated the moment past the level of a beef that could be settled in the cage. It was a moment larger than the sport.
There’s no use in pointing fingers at this point in time, but it’s clear that there are no innocent sides. Nurmagomedov shouldn’t have jumped out of the cage. Danis shouldn’t have run his mouth. Both camps are responsible for their actions and the endangerment of bystanders.
On top of all this, it seems that the UFC has found the limit on how far you can push the narrative of cultural war. This time, it boiled over more than Dana White and his team expected. It created a real hatred between two nations that the sport has never seen before.
There’s a lot to unpack from this colossal event. Arrests, trials and a ton of work will be done to repair images in the future. This is long from over.
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