When Khabib Nurmagomedov finally released the chokehold from around Conor McGregor's throat Saturday night, a plethora of UFC fans celebrated, satisfied that the humble good guy prevailed over the "evil" antagonist. Not only did the Russian extend his unbeaten streak to 27-0, but he gained a measure of revenge for the months of racial taunting, and psychological and physical attacks on his friends and family.
Or so thought the millions tuning in to UFC 229.
Nurmagomedov, however, had other ideas. The soft-spoken native of Dagestan spat on the fallen Irishman, before launching himself over the octagon and onto McGregor's entourage, in particular, trainer Dillon Danis, who had spent the duration of the fight hurling insults in a bid to distract the Russian.
That's when all hell broke loose. In arguably the most shocking moment in the history of the UFC, an all-out brawl ensued. While security at the T-Mobile Arena, as well as Las Vegas cops, attempted to separate Danis and Nurmagomedov, the two fighters' entouragees took matters into their own hands, leaping into the octagon in a scene more befitting an Irish bar fight than a sacred mixed-martial-arts arena.
First, McGregor, still reeling from having his mouth once again write a check he couldn't cash, landed a blow on a Khabib cornerman. In retaliation, two men believed to be sparring partners of the unbeaten Russian, known as "The Eagle," attacked McGregor. One landed shots from the front, while the other rattled the Dubliner with a vicious combo from behind.
Commentator Joe Rogan called it, "a dark day for the sport," while referring to "the Eagle" as "an animal." UFC founder Dana White refused to hand over the lightweight championship title while telling ESPN that there would be "big money fines" for Khabib and his team, a possible suspension, and stripping of the title. He even claimed the Russian and his team could be denied work visas. Meanwhile, the Nevada State Commission withheld the Russian's US$2 million paycheck, all the while handing over US$3 million to McGregor for losing the fight.
Very few people can justify Nurmagomedov's actions inciting a riot that spilled out into the streets — not even the fighter himself, who apologized to the state of Las Vegas, and the Nevada State Commission. However, the problem with these ramifications is that it shows a clear bias against the Russian, and borders on xenophobia.
When McGregor threw a metal handcart into a bus carrying the Russian in Brooklyn back in April (almost blinding a UFC executive), White initially called it "a disgusting act" before allowing footage of the crime to air as part of the promo material for Saturday's fight. When McGregor called Khabib "a Dagestani rat," White's mocking laugh proved he was more interested in the buyrate of the Pay-Per-View, than in upholding any decency in the sport.
Furthermore, he turned a blind eye when the flamboyant Irishman mocked Islam for being "backward" because it prohibits drinking alcohol. McGregor further stoked the fire for the fight by calling Khabib's father "a quivering coward."
If White's disregard for decency and encouragement of his fighters' comments were a sign that the promotion would rather play in to "Russiaphobia," the argument was justified earlier in the night when New Orleans-native Derrick Lewis soundly dispatched of Moscow-born Alexander Volkov, before launching into a tirade in his post-match interview, claiming "Donald Trump called me and told me to fuck up a Russian." He then suggested he'd smoke a joint with Rogan, who struggled to contain his laughter throughout the interview.
The fact remains, that, for now, KhabibNurmagomedov is still the UFC Lightweight Champion, a Russian champion, and a Muslim champion. He has millions of fans who no doubt express pride in being Muslim because of their fellow Muslim champion, and would vilify White, Rogan, and the UFC should they strip "the Eagle" of his title, and continue to heavily advocate the criminal and xenophobic behavior of their money-making mouthpiece McGregor.
And for the UFC, if this means they can profit from blurring the boundaries of an US vs. THEM binary, then the more exposure the better, even if society realizes they are in fact, not the good guys.