In one of the most highly anticipated matchups of the year, an intense battle between two of mixed martial arts’ elite competitors — Khabib Nurmagomedov and Conor McGregor — ended in unexpected chaos. Looking to defend his Ultimate Fighting Championship Lightweight title, Russian-born Khabib aimed for his 27th straight MMA victory. In the other corner, Irish-born McGregor showed no fear as he attempted to upset Khabib and reclaim the UFC Lightweight belt. In a fierce, four-round fight, Khabib defeated McGregor and it appeared as though the night was over.
But another fight was just beginning.
As an exhausted McGregor accepted defeat, Khabib climbed over the Octagon wall and leaped into the crowd, attacking McGregor’s jiu-jitsu coach, Dillon Danis, with a flying kick. The abrupt decision sent officials and spectators into a frenzy, with many nearby viewers fleeing for their own safety.
As Khabib and Danis charged at each other, security worked to contain the brawl and restore order in the Las Vegas arena. Meanwhile, McGregor remained inside the cage where security held him back from joining the post-fight skirmish. In a matter of seconds, members from Khabib’s corner climbed the Octagon wall and started swinging at McGregor, including a man in a red shirt — believed to be Russian MMA fighter Zubaira Tukhugov — who surreptitiously snuck behind McGregor and started viciously throwing punches. UFC President Dana White later announced that three of Khabib’s team members were arrested but then released after McGregor decided not to press charges.
As viewers watched in awe, not even broadcasters knew what to make of the chaotic situation. What fueled the hatred between McGregor and Khabib’s teams? What caused two well-respected fighters to stoop to the lows of a personal feud? How did a seemingly civil fight spill out of the cage, transforming into a dangerous clash?
The McGregor-Khabib beef dates back to November 2016, when the two got mixed up in a verbal altercation, yelling at each other backstage during the UFC 205 weigh-in. While McGregor fought Floyd Mayweather in a boxing match in August 2017, Khabib battled injuries that kept him out of the MMA Octagon for the vast majority of last year. But time out of the Octagon for both competitors did not diminish their rivalry. More recently, the Khabib-McGregor feud started to heat up again. On April 5, during a media event for UFC 223, McGregor and his crew traveled to Barclays Center in Brooklyn to confront Khabib and his crew. When Khabib’s crew wouldn’t get off their team bus, McGregor took matters into his own hands, angrily throwing a dolly into the back of the bus. The broken glass injured members of Khabib’s team, but a warrant for McGregor’s arrest lead to a meager consequence — five days of community service. With the bus incident picked up by the mainstream media, the Khabib-McGregor rivalry reached new heights, and a showdown between the two prodigious MMA fighters was now inevitable.
Born in Dublin, Ireland, NYU Stern junior Darragh Lacey offered his two cents about the emotional UFC fight; “It was exactly what I expected. I love McGregor but Khabib is undefeated for a reason, his wrestling is unreal.” When asked about the drama after the fight — and whether Khabib should be penalized — Lacey said he didn’t think there should be any consequences. “Conor went overboard before the fight. I’m Irish, I love Conor. But he insulted his family, insulted his religion, insulted his manager. It was coming. It was expected. It’s UFC. It’s MMA. It’s nothing fake. It’s the real deal.”
A few hours after White answered a stampede of questions from the media, Khabib Nurmagomedov made a brief statement to the press. He did not answer any questions from reporters, but Khabib did apologize, acknowledging it wasn’t his “best side.” Khabib made a specific point to apologize to the Nevada Athletic Commission, an organization that could put pressure on the UFC to suspend Khabib, which could strip him of his Lightweight belt.
As for McGregor, the 30-year-old Irish native tweeted he looks forward to stepping back into the Octagon soon.
On a historic October night, the future of UFC took a dramatic turn. As long as security can protect the spectators, the personal feuds seem to add fuel to the fire and excitement for future fights. Out of all the drama that went down after the fight, there seems to be one thing everyone is looking forward to: a Khabib-McGregor rematch.
A version of this article appeared in the Tuesday, Oct. 9 print edition. Email Brendan Duggan at [email protected]