UFC 229: Khabib Nurmagomedov ruined the biggest night of his career — or did he?

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Khabib Nurmagomedov (Getty Images)

LAS VEGAS — It was easily the biggest event in UFC history, but it will also go down as its most infamous. 

Khabib Nurmagomedov’s fourth-round submission of Conor McGregor to retain his UFC lightweight title won’t be how Saturday night’s UFC 229 is remembered. Derrick Lewis’ epic come-from-behind knockout of Alexander Volkov and hilarious postfight interview are already distant memories. Tony Ferguson and Anthony Pettis had a Round of the Year contender in their scintillating co-main-event clash; unfortunately, that, too, has become an afterthought. 

SN LIVE BLOG: Chaotic postfight brawl overshadows Nurmagomedov’s submission of McGregor

What UFC 229 will be remembered for is one of the most sickening scenes in MMA history when Nurmagomedov jumped out of the Octagon and started a brawl after winning the biggest fight of his career. 

This could have been Nurmagomedov’s moment in the sun. All he had to do was keep his emotions in check. Understandably, that was a tall task for an individual who had to endure a number of insults about his family and religion during the buildup to this fight; however, a professional fighter with everything on the line needs to avoid being involved in a debacle that will overshadow his greatest MMA moment. 

“What Khabib should have done was pull Conor up from the ground after he submitted him and say, ‘Good fight,'” UFC president Dana White said during the postfight press conference. “Even if you are the biggest Conor fan, you have to respect Khabib. I think what Khabib did to himself, he won the fight and looked great doing it. He had the opportunity to walk out of that place as the champion and look like a stud. Instead, he went flying over the cage and started this whole thing. It should have been a very different night for him.”

Nurmagomedov submitted the biggest star in combat sports today. The result could have boosted the Dagestan fighter’s popularity to new heights and opened avenues to rake in earnings outside the Octagon. Instead, he tarnished his character and is now facing legal action, a possible suspension and possibly being stripped of his title should the Nevada State Athletic Commission choose to pursue the harshest punishment.

Nurmagomedov can take pride in retaining his title against his arch-nemesis, but he left a lot on the table with his actions. Some of his teammates will no longer be able to fight in the UFC after the incident. His future is in question. 

Was it worth it? Maybe. 

“Why do people keep talking about how I jumped out of the cage?” Nurmagomedov asked the media when he made a surprise appearance at the postfight press conference. “What about (McGregor’s team)? He talked about my religion. He talked about my country. He talked about my family. He broke the bus (window) and almost killed a couple of people (in Brooklyn last April). What about this?”

Nurmagomedov has a point. The trash talking between the two sides went too far and it clearly got under his skin. Tensions were high even after he forced McGregor to tap out, and once he spotted Dillion Danis — McGregor’s jiu-jitsu coach and a man known to talk trash — all bets were off. 

Was it the right move? No, and Nurmagomedov did apologize for his actions. But he felt that something had to be done even after he ended up being victorious. For much of his career, Nurmagomedov has remained relatively humble, but McGregor pushed him to the limit. It made The Eagle get out of character on the biggest night of his career. White said that what transpired after the event was “disgusting.”

Do you know what else was “disgusting”? The bus incident being kept on a constant loop to promote this fight. White wouldn’t do anything differently if he had to do it all over again, either. 

“It’s part of the story,” White said. “Listen, this isn’t the last time guys will say mean things to each other before a fight. They’ve been doing this for 18 years and we’ve never had an incident like this. That’s the fight business and that’s sports.”

With that in mind, one has to wonder whether this incident will be used to promote what would be a monumental rematch between the two. If controversy is the fuel for success, then there’s more than enough to power this jet to historic PPV numbers. 

Obviously, many hurdles need to be cleared before the UFC can even consider a rematch. Fines and suspensions will be handed out to all involved parties first. Once that is taken care of, though, you have to believe that the company will stage another match between the two sides because it is easily the biggest fight that can be made in the sport. 

Like the McGregor bus incident, Saturday’s brawling is bad in the short term but serves a greater purpose. 

Nurmagomedov sullied his name on the biggest night in UFC history, but that can be overcome. Perhaps this will make him the biggest villain in the business, which could carry far more value heading into a second fight. Bad guys have value and Nurmagomedov is arguably the most valuable bad guy in the UFC.   

So, the question is posed again: Was it worth it?

Maybe not now, but, yeah, it probably will be.