For the five months prior to UFC 229, it was easy to sympathize with Khabib Nurmagomedov. My experience has been that the UFC lightweight champion is not only an extraordinary fighter, but he’s also an extraordinary person.
Scores of people I have spoken to about him have said the same. To see him have to sit silently and absorb all manner of unbelievably personal remarks from Conor McGregor in the name of selling a fight was difficult.
McGregor was a bully who had no restrictions. English isn’t Nurmagomedov’s first language and he was at a serious disadvantage when it came to defending himself. He defended himself in the best manner possible, though. He remained quiet and classy in the face of the attacks from McGregor that were in such poor taste, and let his talent in the cage speak for him.
He dominated McGregor and forced the Irishman to tap in the fourth round of a thoroughly one-sided fight.
Since the moment that McGregor tapped his submission, though, Nurmagomedov has made bad move after bad move. Leaping over the top of the cage was by far the worst, but he has continued to make his situation worse, not better, every time he opens his mouth.
The latest example is an Instagram post the lightweight champion made on Thursday, in which he essentially threatened to walk away from the UFC if it cuts his friend, Zubaira Tukhugov, for entering the cage on Saturday and punching McGregor.
“Why do you have to punish my team when both teams fought? If you say that I started it, then I do not agree, I finished what he started. In any case, punish me. Zubaira Tukhugov has nothing to do with that.
“If you think that I’ll keep silent, then you are mistaken. You canceled Zubaira’s fight and you want to dismiss him just because he hit Conor. But don’t forget that it was Conor who had hit my other brother FIRST. Just check the video. If you decide to fire him, you should know that you’ll lose me, too.”
The videos show that after Nurmagomedov leaped over the cage to go after McGregor cornerman Dillon Danis, McGregor himself tried to go over the cage and punched someone from Nurmagomedov’s team who was likewise climbing the fence. Later, McGregor slugged a teammate of Nurmagomedov’s who came into the cage.
Clearly, it’s a cultural issue and Nurmagomedov doesn’t understand the legal system in the U.S. McGregor was arrested and pleaded guilty to a crime for attacking the bus at a UFC 223 press conference in Brooklyn in April. While McGregor’s taunts and cutting words may have felt to Nurmagomedov like a continuation of what he saw as unpunished behavior that began in Brooklyn, it was not.
When McGregor joined the UFC in 2013, he was a refreshing addition. He was humorous and quick-witted and his barbs didn’t cross the line of decency and were obviously in the name of promotion. But it got less so as time went on and McGregor made racist comments during the promotion for his boxing match with Floyd Mayweather that were beyond the pale. And it just got worse after the Mayweather fight.
Maybe fame has changed McGregor, but he needs to adjust his behavior, and quickly.
That said, Nurmagomedov was wrong for leaping over the cage, as clearly he could have started a riot. He’s fortunate that the police and arena security did a magnificent job in containing the melee, and he’s incredibly lucky no innocent bystanders were injured.
And while I feel great empathy for the torrent of verbal abuse Nurmagomedov endured from McGregor, he and his teammates simply cannot enact vigilante justice. That’s what they attempted to do on Saturday.
In addition, Nurmagomedov wrote on Instagram that the UFC is holding his money. The UFC gave a check for the $2 million guarantee that Nurmagomedov had coming to the Nevada Athletic Commission. It is the commission that is holding the money and the UFC is powerless to stop it.
McGregor was classless in ripping Nurmagomedov’s religion and his family. There’s no other way to put it. That went beyond simply trying to sell tickets to a fight.
What happened to Nurmagomedov is reminiscent of what baseball Hall of Famer Jackie Robinson had to endure when he became the first African-American to play Major League Baseball. He was subjected to despicable words and actions on an almost daily basis, but controlled himself and didn’t respond.