Post-Fight Thoughts: Conor McGregor -vs- Khabib Nurmagomedov
Well.... UFC 229 was chock-full of a lot of surprises, but none more shocking than the events which transpired immediately after the conclusion of the main event. After securing a submission from Conor McGregor in the fourth round, Khabib Nurmagomedov scaled the cage faster than I've seen anyone do it and literally dove into the crowd to start fighting with Dillon Danis and the rest of McGregor's corner men. Chaos briefly broke out as Khabib's own entourage stormed the cage and looked to exchange punches with Conor before the extra security — including Las Vegas police officers — were able to stifle the melee and get everything under control.
The fight itself, which will likely be overshadowed by the post-fight antics for quite some time, was actually very good. I was unfortunately wrong in my pick, thinking Conor would show up and shock the world again. Khabib Nurmagomedov fought an excellent fight, his takedowns were on point, he didn't tire, and he methodically broke down the Irishman who was never able to get into any sort of groove. What few shots Conor did land lacked his trademarked snap and power, and Khabib's takedown threats actually allowed him to land more punches than I expected. Overall, Khabib put on a masterful performance of patience and terrifying skill. It was only after the fight was over that he lost his cool.
I began to worry as Conor came down to the cage. I don't generally put much stock in how a fighter looks when they make their walkout, but Conor appeared a lot softer, physically, than he has in the past, and his face seemed world weary — like the last 2 years of heavy partying and debauchery had finally taken their toll. It's difficult to fully articulate, but McGregor went through the motions but didn't have the same aura of unflinching confidence about him as he had in the past. Khabib, however, looked the same as always, a completely unfazed, cold, calculating killer.
Conor never strung together any meaningful offence, though he did show flashes of impressive takedown defence and balance before Khabib would eventually drag him to the mat. Conor seemed to be tired after the first round, which was fairly low-action, and utterly exhausted by the end of the second — where there was a brief period where he looked close to being stopped due to ground-and-pound. To his credit, Conor rallied back in the third but was unable to do much with his second wind. By the time Khabib took Conor down in the fourth frame, it seemed like the end was very near and, sure enough, the Dagestani locked in a neck crank — either because he couldn't sink the rear-naked choke or because he wanted to hurt McGregor — and forced the tap.
Had things ended there, and Khabib just maintained his composure and let things progress to the usual post-fight ritual: declaring the winner, Dana putting the belt on the champ, etc, things would have been fine. Instead, several of Khabib's entourage were arrested after the melee, although Dana White later confirmed they were released when Conor refused to press charges, and Khabib may have severely affected his chances for future work visas and licensure in Nevada. At the post-fight presser, Dana White stated the commission was doing a full investigation into the incident and that, apparently, the governor of Nevada was present and fled the building in fear during the melee. None of those things bode well or Nurmagomedov's future fighting prospects in North America.
Conor, to his credit, did better than many would have expected given how the fight played out. The fact the fight went into the championship rounds was impressive, and Conor did show a lot of heart and tenactity before finally submitting to what appeared to be a very painful neck crank. Conor talked a lot of trash, and arguments about whether some things were over the line or not will be raging for days, even weeks after this is over. I'll be collecting my thoughts on that at a later date, as in the immediate aftermath everyone's emotions were peaking and I don't think anything is served by not taking time to reflect on everything. There is a lot of blame to go around: the UFC used the bus attack footage as a promotional tool, gave Conor a venue to berate Khabib using his religion and associations with Chechen warlords as fodder for said trash talk, and clearly the organisation did not understand how seriously Dagestanis take these sorts of things. I understand Khabib's rage even if I think his reaction was embarrassing and will likely prove very costly to his career.
At the post-fight presser there were repeated questions about a rematch, which is just utter nonsene. Conor got defeated as soundly as it gets — he was dominated for almost every moment of the fight and at no point was he winning, even for a second. Even if the UFC was crazy enough to try and book a rematch — provided that is even possible in the near future — what exactly is the selling point? At least when Nate Diaz and Conor ran things back after the former choked the latter out, the fight itself was a back-and-forth contest where both men had their moments. Conor / Khabib was the complete antithesis of that; Khabib took Conor's lunch money and there is zero purpose in a rematch and, arguably, roughly equal interest.
Provided he's able to fight again without a lengthy suspension, the UFC needs to try and make the fight with Tony Ferguson happen — there is no other clear contender. As for Conor, I expect him to lay low for a little while and probably call out Nate Diaz after his fight with Dustin Poirier. I sincerely doubt Conor ever wants to share a cage with Khabib again, and he can make plenty of money with another dance partner. That is, if he even cares to fight again; Conor looked, physically, like a man who lost his hunger since he's been eating at the multi-millionaires' table. He might just want to move on before his brand gets tarnished with too many losses.
Published: October 7th, 2018.