Well that was a shit-show. Unless you’ve been in a media blackout for the last 24 hours, you’ve likely heard that the main event of UFC 229, Khabib Nurmagomedov vs. Conor McGregor, ended in a brawl as “The Eagle” flew over the cage to attack McGregor’s corner, specifically Dillon Danis, after winning by neck crank in the 4th round. Security at the T-Mobile Arena and Metro Police on-hand handled the situation with speed and precision, yet they still couldn’t prevent a number of Khabib’s cohorts from jumping into the cage amongst the chaos and successfully sucker-punching a deflated McGregor.
This incident will draw the eyes of MMA and mainstream media for weeks to come, and there will be many thinkpieces, videos, and comments made about it.
This is not one those articles.
Rather, it’s for you, the loyal hardcore MMA fan, who will inevitably be asked about it. As Dana White said in the post-fight presser, this was a “crossover event,” and even “soccer moms are ordering the pay-per-view.” Fights with this type of gravity draw in thousands of people who only check out MMA a few times a year, meaning for many, what they saw will be what they assume the sport is always like, always teetering on disaster.
So when Monday rolls around and you’re talking about the brawl at work, among friends, or in some god-forsaken comment section, here are a few points you should make to people who will inevitably think UFC 229 is just par for the course…
1. This isn’t a normal thing by a long shot.
For more mainstream sports like football, baseball, basketball, etc., it’s understood that the occasional bench clearing brawl is an aberration. It gets a lot of attention because it happens so rarely and is out of character for the sport. With MMA, it often times doesn’t even make it into mainstream media unless things go haywire, leaving the impression for many casuals that the sport is just made up of savage men being locked in a cage, so its unsurprising that their violent animal tendencies tend to spill over.
In truth, brawls like this rarely happen in MMA on either the professional or amateur level. Fighters are top-level athletes, and the whole reason they are at an MMA event is because they want to get paid to punch and be punched in the face, not just do it for giggles. The only other well-known incident similar to this happened at a Strikeforce event in Nashville in 2010 involving Jason “Mayhem” Miller, the Diaz brothers, Jake Shields, and Gilbert Melendez. That was 8 years ago, which in out current internet age might as well be back in the Jurassic period. The only reason the UFC 229 brawl will get so much attention is because it’s so rare just like in any other sport, so it definitely shouldn’t be used to paint MMA with a broad brush.
2. I, as an MMA fan, don’t condone or like this.
After said Nashville brawl, I had quite a few people who had seen the story in the news say something to the effect of, “Well that’s what the fans want, right? Just a couple of bozos going at it.”
In short, the answer is a big fat nope. Any fighting that goes on beyond the realm of the sport is just assault, annoying, and damaging. With the UFC 229 blunder, there’s a good chance two top level athletes will be on the shelf for a very long time, the lightweight title picture will be thrown into disarray again, and MMA’s reputation will need a long time to wash this stain out. It will largely be glossed over in the months to come, but as soon as Khabib or McGregor are scheduled to fight again, you know what will come up on the big sites. “Oh man, you remember what happened last time, there’s going to be a riot.” Of course, you know the UFC won’t help itself because it will use this incident to promote the ever-loving shit out of a card.
3. The real story is the fight & event itself.
Khabib vs. McGregor was a compelling matchup on its own before things went woefully off the rails. There were momentum switches, both guys got to show off their best skills, there was no weird reffing or judging to gum up the works (despite numerous fouls by McGregor), and in the end, there was a clean finish that showed the world that Khabib was the better fighter that night. He stood confidently with McGregor and even landed a Liddell-esque looping right hand to ground the Notorious one. After months of build up and trash talk that went way beyond two dudes fighting in a cage, Khabib was able to impose his will, and it was compelling.
And, this was on top of an already stellar night of fights! On the main card alone, Derrick Lewis made the comeback of the year, Dominick Reyes asserted himself as a true contender in the barren light-heavyweight division, and Tony Ferguson and Anthony Pettis had a compelling war that was sloppy, technical, and bloody at the same time.
As MMA fans, we’re often put in the position of defending the sport when talking to people who don’t follow it on a regular basis. This isn’t a burden put on other fandoms, but it’s one we must bear if this new, still relatively niche sport is to grow and thrive in the years to come. So, when you inevitably find yourself talking to a casual about UFC 229, just remind them that the nonsense after the bell isn’t MMA, it isn’t why you watch the sport, and it shouldn’t overshadow the greatness the athletes achieved that night.