When Khabib Nurmagomedov beat Conor McGregor with a fourth-round submission at UFC 229 on Saturday, the action, one would think, had ended.
In reality, it was only just beginning.
A post-fight brawl between each fighter’s camp marred the event, the win, and, frankly, UFC.
“You have a couple moments there not just where you’re fearing for your own safety, but honestly you’re fearing for the sport,” CBS Sports combat sports writer Brian Campbell said on Reiter Than You. “This was sort of the take I had after Conor McGregor’s April attack and how he wasn’t really punished by the UFC for this: You’re setting a dangerous precedent when you’re allowing yourself to get that close to the fire. Once you get burned, it takes a long time to fix those problems.”
Boxing knows all about it.
“Once boxing had that Riddick Bowe-Andrew Golota brawl followed by the Tyson/Holyfield brawl the following year with the ear bite and the crowd fighting each other, boxing wasn’t on regular TV for upwards of 20 years after that,” Campbell said. “I’m not saying that’s the only reason, but you lose sponsorships. You lose acceptance. In MMA and UFC, you can say it’s an insane success story that they’ve gotten this far. They could have lost it in one night.”
While the short- and long-term effects of the brawl remain to be seen, one thing is certain: Nurmagomedov (27-0) is the best fighter in the world.
“It’s not that we hadn’t seen Conor McGregor lose before,” Campbell said. “I was cage-side when he lost to Nate Diaz, ringside when he lost to Floyd Mayweather. But I guess there’s justifications in those losses to a certain degree with the different sports, different weight classes. But the initial feeling was, wow, I believed too much in the cult of Conor McGregor, that there really was this magic in him that could carry him to the next level against anybody. But that feeling was quickly overwhelmed by just how damn impressive Khabib Nurmagomedov was.”
Nurmagomedov proved to be a better grappler than McGregor and an equal striker, or close to it.
“Everything he said he was going to do, he did,” Campbell said. “He controlled that fight not just from a wrestling standpoint like we all thought could happen if this fight went three, four rounds, but that third round, when he stood up and went toe-to-toe with Conor and, at worst, fought on an even level in terms of boxing and the standup and dropped Conor in Round 2 with that over-hand right, that showed me that he just didn’t dominate this fight against an elite guy – against guy who had built a resume already as one of the best in history – but he broke him mentally. He absolutely dominated him. He’s the pound-for-pound king. I know it’s a messy situation now. We’re going to talk suspensions and arrests, but Khabib Nurmagomedov is the best fighter in the world.”