UFC 229 fallout: Khabib – McGregor brawl a black eye for the sport

UFC 229 was something else…

The sport’s biggest star, Conor McGregor, returning from a two-year absence, taking on his most heated rival, Khabib Nurmagomedov

Khabib entered UFC 229 sporting an unblemished record, and proudly wearing the title that McGregor never lost.

The bout was months in the making, with plenty of drama to build anticipation along the way. But no matter how much promotion was involved, this fight went back to the days of the striker versus the grappler, in an old school throwback contest that had fans salivating.

The best part? These two combatants are in their athletic primes, still wanting a piece of each other, in stark contrast to the problem that has plagued boxing for decades.

In the end, Khabib solidified his place as the top lightweight on Earth, submitting McGregor in the fourth round via rear naked choke. It should have been a triumphant moment, one that Khabib, his team, fans and critics could celebrate, knowing they had all just been a part of MMA history.

Instead, we are left re-living something else entirely. Post-fight, Khabib lunged over the cage, attacking Dillon Danis, McGregor’s longtime friend and training partner. At the same time, McGregor got into a fight in the cage with Khabib’s teammates and coaches. Fights broke out in the concourse of T-Mobile Arena, the two fighters were ushered backstage in the midst of all the chaos.

As all this was unfolding, Bruce Buffer was standing alone in the centre of the Octagon, where he read the official decision before quickly getting out of dodge.

A historical night – For all the wrong reasons.

It’s no secret that the UFC still faces much criticism as it continues to grow. Sure they’re on FOX. Yes, they’re heading to ESPN. The fighters are serious athletes, to be respected like their NFL, NBA, and NHL counterparts. You know that. I know that. So why am I forced to say it?

Because this fight was bigger than us. Bigger than hardcore fans who watch every MMA event. Combat sports often use the tagline “The world is watching”, or something of the sort, often exaggerating the truth. However, at UFC 229, it was entirely true. Your mailman, substitute teachers, and retirees were all tuned in, in many cases for the first time, to see two of the sport’s best get involved in a brawl in the crowd.

Do you think those people came away with a good impression of the MMA world?

Absolutely not.

In fact, heading into the ESPN deal, the incident at UFC 229 may bring about some longterm negativity, similar to the early days of the UFC.

MMA media are often left defending the sport not only to potential audiences, but also to fellow journalists who are still stuck in the dark ages mentality. Saturday night did little to change that.

To be clear, both sides are guilty. Khabib should never have left the cage, his team should never have gone after McGregor. However, McGregor crossed the line numerous times in the buildup to the fight in some of the things he said… and threw.

While those of us who love the sport know that instances like these are a rarity, there is a whole other segment of the viewing audience that doesn’t. Instead of coming away from UFC 229 saying “That was incredible”, they more likely said “How can anyone enjoy this?”

We all look bad in the fallout of this brawl.

Don’t get me wrong, the sport will be fine. It has survived much darker times. The reality is, however, is that the sport took a major step back in the aftermath of the UFC biggest fight.

While we will continue to defend the sport we love, the question remains, why do we always have to?

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