LAS VEGAS — When Daniel Cormier left his seat in the stands at UFC 229, his first instinct was to fight alongside his teammate Khabib Nurmagomedov. Nurmagomedov had just jumped out of the Octagon and went after Conor McGregor’s cornerman Dillon Danis. All hell was breaking loose inside and outside the cage.
Quickly, though, Cormier got a hold of himself, he said Friday at a UFC 230 media day at the UFC Performance Institute. Going out there and escalating the situation was not the right move, he thought. So he acted as a peacemaker, calming Nurmagomedov down.
Looking back, Cormier said he finds the whole thing kind of hilarious.
“You know what the crazy thing is, we’re fighters, so the initial reaction is like, ‘Oh my God, I’m gonna go help my teammate. I’m gonna go fight,’” the UFC heavyweight champion said. “But then I got out, I was like wait a minute, what am I thinking? So when I finally get to Khabib, he’s going crazy. It was the funniest shit I’ve ever seen, honestly.
“For me, it sucks that it was in front of all these people. But again, it was just a whole bunch of dudes just kind of fighting, acting crazy. Like, what are you guys doing? Every city in the country, every Saturday in some frickin’ street bar or a club, this is going on. It just happened between a whole bunch of Russian guys and a whole bunch of Irish guys in front of millions of people. So for me, I had to kind of separate the idea that I was kind of laughing to try and to go like, guys we are probably in front of the biggest viewership we’ve ever had.”
Inside the cage, McGregor was involved in a skirmish with several of Nurmagomedov’s teammates. Both McGregor and Nurmagomedov — and others — are being investigated by the Nevada Athletic Commission (NAC) for their roles in the melee. McGregor and Nurmagomedov are facing fines and potential suspensions.
Cormier, who is the captain of Nurmagomedov’s American Kickboxing Academy team in San Jose, Calif., said when he got to Nurmagomedov, he was being held back by UFC security, and that Nurmagomedov was screaming for his UFC lightweight belt. UFC president Dana White didn’t want to give it to Nurmagomedov, because he was afraid fans would start pelting the Octagon with garbage.
Finally, Cormier said he convinced Nurmagomedov to head to the back and get his belt there, because it would “get ugly” if the title was put around his waist inside the arena. When everyone got backstage, Cormier said he asked Nurmagomedov what he was trying to do when he jumped off the cage toward Danis.
“Then when we get to the locker room, I asked him,” Cormier said. “I go, ‘Hey,’ He goes, ‘Yeah?’ I go, ‘So, what was the desired outcome there?’ I go, ‘Did you want to step on his head? What did you want to do?’ Like, what in your mind were you wanting to accomplish? Were you gonna drop kick him? Double foot kick him? Like, what were you doing? He goes, ‘Brother, I don’t know. I lose my mind.’ I said, ‘I know you did.’”
Cormier said he was not surprised Nurmagomedov acted the way he did, because of everything McGregor did before the fight, from talking about Nurmagomedov’s region of Dagestan to throwing a dolly through the bus window in Brooklyn back in April. Cormier said he nearly had his own run-in at AKA with Nurmagomedov and crew.
“No, because one time I did him something, hurt his neck in practice and they were about to kick my ass,” Cormier said. “Like seriously, they all started standing up and they were kind of surrounding me. … Those guys don’t play around, man. They got up. They actually got up. I was like, ‘Hey man, don’t ever come in here and jump me. It’s my gym.’ But they don’t mess around, man. Khabib does not play around and he is honestly the crown jewel of that circle. They love him and rightfully so. We all do, too.”
McGregor thought he was building a fight, while Nurmagomedov was getting “madder and madder,” Cormier said. In the end, though, Cormier doesn’t think the UFC 229 brawl will make mixed martial arts look bad.
“It’s no black eye for the sport, man,” Cormier said. “We fight. That’s what we do — we fight. You got a lot of very smart, educated men in this game, but sometimes emotion drives the ship. And on that night, emotions drove the ship. This fight was kind of built in a very bad place.”