We’re only two days removed from UFC lightweight champion Khabib Nurmagomedov’s submission victory over Conor McGregor at UFC 229 in Las Vegas.
Typically, after most fight cards, fans and pundits are abuzz with possible match-making conversations, reactions to highlights and chasing down fighters for reactions to the weekend’s fights.
But this week, the only thing on anyone’s minds from Saturday’s spectacle is the melee that ensued afterward.
Almost immediately after defeating his Irish rival, fans witnessed Nurmagomedov leap over the fence and swarm at McGregor’s training partner Dillon Danis. As Nurmagomedov and the opposing team tumbled into the crowd, one of his own cornermen got into a heated confrontation with McGregor inside the Octagon. Cameras would later show another one of Nurmagomedov’s teammates jumping over the fence and striking McGregor from behind.
It was truly a nightmare for UFC president Dana White, who could only watch as chaos engulfed the biggest event in the promotion’s history.
“We have to see what happens with the Nevada State Athletic Commission [sic],” said White at the postfight press conference. “There’s going to be fines. There’s going to be God knows what. Can these guys get visas and get back into the country? I mean Khabib. We’ll see how this thing plays out. I’ve been doing this for 18 years and the biggest night ever and I couldn’t be more disappointed.”
Stuck in the middle of everything was McGregor’s head coach, John Kavanagh, who, unlike White, wasn’t too broken up over Nurmagomedov actions.
“I hope [The Nevada State Athletic Commission] is lenient on [Nurmagomedov],” said Kavanagh during his appearance on the Joe Rogan Experience. “Not just so we can get a rematch. I just love watching him fight. I can stretch myself to understand his reaction. I can’t stretch myself to understand [his teammates] reaction. For Khabib, it’s not the end of the world.”
As for what sparked the the melee, most point to the levels of trash talk on display leading up to the fight, specifically McGregor bringing up Nurmagomedov’s religion and father, as well as the bus incident in April after the UFC 223 media day.
But what about Danis? Why lunge at a fighter’s training partner with that level of ferocity after you already secured victory? Not even Kavanagh could explain that one.
“[Danis] actually didn’t say anything,” revealed Kavanagh. “I was standing beside Dillon. I didn’t see what he did but I could hear. He didn’t say anything. When I watched it back I could see him beckon [Nurmagomedov] on. It’s just stupid end of fight stuff. But it didn’t justify that level of response. Maybe there was something else in the build up. Dillon is a little bit of trouble online. But, like I said, it wasn’t that big of a deal to me what Khabib did. It just really wasn’t.”
When pressed for what he expects from the fallout of the brawl, Kavanagh reiterated he was hoping the NAC would go easy Nurmagomedov but wanted them to come down hard on the other two individuals who blindsided McGregor inside the octagon.
“Like I said, if Khabib had done that isolated, I didn’t think it was a big deal,” said Kavanagh. “He didn’t really hit Dillon. There was a bit of pushing and pulling. Who cares? But a man coming up, a trained fighter with bare knuckles, hitting a guy who’s tired, who’s taken some rounds and taking some shots, there has to be ramifications for that. An example has to be made....It’s criminal. It’s assault.”
In terms of the actual athletic competition that was overshadowed by “fight after the fight,” Nurmagomedov dominated the fight from beginning to end with superior wrestling and grappling. While McGregor started to find success in third round with his striking, he had no answer for his opponent’s suffocating attack in the opening two rounds before succumbing to a neck crank in the fourth.
Speaking on McGregor’s approach to the fight, Kavanagh took the blame for the defensive minded gameplan on display.
“If there’s one thing I could change it’s I was too defensive in my mindset,” said Kavanagh. “Khabib has very specific types takedowns depending on where he is. Depending on whether he’s shooting on the single single in the middle and then on the fence. Long before Conor took to the fight, I loved watching [Khabib]. That’s kind of my area is the fence. I loved - from the Randy Couture days - how to use the fence. Khabib does it to a new level.
“One of the takedowns he hit on Conor he hadn’t actually done until the [Al] Iaquinta fight. So it was nice we kind of got to see that. I could see a little bit of [Daniel Cormier] in that high crotch and then tripping the far leg. I think Conor blocked it once but he did catch him with it. So they’re very specific takedowns.
“I do think Round 3 showed promise. Like I said, I would have liked to change things up a little bit, specifically a more offensive mindset. I thought defensively we did quite well. But offensively were weren’t really where we usually are. Right when the fight was over, I was thinking I was going into this not to lose but not to win. Conor’s shots weren’t as crisp as they normally are. He had opportunities to hit him, especially in the third round. Something was off.”
As for what fans can expect when McGregor returns to the Octagon, Kavanagh revealed his fighter was laser-focused on securing a rematch against Nurmagomedov.
“That’s all I’m hearing from [Conor],” said Kavanagh on a possible second fight. “I understand Tony [Ferguson] has earned the title shot. But I understand this is a business. The rematch between [Conor and Khabib] would be a huge fight.”