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The NAC settled with Khabib and Conor, but idea to police ‘language’ in fight build up is unsettling

Conor McGregor
Esther Lin, MMA Fighting

Conor McGregor would have likely taken six months between fights anyway, so the Nevada Athletic Commission only provided him some peace of mind during Tuesday’s disciplinary hearing over the Great Fracas after UFC 229. It’s now official that he can return as of April 6. The $50,000 fine was nothing either. McGregor, the whiskey baron, has loafers that cost more than that.

But what’s spectacular is that Khabib Nurmagomedov’s aerial display after the fight cost him ten times that amount — $500,000 — just for taking a flying leap at the peroxided bullseye of Dillon Danis’s head.

Now that was steep. When McGregor and Nate Diaz flung water bottles at each other across an auditorium in the build-up to UFC 202, Diaz was fined $50,000 and McGregor $25,000. Nothing more than a brat tax, really. But Nurmagomedov got dinged a quarter of his purse for inciting a mini-riot after UFC 229, which was a fomentation of all the naughty things McGregor said to (and about) him in the lead-up to the fight. In essence, Nurmagomedov’s actions outdid the words that prompted it, which was the NAC’s way of reiterating that, “sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me…”

Only not quite.

NAC Chairman Anthony Marnell III, who is used to dealing with McGregor (and practically considers Jon Jones family by now), took exception to the Irishman’s escalating brand of shit-talk before his fights. You know, all that stuff about religion and fathers and politics and managers who have neglected child support payments; in short, the stuff that made it personal for Nurmagomedov, and turned the situation dark. In a very strange aside to the proceedings, Marnell openly wondered if the NAC should put out a pamphlet about language that would help fighters understand what is in bounds, and what is decidedly out, when it comes to talking that trash.

Maybe he was just thinking out loud, but that’s… what’s the word I’m looking for?... RIDICULOUS. Preposterous. Insanely counter-intuitive for a game that leads to the flagpole for the ultimate settling of debts. Whatever McGregor says to his opponent before a bout is another way of him inviting punches directly to his chin. That’s the payoff! You talk the shit, you need to back it up. Either that, or get your comeuppance. It’s one or the other. The fight game is addicted to invasions of personal space and subsequent accountability, which are things that should never be sanctioned. The public will pay for the thrill of taking in this ritual vicariously. To see the thing play out. It’s amazing how disposable somebody’s income becomes out of a desire to see somebody get their ass kicked.

It’s up to the fighters to decide how far they want to take things and to exercise discretion. It’s also up to them to sell a fight. Isn’t that what we always are hollering about? Learning to make the most of mic time?

If anything, McGregor is guilty of having played the game too well. He created the biggest payday in UFC history by tapping into the psyche of the fight game — that is, turning the ugliest contortions in civilization (materialism, brashness, selfishness, megalomania) into admirable traits. Still, he’s never been satisfied with that basic scale of grandeur. After he’d won two belts, defended neither, and then segued to the boxing ring for a money-grab match with Floyd Mayweather, there was a negative cloud hovering over McGregor’s head.

He needed to one-up himself.

And Nurmagomedov was in his way. At first he dealt with it like a hooligan, trying to throw a dolly through a bus window in Brooklyn, and getting embroiled in legal issues. Then he settled for prodding Nurmagomedov on every personal level and trying to manipulate his mind space. It was cold and unnerving and overboard, it’s true — none of it felt right. But it lit the fire in Nurmagomedov, and basically set the tone for one of the chilliest encounters on UFC record. The idea that Nurmagomedov would smash McGregor was always there; McGregor made it so that there’d be satisfaction in the carry out.

Anyway, I get what Marnell is saying — sometimes it is embarrassing — but it’s a silly idea to try and pre-edit fighter language before a highly emotional date in the prize ring. And it is a prize ring. The surest ways to gain a financial windfall in fighting are to A) be good at what you do, and B) be kind of like Conor McGregor. That is, be an exemplar insubordinate. Call people out. Disrespect them. Make them want to fight you. Make it personal. In short, bridge the gap between people simply acknowledging that you’re a good fighter and people actually wanting to watch you fight.

Nurmagomedov was also handed down a six-month suspension on Tuesday, contingent on him taping a PSA on anti-bullying in a timely manner. He, too, could return by April 6, though probably not in Vegas (and a return that soon isn’t likely given that Ramadan occurs a month later). The suspensions for both fighters were ultimately slaps on the wrist. The fines were not equal, because even though the NAC didn’t like McGregor’s way of provoking Nurmagomedov, Nurmagomedov’s actions became the lasting image of UFC 229. The verdict was that he obviously took things too far, after McGregor took things way, way too far.

The former is quantifiable; the latter is not.

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