Two years after their hugely controversial bout at UFC 229, both Khabib Nurmagomedov and Conor McGregor remain inextricably linked. Will the UFC’s two biggest stars ever meet again at the Octagon?
Midway through the fourth round of the most-watched UFC fight in history, McGregor, with Nurmagomedov’s vice-like forearms wrapped around his neck, signaled to the referee that he had admitted defeat.
That it should be: the culmination of a month-long public feud fueled by religious resentment and incurring all kinds of insults and criminal damage in the parking lot. Instead, the defining moment in the Russian’s career so far became his most infamous.
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With the thrill of victory and a rush of adrenaline to overwhelm him, Khabib set off like a caged animal from the octagon to attack members of McGregor’s team. He briefly exchanged blows with McGregor’s training partner Dillon Danis while his own team, including current UFC fighter Zubaira Tukhugov, dodged referees and Nevada Athletic Commission officials to continue an attack on McGregor.
The ugly incident was condemned by everyone and from all angles. McGregor shouldn’t have chosen the words and actions he’d done leading up to the fight, and Nurmagomedov – as he himself admitted – shouldn’t have responded the way he did immediately after the end. Bans and strongly worded statements followed, in which cable news decoded the actions of everyone involved and UFC President Dana White declared both the most lucrative night in the organization’s history and the “darkest day” since last.
And today, two years away from UFC 229, the aftermath of that fateful night in Las Vegas can still be felt.
Both Nurmagomedov and McGregor have only attended once since then (although Khabib is only a few weeks away from his second), which makes their first meeting a little fresh in our minds.
There has been enough gossip from both fighters in the past two years to be immortalized in the media forever. Much of it came from Nurmagomedov’s manager Ali Abdelaziz, a man who was never known to abandon sleeping dogs. Indeed, a trawl through Abdelaziz’s Twitter reveals a recurring subject: Conor McGregor.
The past few weeks have shown that Abdelaziz is referring to McGregor when talking about any number of his own fighting stables, be it Chabib, Justin Gaethje, Kamaru Usman, Khamzat Chimaev, Islam Makhachev … the list goes on. It arguably the case that Abdelaziz is referring more to the Khabib and McGregor rivalry than to Khabib and McGregor combined – although Khabib posted on Instagram today, referring first to the anniversary of what he referred to as “Smash Day” before he released footage of his destruction by McGregor.
“It’s only business for them, but not for me … It was the night the masks flew away and few people from the mountains of downtown Vegas made history with the blood of rivals,” the 155 wrote -Pound rulers.
And that brings it to the one constant currency that drives the price war economy. Feuds like these draw a lot of money.
Do you know what made the rematch between Mike Tyson and Evander Holyfield so great? It was because Tyson bit Holyfield in the ear in the first fight. Without that, the sequel isn’t quite as appealing.
Same goes for Khabib Nurmagomedov v Conor McGregor II – and everyone connected with it, including Abdelaziz, knows this. When the two heated rivals meet for the second time in the UFC, it will be big business. Certainly the biggest deal the UFC has ever made, and perhaps enough to make it admirably on the list of best-selling pay-per-views for fights of all time.
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Although the narrative has changed a lot in the past two years (Khabib turned down and refused to fight McGregor; McGregor’s ‘retirement’, etc.), Dana White stated that he was extremely close to convincing the Russian to Not only to fight the rematch of the notorious Irishman, but to spend six weeks in each other’s company as a competing coach in a season of “The Ultimate Fighter”.
All of these are why two years later it doesn’t look like the final chapter in the Khabib-McGregor anthology was written, despite what anyone tells you. Far from it.