LAS VEGAS, NV - OCTOBER 06: Conor McGregor of Ireland attempts to leave the octagon in chase of Khabib Nurmagomedov of Russia in their UFC lightweight championship bout during the UFC 229 event inside T-Mobile Arena on October 6, 2018 in Las Vegas, Nevada. (Photo by Josh Hedges/Zuffa LLC/Zuffa LLC)
LAS VEGAS, NV - OCTOBER 06: Conor McGregor of Ireland attempts to leave the octagon in chase of Khabib Nurmagomedov of Russia in their UFC lightweight championship bout during the UFC 229 event inside T-Mobile Arena on October 6, 2018 in Las Vegas, Nevada. (Photo by Josh Hedges/Zuffa LLC/Zuffa LLC)

McGregor had no idea what he was dealing with

FOR Conor McGregor, sledging is a game. The Irishman is charismatic enough to make the punters think he believes what he says and most of the time he probably does.

But McGregor's sledges and insults and hatred end once the bell sounds to end the fight itself.

He once said he was confident in preparation, cocky in prediction but always humble, in victory or defeat, and that has always been the case.

Even after his greatest triumphs, like the Jose Aldo victory or the second Nate Diaz fight, once the initial rush of victory wears off and the soundbites on the mic have been captured, McGregor has been gracious.

Post-fight is often when he is his most genuine and insightful. The McGregor we see in the lead-up is very different to the one we see when the battle is over.

Khabib Nurmagomedov is not like that. This is real for him, all the time.

To understand why Nurmagomedov jumped the cage after his victory at UFC 229 and why his posse were so eager to follow him into the madness, you must understand his background.

Nurmagomedov is from Dagestan, a small federal republic in the North Caucasus region of Russia.

It's a tough area. Not in the way parts of Dublin McGregor calls home are tough, the way warzones are tough.

Violence of the most uncontrolled, wild kind has always been a part of Nurmagomedov's life.

Nurmagomedov talks a lot about honour, which seems like an old-world concept to the west but is still a very real part of Dagestani culture.

Nurmagomedov was just too strong for McGregor. (AP Photo/John Locher)
Nurmagomedov was just too strong for McGregor. (AP Photo/John Locher)

The bus attack in Brooklyn earlier this year, the jibes about Nurmagomedov's family, his faith and his country, all added up - Nurmagomedov would have viewed the madness as a matter of honour salvaged and said as much in his statement following the fight.

The things McGregor says have consequences.

This is not wrestling.

The insults are real, the people hearing them and feeling them are real. Nurmagomedov already said before the fight he would not shake McGregor's hand afterwards, regardless of the result.

McGregor said personal things that built hatred in Nurmagomedov that might well never dissipate.

McGregor's self-belief is so powerful and impregnable it makes him feel bulletproof. It's propelled him to stardom the likes of which few fighters in any sport have ever known. He fears nothing, because his confidence is absolute.

But he did not seem to understand what he was dealing with. Many of the fans didn't either. Nurmagomedov has been a star in the UFC for some time but this was his first time the world was watching.

The fight lived up to the hype. (Photo by Harry How/Getty Images)
The fight lived up to the hype. (Photo by Harry How/Getty Images)

One of Conor McGregor's go-to calls when there's a bit of push and shove is "Do something! Do something then!" and he found someone that would do something.

This does not make what Nurmagomedov and his team did right. It was dangerous, disgusting and foolish and he should face harsh consequences.

It has given critics of MMA a further reason to look down their noses at the sport and will always overshadow the most important victory of Nurmagomedov's life.

This is a sport, no matter what anyone says, but the millions watching around the world will all be talking about the fighting outside the cage.

The actions of Zubaria Tukhugov, who climbed into the ring and fired a coward punch at an unsuspecting McGregor, were totally despicable.

In the arena the atmosphere switched to one of violent uncertainty.

It was scary because it was uncontrolled - the action unfolded 10 metres away from your writer and for a moment it seemed like things would spill over into a riot.

The security and police presence should be applauded for keeping things as small as they were.

Several fans attempted to climb over the barricades and if that had become anything more than a trickle then there would have been a flood.

Given the rage of the fans it could have fast become a dangerous situation for all 20,000 people present.

Dana White deserves credit too for making the decision not to allow the belt to be placed on Nurmagomedov in the ring.

It would have incensed an already furious crowd and debris would have fallen like rain.

To get a true glimpse into Nurmagomedov's mindset, know that when White told he him he might get arrested he said "If that's what happens then I'll get arrested, just let me do it with my belt on."

The belt, and the fight, seemed almost forgotten after the madness of the close, but it lived up to the hype.

The ceremonial weigh-in the day before was a truly remarkable event.

Over 10,000 punters piled into the T-Mobile arena just to see the fighters face off one last time. The magnitude of the fight, the size and scale of the stakes and the passion, were laid bare for all to see.

When the fighters entered the arena on fight night it was cinematic. The two men seemed larger than life. McGregor revels in the spotlight and adulation like no athlete this writer has ever seen live.

The fight itself was straight out of a dream for Nurmagomedov. It went exactly as it needed to for him to impose his will.

An early takedown in the first robbed McGregor of the chance to score an early victory, which was always his best chance.

The second round could have easily been the last. Nurmagomedov dropping McGregor with a clubbing right hook was a shock.

It marks the first time McGregor has hit the deck in his UFC career and it would have knocked many out. The ensuing barrage of blows quite easily could have been the end.

Nurmagomedov jumping into the crowd after bout with Conor McGregor.
Nurmagomedov jumping into the crowd after bout with Conor McGregor.

McGregor's gaudy ways and sledging should never obscure the fact that he's a fighter to the end. He was clearly exhausted going into the third but tried to lift again, winning the round and fighting off Nurmagomedov's suffocation as best he could.

But time was running out. Once Nurmagomedov secured an early takedown in the fourth the end felt nigh.

McGregor fought on as best he could but there is nobody in the world who grapples like the prince of Dagestan. One error is all it takes and Nurmagomedov's rear-naked choke finished a dominant and complete performance.

It seems unlikely Nurmagomedov will be stripped of the title but Nevada and Las Vegas may be off limits to him for some time. Securing visas for his team will be very difficult if they are charged. But he will retreat to his homeland and revel in the love of his people.

 

Nurmagomedov is escorted from the arena. (Photo by Harry How/Getty Images) *** BESTPIX ***
Nurmagomedov is escorted from the arena. (Photo by Harry How/Getty Images) *** BESTPIX ***

 

McGregor has made noises about a rematch already, but for what purpose?

This was not the first Diaz fight, which was back and forth and turned on one moment. This wasn't the Aldo fight, which was over so quickly we never saw the best of the Brazilian.

Both men got an opportunity to do their thing and there was no question of Nurmagomedov's superiority on the night.

A third bout with Diaz seems likely, regardless of Diaz's bout with Dustin Poirer next month.

Perhaps another showdown with Poirer, who lost to McGregor in their first meeting in 2014, or a mega fight with Georges St-Pierre which has been mooted for some time.

Or maybe he just hangs them up.

There have been some telling signs of McGregor's interest going beyond fighting.- not that he took this bout lightly.

But the aggressive and sustained promotion of his Proper Twelve whiskey, the remarks that he wants to be a billionaire by the time he's done, those are the actions of an aspiring mogul.

It is difficult to imagine a scenario where McGregor's earnings inside the cage can rise. The business world is where he wants to fight now.

And it's a world away from life inside the ocatgon.



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