One of the biggest fights in mixed martial arts history descended into a chaotic mass brawl, followed by arrests, after Russian Khabib Nurmagomedov retained his UFC lightweight title with a submission victory over Irishman Conor McGregor in Las Vegas.
Violent scenes occurred inside and outside the cage on Saturday night after McGregor tapped out in the fourth round of his comeback Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) bout against the undefeated Muslim champion.
Seconds after his win with a rear naked choke hold, Nurmagomedov climbed over the cage and leaped at the men in McGregor’s corner, setting off a prolonged brawl.
Mobile phone footage showed the moment Nurmagomedov jumped into the crowd, as well as scuffles between several people and punches being thrown.
Meanwhile, two men, apparently from Nurmagomedov’s entourage, climbed into the cage and attacked McGregor, who defended himself before security personnel separated everyone.
Order was restored with no apparent serious injuries and both fighters were escorted from the arena by police, but the scuffles tainted one of the biggest and most lucrative shows in UFC history.
Organisers refused to give Khabib his belt in the ring, to avoid inciting the crowd further.
UFC President Dana White said three members of Nurmagomedov’s team were arrested, but later released after McGregor said he did not want to press charges.
“It’s just really disgusting and disappointing for me,” White said at a press conference later, adding that Nurmagomedov’s purse has been withheld by the Nevada Athletic Commission pending an investigation.
He could still be stripped off his title if a long suspension is handed down, White added.
The pre-fight mood between the two camps was extremely hostile. In July, McGregor pleaded guilty as part of a deal with prosecutors, to resolve charges over an April melee in which he attacked a bus the Russian was travelling on in New York. The Irishman avoided jail time.
In the build-up to the fight on Saturday, McGregor launched a series of verbal attacks on the Russian, making derogatory remarks about his family, his Muslim faith and the Dagestan region of his homeland.
Addressing Nurmagomedov’s father in an Instagram post in August, the Irishman wrote: “I can see you. Cowering behind fake respect. Just like your middle child. A quivering coward.”
During a pre-fight press conference in September, McGregor offered the conservative Muslim fighter his own brand of whiskey. “Why don’t you drink? Why don’t you drink?” McGregor said.
He also called Nurmagomedov’s Egyptian manager a “terrorist” on Thursday.
"He talk about my religion."
"He talk about my country."
"He talk about my father."
"Why people talk about I jump over the cage?"
Khabib shares his view after the ugly scenes at UFC 229. pic.twitter.com/YMKU2PSSEg
— UFC on BT Sport (@btsportufc) October 7, 2018
“He talk about my religion, he talk about my country, he talk about my father, he come to Brooklyn and he broke bus, he almost killed a couple people – what about this?” Nurmagomedov said at a news conference.
“This is not a trash-talking sport. This is a respect sport. I want to change this game. I don’t want people to talk s**t about opponents, talk s**t about his father … you cannot talk about religion. You cannot talk about nation, you know? Guys, you cannot talk about this stuff and you know, for me this is very important.”
Mixed martial arts (MMA) writer John Morgan, who was present at Saturday’s fight and was inches from the brawl, said the UFC needed to look at how the build-up to the fight had strayed into religious and ethnic insults and may have crossed a line.
“I think there is a lesson for everybody to be learned that some of these things you say; it’s not just about fight promotion, it runs deeper than that,” he told Al Jazeera in an interview from Las Vegas, Nevada.
“We start getting into religion, beliefs, culture and races and things along that line,” he added. “You have to be very, very careful when you tread there because it’s more than a fight at that point.”
The violent scenes after the fight also sparked reaction on social media, with fans and high-profile boxers weighing in.
The story was trending globally on Sunday with #UFC generating close to 1.5 million tweets alone.
The majority of the traffic came from McGregor’s home country of Ireland and in the United States.
Some Twitter users said McGregor and his team deserved the backlash from Nurmagomedov.
Freelance journalist Assed Baig blamed the UFC for using the bad blood for promotion.
“UFC shouldn’t really be getting self-righteous though … you used the bad blood, the bus incident for promotion,” he tweeted. “You allowed McGregor to be racist and Islamophobic and then you wonder why this happened?”
Meanwhile, others like boxer Tyson Fury enjoyed the aftermath, saying “all is fair in love and war”.
Excellent aftermath of the UFC tonight all is fair in love and war,!
— TYSON FURY (@Tyson_Fury) October 7, 2018
Former world heavyweight champion Mike Tyson is no stranger to a brawl outside the ring. He twice bit Evander Holyfield’s ear in 1997, sparking a riot, but said Saturday’s melee was even “crazier”.
“Watching the @TheNotoriousMMA vs @TeamKhabib fight. Unimaginable never thought it would go down like this. Crazier than my fight riot,” Tyson wrote on Twitter.
— Mike Tyson (@MikeTyson) October 7, 2018