By Sishaq: Ever since his fight with Floyd Mayweather Jr. in which he delivered an above-expectations performance, boxing fans have kept an interested eye on Conor McGregor’s next moves. As the world’s most well-known crossover fighter he had the option to take on another money-spinning boxing match but instead opted to return to the octagon after 2 years. However, instead of taking a tune-up fight against some “quiet little hillbilly from the back arse of nowhere” he went straight away after the top guy, arguably the pound for pound #1 in all of combat sports having never lost a single round in 26 fights and the self-professed Floyd Mayweather of MMA, Khabib Nurmagomedov.
On the surface edge the choice opponent did not make much sense but piercing a little deeper we realize there were strong rip currents of emotions swaying this decision. This fight was agreed to out of a culmination of destructive events that intersected their worlds and which could not go unaddressed once Conor turned his attention back to the UFC. He indicated as much, “I came back to shut this man up. A little hard man in groups. I’ve met many of them through my years. A man who grows in numbers but on his own when confronted in a similar situation cowers away”. Similar to a ‘crime of passion’ where a person commits a violent act against another person because of a sudden strong impulse such as sudden rage, this became a ‘fight of passion’.
The Rocky Terrain of the Back Story
What caused the torrential tsunami of persistent drama though? Get the popcorn out because the back story has more twists and turns then a full season of The Young and the Restless. The problem started after the top-ranked Khabib (pronounced Ha-beeb) was contractually signed to fight belt holder Eddie Alvarez at UFC 205. But Dana White, UFC’s combined version of Don King and Bob Arum, reneged on the contract and gave Conor the title shot instead even though he was coming fresh off a loss. Understandably upset, Khabib informed the crowd after his next win, “At the start of the year your guy (McGregor) tapped like a chicken, now he has a title shot. It’s crazy! You know (this) guys! (Look) Ireland has only 6 million people, Russia has 150 million (implying even greater PPV buyers). I want to fight your chicken!”. After Conor won his fight the logical next step would have been Conor and Khabib in the octagon, but because Conor refused to defend his belt for a year then turned his attention to Floyd, Khabib was left twiddling his thumbs for three years without a title shot!
Sometime after the Floyd fight, one of Conor’s boy (Artem) who’s Russian went on Russian TV and called Khabib “a chicken” and claimed “Conor was the real champion”. Understandably seething, Khabib smacked Artem in the back of the head at first sight and demanded he call him a p***y to his face. Artem refused to say it and shaking in his boots even denied doing the interview altogether! Artem immediately reported the incident to Conor, who within hours fired up the personal jet, flew to New York, rolled up to Barclays Center and threw a dolly at a bus. But instead of hitting Khabib, it inflicted damage to the other fighters sat inside causing fight cancellations and a plethora of “up to me eyeballs in lawsuits”.
The Eagle Has Landed!
People will pay good money to watch a full-throttled tear up and by all accounts the masses expected just that with 20,000 MGM tickets sold out within 3 minutes! But if the backstory wasn’t enough the pre-fight trash talking simply pushed it over the edge like a powder keg set off. The king of “I apologize to absolutely nobody” unleashed his usual braggadocio, “I slaughter your pets and wear them as coats. And I only wear them once!”. However, infused with even more star-power McGregor took the gloves off for this one making the May-Mac world tours seem downright benevolent. Instead of going straight he unfortunately zigzagged, careening and veering into territory one should NEVER go into. He and his team: (a) incited violence against Russians, Chechens, and Dagestanis who are all recovering from many years of wars, (b) insulted Khabib’s religion (Islam) over and over for no apparent reason when this wasn’t a religious battle, and (c) if that wasn’t enough even insulted Khabib’s dad, who by all accounts appears to be a great human being and who Khabib loves very much.
Team Mac’s tacky words weren’t Freudian slips of the tongue either, they were deliberate and repeated over and over like cheap sucker punches, then amplified worldwide by the presence of a global media. With Dana’s complete dereliction of duty and Khabib electing to keep his cool leading up to fight night, the question became who was going to extinguish the blazing inferno of vulgarity spearheaded by McGregor’s magnetic personality. None other than the silent counterparty himself, The Eagle, but only at the time and location of his choosing!
Like Mike Tyson always said, “everyone has a plan ‘till they get punched in the mouth”. In one of the most one-sided dominating performances ever witnessed between two giants of their sport, Khabib outclassed, out styled, and convincingly destroyed The Notorious by winning every round, winning standing up, landing the best punch of the night, and making Conor tap just in time to avoid a broken jaw lodged into his throat. Khabib revealed after the fight, “I prayed to God every day that neither of us would be injured prior to the fight and that we would end up in the octagon with the cage door closed. Because much was said before the door was closed.” “This is not fight game, but respect game”.
With Conor’s pre-fight talk made worthless, Team Mac should have put a slice of humble pie in their mouths, zipped their lips and took home the L like mature professionals. Instead, coach Dillon Danis insidiously and arrogantly kept running his mouth after the fight, unleashing bigoted comments about Islam and Khabib that Khabib heard (caught on tape and corroborated by numerous journalists and witnesses near him) which triggered Khabib in a spontaneous combustion to fly over the cage in the shape of an eagle and jump their entire team. In the ensuing scrum Khabib’s cousin ran to defend him but Conor, also on his way to climbing out of the cage, was seen sucker punching the cousin unprovoked. If only those up in arms about 2 people retaliating against Conor could have mustered the same proportion of energy over the 30 hoodlums ambushing a bus perhaps we’d be talking about the great performance in the cage!
As fate would have it Khabib confronted the foul behavior in the cage and the evil storm outside of it in a moment of truth on the same night, under the watchful eyes of the largest viewership in UFC history, in the top 5 highest-ranked PPV ever, and during the height of the telecast. The odious bigotry was finally confronted head-on in the most powerful way no one could have imagined. Preposterously, the UFC media immediately united under the singular spin of pinning the entirety of the post-fight brawl on Khabib. Mercifully, most with a pulse resonated with the completely disproportionate criticism. Like any rational person, if someone ridicules your parents, your religion, or your ethnicity even once you too would be severely offended. No one could be expected to endure constant bullying and harassment for 6 straight months on a global stage; credit Khabib for handling it with tremendous patience.
It’s worth noting that like a true professional, Khabib immediately apologized for his part and even his father, who promised to punish Khabib, subsequently forgave Conor for his obscene behavior. In a sign of how far-reaching this fight was, the Nurmagomedov’s met with Russian President Vladimir Putin who explained to Khabib after congratulating him on his victory: In Russia we are one big family but we never allow ourselves to exit a certain framework. But if we are attacked from outside of course we all can jump. But it’s best not to come to this. I will ask your father not to punish you too strictly!
Casting a Long Shadow
Make no mistake, what Khabib did was an absolute Necessary Evil that had to occur to put a full stop on the global momentum of hate unleashed in the pre-fight buildup. In 26 professional fights Khabib has never gone out of bounds of decency. On the other hand, repeat offender Conor has an extensive rap sheet of bullying behavior that not only remains unpunished but is incredulously glorified by the UFC. For example, (1) while a spectator of a sanctioned MMA fight Conor not only jumped into the cage but (2) attacked a referee giving him a concussion. (3) He smashed a dolly through the bus window causing numerous fighters to miss their pay day. (4) His crude bigotry and hideous attacks on family members in the past (including against Brazilian Jose Aldo) and this time on family and religion receiving zero reprimand. (5) Throughout this fight he deliberately cheated on four separate instances: (a) downward elbow strikes, (b) illegal knee kick to the head, (c) holding opponent’s gloves and (d) creating leverage against the fence – all in plain view of the referee, yet not a single warning or point deduction.
In the foxhole with Conor’s bullying was his Siamese twin Dana, who after the fight (1) refused to put the belt around Khabib and making one eye-rolling excuse after another, (2) sat in numerous interviews blaming Khabib for exiting the cage (which Conor also did) and the sucker punches (which Conor actually threw first and was the only one who did so) to justify (3) firing his two teammates on the spot (though Conor’s 30 bus associates received no such firings), (4) heavily fining Khabib, (5) withholding his earnings, (6) stripping his belt, (7) cutting his Visa entry, and (8) with a wink and smirk encouraging the Governor and Nevada State Athletic Commission (NSAC) to take their own extreme measures of retribution. (9) It was reported the NSAC was given an edited tape that didn’t show any of Conor’s intransigence, explaining why Khabib’s entire purse was withheld but Conor’s was immediately released. (10) When asked point blank who he blamed he simply pointed to Khabib. (11) Prior to the event Dana brought extremely heavy security, including sheriffs and police indicating he was prepared and expecting something to go down. But after the fight he got in front of the cameras acting clueless and surprised as to why things got out of control. And this was all on camera, God knows what was done behind the scenes. Let’s just put PC aside for moment and call this what it is, the entire UFC infrastructure was setup for bias against the immigrant Muslim with poor English – the referee, the security, the commentators, the media, UFC personnel, UFC management.
The Fight Fight
The hypocrisy, double standards and culture of bullying is so blatant that it begins to beg the question if Dana is fit to lead the UFC. Sure he’s helped grow the company but the future success of the UFC isn’t dependent on one man, rather on good governance. Dana was asked if he blamed himself for any of the drama and his answer was an emphatic, “no”. A great leader accepts full responsibility and is always looking for improvement, not scapegoating fighters to divert attention from his/her leadership void. Dana sat front and center each time listening to cowardly attacks on family and religion yet maintained an anything goes attitude. Conor punched and kicked Khabib at the weigh-in even though Dana told him not to, yet received no penalty but Dana’s own security couldn’t contain order after the fight yet all of that is Khabib’s fault and worthy of punishment? Absurd!
This fight was unique in that it had vastly two different cultures headlining the event. In some cultures, insulting a religion is on par with spitting on them. Did anyone think to have cultural sensitivity training for all involved stakeholders? How about distribute a Code of Conduct or Code of Ethics to all employees so unauthorized punches and kicks don’t take place? UFC won’t be out of the woods until it bites the bullet by doing right by Khabib, otherwise it will have to take it on the chin and may face a decisive blow defending against a lawsuit seeking justice!
No matter what job one chooses to do or company they decide to work for no one signs up to be harassed by a toxic inferno of hate. At most workplaces disparaging someone’s parents, faith or ethnicity is an immediate cause for termination and a federal lawsuit to boot.
Freedom to Squawk
Some will argue this is America and we can say what we want here. It’s what makes us great to be able to talk about anything, anytime, anywhere we want without repercussion. Well, not exactly! Even in America words have consequences. Yes, we all have the freedom of speech – the right to express any opinions without censorship or restraint. But our freedom is not absolute when it could impede the safety of others. If there’s any doubt about this below are three broad categories where your free speech is absolutely denied:
(A) Government Oversight – You can watch porn but you cannot watch or distribute child porn. You also cannot leak trade or government secrets, harass or stalk someone, or say certain words on TV.
(B) Public Safety – You cannot go into an airport and falsely claim ‘bomb’ without serious repercussions. You cannot incite violence, inflict sever emotional distress, or aid and abet a crime.
(C) Personal Common Sense – A non-black cannot walk around Compton and spew the N-word and not expect to get a severe beat down 10 times out of 10 times, or even death.
Falling into all three of these categories is libel, i.e. a false statement damaging someone’s reputation. You cannot character assassinate the reputation of someone, the way Conor falsely accused a person of being a terrorist, and not expect to get sued for it. But the irresponsibility is even worse considering Conor spewed false accusations on a global stage putting lives at risk worldwide.
Some will argue that in MMA two guys are eager to crack limbs and snap ligaments so trash-talking is simply part and parcel of the sport. Plus, without trash talking a fight won’t sell or be as entertaining. Is that really true though? Boxing also has some of the most fearless men on the planet, yet they don’t resort to out of bounds vulgarity. The highest paid athlete in all of sports in 2017 was Floyd Mayweather, who has been a Forbes top 50 earner since 2012 and has a lifetime-earnings of over $1 billion, yet has never talked about anyone’s dad, religion or country to sell a fight. Like McGregor, Prince Naseem Hamed was a brash trash talking extraordinaire from the UK and was also undefeated (before injury). Because of his bold and charismatic personality, he’s credited with bringing in the big money into the lighter weight division (earning $5 million per fight in the 90s), yet he never resorted to attacks on family, faith or ethnicity to promote his fights. Muhammad Ali, the greatest mental warfare assassin in the history of sports and a money printing machine also never stooped to such a low level – even though racism, religion and the US’ wars overseas were intimately central throughout his lifetime. Even Mike Tyson, the baddest man on the planet never touched these hot button topics (as long as you ignore the part about “I want to eat his children!”). In short, the blueprint already exists to become an entertaining money-spinner without debasing society in the process.
Boxing fans universally hate the rampant corruption of crooked judges and the best not fighting the best. It has stunted the sport’s growth. MMA had successfully differentiated itself, but that is now in doubt. If the UFC expects to keep growing the audience base globally, gain greater mainstream adoption (ESPN deal notwithstanding), and increase corporate partnerships that result in higher salaries to its fighters and greater profit then it can’t accomplish any of that on a platform of bigotry, bias, and bullying. And it certainly can’t get there by weak leadership. Perhaps for the first time in its history the UFC has reached a fork in the road and must now carefully choose between the path of goodness and governance vs lewdness and liability.
Muhammad Ali was once asked what he was going to do with his time in retirement. He responded, “Get ready to meet God. Real estate, business, (and) teaching won’t get me to heaven. (Instead) I’m going to do all I can to help people.” Throughout the buildup Khabib kept saying he was going “to change up this game” and he did just that by illuminating a searing disinfectant stadium-sized light on the vile culture of the UFC. Some suggest he should have taken the win quietly because it would maximize future paydays. Even Conor suggested as much summarizing his behavior as “just business” mid-fight. But when you’re a legacy-chaser you see beyond materialism as Khabib alluded to it in his victory speech, “in regards to what happened after the fight – some say it was the wrong thing to do while others say it was right. But do you know what I say? Eagles do not reside in cages!” Champions bask in the spoils of victory, but legends transform culture for the greater good.