Amid the chaos and controversy, this past Saturday night in Las Vegas provided a brief moment of clarity and for some, vindication. Khabib Nurmagomedov had just successfully defended his UFC Lightweight title, vanquishing Conor McGregor with a 4th round submission. It had been a wildly unique pre-fight build-up but inside the octagon, Nurmagomedov quite conclusively answered all the questions. As Conor submitted, all of that pre-fight debate and discussion became momentarily muted, as we all took a moment to ponder the finish of this fascinating fight that just hours earlier, had so incredibly divided the waiting public.
That familiar moment didn’t have a chance to last long though, as the fighting didn't stop, even if the fight itself did. Khabib’s anger didn't look to have faded much, continuing to throw verbal shots before leaping over the octagon fence in a stunning pursuit of McGregor teammate and Bellator fighter Dillon Danis. From there, quite shocking visuals emerged with each second. Nurmagomedov’s actions were startling enough but the in-cage violence hadn't halted yet either, with McGregor finding himself embroiled in physical conflict opposite several of Khabib’s teammates.
Considering all of the insanity that preceded the fight’s first buzzer, I find it hard to vehemently declare right or wrong. It’s difficult not to ponder Brooklyn, or even some of the more personal insults heard in the fight’s build-up. In many ways, this post-fight portion was just a result of all that had come before it, the boiling over point after a lead-up without consequence or consideration. It was also an example of how trash talk doesn't always end in a handshake and a hug, especially when it involves a man that never once viewed those words as simply ‘a part of the fight game.’
No, this meant more than that to Khabib and on fight night, it showed. Regardless of where you stand on his post-fight actions at UFC 229 though, arguably the biggest crime will be its overshadowing of what had happened within the fight itself. With so many shows and so few ‘stars,’ that unexplainable but beloved big fight feel is no longer a constant within UFC main events. It was certainly present on Saturday night though, with almost every fan across the globe having enough of a stylistic understanding to find even the smallest detail engrossing.
McGregor’s history of pressuring people into panic helped too, with his approach triggering the memory of some of his finest prior triumphs. Before long though, Nurmagomedov had reassured his legion of fans, securing a takedown and controlling the action until the first round’s close. It had been a smart showing from Khabib, not allowing over-aggression to cost him position and instead just wearing Conor down, laying the groundwork for what could potentially follow. That was indeed the case in round 2 also, with Nurmagomedov upping the intensity and scoring a knockdown before unleashing some devastating ground and pound too.
A finish almost looked likely at that point but after surviving the round, McGregor had more success in the 3rd, seemingly getting the better of an admittedly tired-looking striking battle. Regardless of that though, there was a worldwide reaction to each exchange. A cry of joy or a gasp of concern for every Conor success, two sides of an argument watching on as this fight’s key debate came to fruition. In the end though, Conor likely won the round but failed to impact proceedings much more than that, with Khabib returning to his corner virtually undamaged.
In the 4th he’d return to form too, taking Conor down and as I briefly mentioned earlier, closing the show with a submission win. It had been a quite breath-taking performance from Khabib, a man that on the biggest night of his career, had emphatically proven a point. McGregor wasn't without success but it had very much been Nurmagomedov’s night, mostly dominating things in a triumph that had solidified his spot as #1. That moment was brief and for better or worse, what followed will live forever but behind that image of insanity, the fight itself shouldn't be too swiftly glossed over.
His post-fight actions will likely be debated for years to come but the better fighter was rarely in doubt at UFC 229. Regardless of his motivation, Khabib Nurmagomedov proved again that he is indeed a very special fighter. Aggressive, skilled and intense, Khabib’s extra sprinkle of spite has made him one of the most formidable fighters in UFC history and in that brief moment of victory, it couldn't have been more obvious.