We’ve had almost a full day to digest the bizzare UFC 229 brawl following the Khabib vs. McGregor main event from the T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas, Nevada.
The scene was both equal parts riveting entertainment and a shocking setback for the sport of mixed martial arts. On one hand, the primal emotion of undefeated champion Khabib’s disdain for McGregor came out in explosive fashion. He submitted his greatest enemy following a dominant performance. The win not only put him on top of the MMA world but did so in front of countless eyes, many of which may rarely watch fighting.
The drama should result in a rematch unlike any we’ve ever seen in the sport as well. It will be even bigger than McGregor vs. Diaz. That’s saying a lot, yet it should happen. McGregor already wants it and no way the UFC turns him down. They probably should not.
The Lasting Effect
Khabib ended the bad blood and drama of McGregor’s infamous bus attack in Brooklyn, New York, this April. But only seconds after he did, he then incited a wildfire on par with that public drama. Perhaps it will be even more dramatic in the end.
Khabib not only muddied his victory, but he did something that is much, much more lasting as a result. Sure, Khabib may be stripped of his title, he will be fined, and his friends who jumped into the Octagon may have their visas taken.
Yet the wild scene after MMA’s biggest fight of all-time may have proven that mixed martial arts will simply never be a mainstream sport.
A Different Kind Of Sport
It’s too visceral. That’s part of its attraction to many and the main cause of its lack of attraction for many more. Yes, Khabib’s pent-up aggression after months of having a silver-tongued wordsmith like McGregor insult his family, country, religion, and management came out in one fury. He unleashed that on McGregor’s teammate and training partner Dillion Danis.
The final repercussions are yet to be unveiled, and it will be some time before the truly lasting ones are.
The black eye on MMA remains. The champion’s behavior in a spot where he should have been basking in historic accomplishment is unreal. Khabib’s anger at McGregor and his team after so much insult is understandable. That does not make his actions right.
I’ve seen many arguing that what McGregor did in New York is a bad or worse as the brawl. I disagree. McGregor’s melee was unnecessary and terrible for sure, but he committed the act in the basement of an arena after the UFC 223 media day was over. He was also arrested for it.
Khabib caused an all-out melee of his own, live on pay-per-view, when the biggest UFC audience ever was watching. He also was not arrested. McGregor’s attack ultimately may have been more dangerous, yet Khabib’s received exponentially more live exposure.
A true pro, the air of which Khabib gave off throughout McGregor’s never-ending insult in the lead-up, would not have made that leap into the crowd. He won the fight and should have been celebrating that win.
Brawls like this have painted the sport in a bad light before. The glaring example of the Strikeforce: Nashville brawl between the Diaz brothers and Jason “Mayhem” Miller comes to mind. That fight was aired on CBS – major network television – and was seen by millions like UFC 229 was. MMA has not been on CBS since. Public spectacles like that and the UFC 229 brawl take years to recover from in terms of P.R. standpoint.
A fringe sport like MMA already has a pre-attached stigma to overcome because of its inherent bloodlust and violence.
So while the UFC laughably bragged of “world f**king domination” during their vast expansion plans of the last several years, it won’t be elbowing up next to soccer, football, baseball, or basketball anytime soon. Imagine Lionel Messi, Aaron Rodgers, or Lebron James jumping into a brawl to fight one of their rivals’ teammates who was talking trash.
It wouldn’t happen. Yes, it probably cannot be stated enough how understandable Khabib’s anger at McGregor and his team is. As the undefeated champion who just came out victorious in the biggest UFC fight ever, you simply have to swallow that pride like the superstars of other more mainstream sports would.
MMA showed its youth and emotion as a sport in the form of the UFC 229 brawl last night. The pinnacle of fighting simply can’t be acting like that on its grandest stage.
And that is why MMA will never be a mainstream sport.