MMA: Fight ends, fights start

Above: Khabib Nurmagomedov's choke on Conor McGregor saw the Irishman tap out in the fourth round. Left: Nurmagomedov is escorted out of the arena. He is expected to be heavily disciplined by the Nevada State Athletic Commission, which is withholding
Khabib Nurmagomedov’s choke on Conor McGregor saw the Irishman tap out in the fourth round.PHOTO: REUTERS
Above: Khabib Nurmagomedov's choke on Conor McGregor saw the Irishman tap out in the fourth round. Left: Nurmagomedov is escorted out of the arena. He is expected to be heavily disciplined by the Nevada State Athletic Commission, which is withholding
Nurmagomedov is escorted out of the arena. He is expected to be heavily disciplined by the Nevada State Athletic Commission, which is withholding his US$2 million pay cheque after footage of the post-fight brawl was reviewed.PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

Nurmagomedov denied purse after attack on opponent's camp sparks free-for-all

LAS VEGAS • Khabib Nurmagomedov finally applied the neck crank, and almost immediately Conor McGregor's right hand tapped his left shoulder in succession, a signal of submission and the proverbial white flag in a war of attrition.

It was the shining moment of the Russian's Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) career in front of a sell-out crowd of 20,034 at the T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas and tens of thousands more celebrating back in his home town of Makhachkala.

But then the moment was ruined.

Nurmagomedov was not satisfied to simply prove he was superior in the Octagon on Saturday night at UFC 229, where Tony Ferguson nabbed the US$50,000 (S$69,000) Fight of the Night bonus after a technical knockout win over Anthony Pettis in the second round.

Nurmagomedov's fourth-round finish should have been the culmination of months of vitriolic barbs between both camps but that was not enough to conclude the feud.

The unbeaten lightweight champion insisted on Thursday at the final pre-fight press conference that he would not shake McGregor's hands even after the fight.

The words were not the usual pre-fight fare meant to sell tickets, with Nurmagomedov taking to heart all the insults about his religion and birthplace (Dagestan) and the trash talk aimed at his father.

In chaotic post-fight scenes, he hurled himself over the top of the cage to exchange punches with Dillion Danis, McGregor's ju-jitsu coach.

Soon after, the ugly fracas spilled inside the confines of the Octagon, with three training partners of Nurmagomedov's scaling the fence and attacking McGregor from all angles.

After Vegas police had restored order, Nurmagomedov pleaded with UFC president Dana White to put the belt around his waist. White refused, fearing a bigger safety issue and explained that angry fans would pelt him with anything they could get their hands on.

"I don't care. I'm ready for this," Nurmagamedov replied. "If I have to be arrested, then I have to be arrested. But I want my belt."

But White declined and said: "If I put this belt on you, people will lose their s***, people will get hurt."

According to White, three Nurmagamedov team members were detained by police, but McGregor declined to press charges and the trio were later released.

All that remained in the aftermath were questions regarding the future of Nurmagomedov, who is set to be heavily disciplined by the Nevada State Athletic Commission. It is withholding the 30-year-old's US$2 million pay cheque after reviewing footage of the incident.

White labelled the mayhem as "sick" and said it had damaged the brand name of the mixed martial arts promotion despite the live gate of US$17.2 million, a UFC record.

"Will they even get a visa again to get back in this country?," he told reporters. "I'm one of the guys who has worked 18 years to get this sport where it is today. It's bad."

It was McGregor who emerged comparatively unscathed when the dust settled. That he made it to the fourth round was a feat in itself.

After a measured opening frame, round two was a different tale, with Nurmagomedov grappling his opponent and inflicting the punishment he has sought since McGregor's infamous bus attack in April.

The Irishman survived the onslaught and fared better in the third round, but Nurmagomedov was able to impose his will once more in the fourth, with his opponent's first MMA bout in two years ending after a tapout.

The Russian afterwards blamed the brawl on McGregor's lack of respect with the Irishman's goading in the lead-up to the fight.

"I know this is not by my best side," he said. "He talk about my religion, my country, my father. Why are people talking about my jumping over the cage?"

While a lengthy suspension will put in jeopardy a potential rematch with McGregor, Nurmagomedov was primarily concerned about the repercussions from his family.

"I know my father going to smash me when I go home," he added.

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE, THE GUARDIAN

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on October 08, 2018, with the headline 'Fight ends, fights start'. Print Edition | Subscribe