LAS VEGAS (REUTERS, BLOOMBERG) - An incredible victory by Khabib Nurmagomedov over mixed martial arts superstar Conor McGregor was marred by chaotic scenes after the Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) lightweight contest on Saturday (Oct 6) night.
The Russian retained his belt at UFC 229 after he forced the controversial Irishman to tap out in the fourth round, but the drama that ensued - with both camps clashing in and out of the Octagon - is set to dominate headlines for days to come.
The mass brawl saw a red-shirted fan landing several blows on McGregor before security intervened.
Nurmagomedov jumped out of the cage before leaping feet first at McGregor's teammate and cornerman Dillon Danis, and three of the Russian's team were arrested and later released on a black night for a sport that has struggled to win mainstream acceptance for 25 years.
"I saw one of Conor's guys yelling at Khabib, Khabib ran and jumped over the octagon, went after him. Two of Khabib's guys got into the octagon, one guy hit Conor with some shots form behind, and that's it," UFC boss Dana White told a media conference.
"The Nevada State Athletic Commission pulled the footage from us, there's an investigation going on. They are withholding Khabib's purse, they are not withholding Conor's.
"The way that works is Conor is one of the guys who was attacked. Conor refused to press charges. There were three guys from Khabib's team arrested, and they were released because Conor didn't want to press charges."
After a lengthy delay, Nurmagomedov eventually addressed a media conference at the T-Mobile Arena. "First of all I want to say sorry to athletic commission Nevada, to Vegas, I know this is not my best side. This is not my best side," he said.
He went on to complain bitterly about McGregor's behaviour in the lead-up to the fight that exacerbated the bad blood between the two teams.
"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?" he asked reporters.
The 30-year-old from Dagestan - a Russian republic in the North Caucasus - had dominated the fight, taking McGregor down early and smothering the Irishman with his wrestling skills. Behind on the judge's scorecards, the Irishman was left with no choice but to throw a succession of punches in the third round.
Exhausted by the fourth round, Nurmagomedov took the former two-weight champion's back and sank in a rear-naked choke to stretch his professional record to 27-0 and hand the Irishman his second defeat in the UFC.
There was more drama after as White declined to put the belt on Nurmagomedov while the fighter was in the Octagon. There was no traditional ringside speech either and the ring announcer declared the Russian the winner to a chorus of boos of the crowd.
Both fighters were subsequently escorted from the arena by police and security.
Regardless of the result, McGregor's return to the Octagon is expected to be the most lucrative fight in the promotion company's quarter-century history.
The lightweight title fight was on pace to crack US$200 million (S$276.5 million) in gross revenue. That was based on what White expected to be three million pay-per-view buys.
It would also shatter the previous UFC record of 1.65 million buys, from a McGregor fight in 2016, and rank it third among boxing matches - behind only Floyd Mayweather's 2015 mega-fight against Manny Pacquiao, and Mayweather's 2017 bout versus McGregor.
With a US$64.99 price tag, three million buys would be US$195 million in gross pay-per-view revenue. The fight has sold over US$16 million worth of tickets, which is the second-highest total in UFC history, according to a person with knowledge of the figures.
It also sold over US$1 million in sponsorships, to companies including Monster Energy, Harley-Davidson and beer brand Modelo, said the person, who requested anonymity because the details are private.
One of combat sports' most recognisable - and controversial - athletes, McGregor's return to UFC once looked in doubt. He last fought in 2016 and has since publicly demanded better pay to fight. He also cashed a reported US$130 million cheque for his first professional boxing match, a payment larger than his career MMA fight earnings.
In April, he was arrested in New York after he threw a metal hand truck at a bus carrying a group of UFC fighters, injuring at least one.
McGregor had said in the past that he would not fight again in UFC until he was given an equity piece in the company, which in 2016 sold for US$4 billion. While that has not happened, he will get a cut of pay-per-view sales, a concession given only to UFC's most popular fighters, plus a hefty appearance fee, the person familiar said.
McGregor said on Thursday that he expected to make around US$50 million.