It’s the two-year anniversary of the one of the most significant and memorable events in UFC history. Khabib Nurmagomedov successfully defended his lightweight title against arch nemesis Conor McGregor in the UFC 229 main event at T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas on Oct. 6, 2018.
The grudge match had something of a dark build-up, with Nurmagomedov and McGregor getting deeply personal ahead of fight night. It all spilled out in the octagon, with “The Eagle” submitting the brash Irishman in the fourth round. A massive pay-per-view audience and sold-out crowd saw Nurmagomedov dominate, but the lasting memory is what happened afterward, when the champion jumped the octagon fence and kickstarted a chaotic post-fight brawl that caught the attention of the sports and entertainment world.
For better or worse, that UFC 229 bout is one that will stand out in the history books for years to come. What do we remember most about that night? MMA Junkie’s John Morgan, Mike Bohn and Nolan King take a trip down memory lane in this edition of Triple Take.
John Morgan: Up close and personal from cageside
In October 2018, there was no question that Khabib Nurmagomedov vs. Conor McGregor was one of the biggest fights in UFC history.
McGregor, of course, was already well-established as the biggest star in the history of the sport, but Nurmagomedov was now a UFC champion, and his ties to Russia and the Middle East made him a global phenomenon, as well. Add in a very public war of words between the two in the lead-up to this fight, and we all knew it was going to be a killer at the box office.
Now, if I’m being completely honest, I was pretty exhausted of the whole thing by fight night. While I certainly understand the importance of pre-fight promotion for athletes looking to capitalize on their window of financial opportunity, this one had been very hateful, very contentious, and honestly just plain ugly. Nevertheless, it was a clearly going to be a blockbuster.
The night of UFC 229, I remember laughing about the media setup at T-Mobile Arena, because rather than our normal arrangements, which have unobstructed access to the octagon, we had security barriers placed in front of our section. Little did I realize how valuable those would prove to be just hours later.
Security barriers in front of press row so the media doesn’t get too rowdy. 🙂#UFC229 pic.twitter.com/aowxj3S1pR
— John Morgan (@MMAjunkieJohn) October 6, 2018
The pre-fight buzz was electric, as you’d expect. The in-cage action honestly played out pretty much exactly as I expected.
Nurmagomedov was always going to be a stylistic nightmare for McGregor. But add in a two-year layoff from MMA competition and a focus on boxing during the interim – in preparation for the infamous Floyd Mayweather superfight – and McGregor was just facing a very tall order. Ultimately, he succumbed to a fourth-round submission, and I briefly imagined this rivalry was done.
And then all hell broke loose, when Nurmagomedov incited a wild scene by leaping out of the octagon to confront McGregor’s team. The ensuing scene played out both in and out of the octagon in what can only be described as ridiculously unnecessary melee.
As Dana White put it, “all hell broke loose” tonight at #UFC229 as a brawl erupted following Khabib Nurmagomedov’s win over Conor McGregor.😲
See for yourself.👀
Full story: https://t.co/6nm0uiWQSZ pic.twitter.com/Nphd0gO1dY
— MMA Junkie (@MMAjunkie) October 7, 2018
Here’s Conor McGregor leaving the cage after his loss to Khabib Nurmagomedov and the ensuing chaos at #UFC229.
Read more: https://t.co/bpIYqUkuZx pic.twitter.com/GiMAAiEO6g
— MMA Junkie (@MMAjunkie) October 7, 2018
I wish I had started filming earlier, honestly. I’m sure my bosses do, too. But I was just trying to figure out exactly what was going on, myself.
Had Nurmagomedov stayed under control and refrained from leaping out of the cage to attack – of all people – Dillon Danis, “The Eagle” never would have had to mention McGregor’s name again. The fight was over. The result was in the books. Nurmagomedov would move on to more pleasant challenges.
UFC president Dana White was visibly upset when he spoke to us after the fight. It was clear he was truly appalled and embarrassed by what had transpired. That stance would later change when he realized the lasting repercussions weren’t all that bad, but at the moment, I can assure you he was dreading the potential long-term implications.
Nurmagomedov spoke with the media only briefly, and it was clear he was a bit disappointed himself, saying, “This is not my best side,” but he also lashed out at McGregor and made it known that the brash Irishman and his team needed to accept some responsibility, as well.
“This is not my best side.”
Listen to @TeamKhabib speak about the brawl he incited following his #UFC229 win over Conor McGregor.
Read more: https://t.co/6nm0uiWQSZ pic.twitter.com/AOURBr2Np9
— MMA Junkie (@MMAjunkie) October 7, 2018
Nurmagomedov answered my first question at the post-fight press conference, and only that one, before leaving the press tent. He reminded people that the media had become so focused on selling trash talk that the respect side of MMA had become largely pushed aside, and I had to agree with him. Yes, marketing feuds has always been a part of fight sport, but the respect that usually comes with a cage fight always appealed to me, as well – the post-fight hugs and acknowledgment.
When the night was over, it was clear our post-fight coverage of UFC 229 was just beginning. The pending disciplinary complaints for both fighters would generate headlines for months to come. But the one thing that stood out to me that night, and honestly stays with me to this day, is that Nurmagomedov had (and still has) a real chance of retiring from the sport undefeated, but UFC 229 would always stand as the one night he wasn’t perfect.
Of course, none of us are, and it shouldn’t be viewed as his character as a whole, but perhaps simply a reminder that the pre-fight battles we as the media love to use to help generate interest can have some very real and very long-lasting repercussions.
Mike Bohn: The bird’s eye view was wild
Although it doesn’t get much better than sitting cageside for a massive MMA fight, I’m kind of happy I wasn’t on press row for this one. My experience was much different than those just feet from the octagon, especially during the post-fight melee.
With my main man Morgan covering things from cageside, I spent most of the UFC 229 card in the media tent at T-Mobile Arena. I ventured inside for the final stretch of the main card, though, and assumed my seat on the media balcony, which is as high up and close to the roof of the venue as you can get. It’s not ideal for viewing the in-cage action (natural instinct pulls your eyesight to the massive screen hanging from the ceiling), but for what happened afterward, it was perfect.
It was madness. Nurmagomedov jumped out of the cage and leapt at McGregor’s team – and Danis, in particular – and the carnage ensued. People filtered in and out of the octagon at a rapid pace, McGregor got sucker-punched in the back of the head, Nurmagomedov got desperately held back and more. I tried my best to film it all, but there was almost too much going on to capture.
Although there was a lot of memorable stuff on that UFC 229 card, from Derrick Lewis’ legendary come-from-behind knockout of Alexander Volkov and the famous, “My balls was hot” interview with Joe Rogan, to the epic Tony Ferguson vs. Anthony Pettis “Fight of the Year” candidate. All of that was washed away by chaos between Khabib and McGregor, though.
It was a night of covering MMA that I’ll truly never forget. If you want a flashback to our reactions in the heat of the moment, watch the post-fight wrap-up with Morgan, Steven Marrocco, and myself that happened minutes after the post-fight press conference concluded.
Nolan King: How it went down watching from home
In October 2018, I was still freelancing – on the verge of a full-time gig – so fight night coverage wasn’t on my agenda. Instead, I got to sit in as a fan, with a journalist’s eye.
Like most Conor McGregor fights, the entire squad wanted to come over and chip in for the pay-per-view. A few drinks were cheersed and the main card unraveled. Lewis’ comeback against Volkov and Ferguson vs. Pettis were nice appetizer, but paled in comparison to the aura and anticipation that loomed from the start of the main event promo. The butterflies built with the walkouts, the fog pouring into the cage, Bruce Buffer’s announcement, and Herb Dean bringing the fighters together for one final face-off.
Captivated from beginning to end, the casuals were on the edge of their seats on my couch. Nurmagomedov’s “out-of-nowhere” right hand that semi-floored McGregor was described as one of the most “surprising” punches my buddy had ever seen – and this MMA geek had trouble arguing that assessment.
As the fight progressed, so did Nurmagomedov’s dominance. His relentless grappling attack was too much for McGregor, who tapped in Round 4, as we all remember. Then things took a turn. For better or worse, the mayhem of UFC 229 will live in MMA infamy forever, largely because of what happened after the fight.
Nurmagomedov leaping out of the octagon and soaring onto the heads of Danis and company (in true “Eagle” fashion). My somewhat drunken living room collectively hollered – with everyone looking to me for some sort of explanation. For the first time that evening, my know-it-all ass didn’t have one.
Chaos in or around an MMA cage is nothing new. Sure, there was the “Strikeforce: Nashville” brawl, but the magnitude of the McGregor-Nurmagomedov rivalry, combined escalating into an all-out brawl post-fight, was something I’m not sure the MMA world had ever experienced before – or will again for that matter. It was hard for me to wrap my head around.
For the rest of the night, tweets and different-angle videos fired into the group text – and was discussed for days.
Sure, it was unacceptable behavior that shouldn’t be tolerated in sport. At the same time, that doesn’t change the fact that it got people hooked. Casuals became emotionally invested beyond their usual limits.
As much as I don’t think a rematch makes sense at this time, it will always make cents – and I damn well know that if a rematch is booked, couches across the world will be filled with casuals and hardcore folk alike.