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Sunday, November 29, 2020

UFC 229: Khabib Nurmagomedov’s missed opportunity

Khabib Nurmagomedov won the biggest fight of his career against Conor McGregor. But his actions, afterwards, might turn fans away from him.

Written by Karan Prashant Saxena | New Delhi | October 8, 2018 6:34:01 pm
Khabib Nurmagomedov is held back outside of the cage after fighting Conor McGregor in a lightweight title mixed martial arts bout at UFC 229 in Las Vegas, Saturday, Oct. 6, 2018. (AP Photo)

At UFC 229 Post-Fight Press Conference:

Reporter: Can you talk about the loss of opportunity Khabib had tonight?

Dana White: (Pointing fingers at the reporter) You’re absolutely right. Great question and I agree with you. What Khabib should have done was pick Conor up, give him a hug, and say great fight, whatever.

It was a moment of true shock, something which no one saw coming. The calm demeanour of Khabib, the way he just backtracked himself from all the insults, the personal attacks, the mocking in the build up to the fight, never gave the impression the Russian Sambo will go full Tarzan mode on Conor McGregor’s team. But that is where the Dagestani fighter messed up. If he had kept his calm in the ring, he would have been presented with the title inside the cage – which would have been a bigger punch in the gut to the Notorious’ vast ego, than the blows he received during the brawl.

Khabib, despite a record of 27-0 in MMA, is still regarded as an “amateur”. McGregor mocked him throughout the pre-fight press conference, “You’re a motherf****** rookie, I’mmma knock your head off.” A victory against the face of the company would have offered him a one-way ticket to superstardom among UFC fans, especially in the USA. But, now, as White put in the press conference – “He is in serious trouble.”

Let’s be real. The idealistic ending which the UFC President talked about at the press conference was never going to take place – not after all the talk about religion, politics and “terrorist snitch” comments, not to mention, the disastrous bus violence incident. None of these antics before the fight were condemned, condoled or stopped by the UFC. White, in fact, used the bus attack footage in the promotional video of the fight – signs he is willing to accept whatever McGregor does.

If the situation were reversed, and McGregor had done something like this after the fight, would there be such hullabaloo over it? Perhaps, not. It is something everyone has come to accept about him. He goes out onto the streets punching people, he breaks into boxing arenas, he attacks bus, and he attacks his opponent’s race, religion, politics and family – but White regards it all as “trash talk” and something which is “part of the fighting business”.

If McGregor had launched an attack in the arena after the fight, the difference would have been that White might not have allowed anything to happen to his golden boy. He certainly would not have come out to hundreds of reporter and admit that “he is in serious trouble”, and would have dealt with most of the situation backstage. After all, McGregor has always escaped with small fines and community services for his outbursts.

Khabib Nurmagomedov attends a news conference after the UFC 229 mixed martial arts event. (Source: AP)

Khabib’s missed opportunity lies in the fact that he had the chance to dethrone McGregor from the top spot and establish himself as the next face of the UFC. He could have received all the special treatment McGregor gets from the UFC President.

Khabib is, undoubtedly, the best grappler currently in the business. His popularity would have soared higher with a win, and White would have made millions out of him. He would have been an ideal candidate to replace McGregor, who anyhow shows up to fight once in every two years.

But now, Khabib has shown to the UFC, and the fans, that he cannot be trusted to keep his calm. The fans from the USA can accept a mean, brash, whisky-drinking Irishman. But when it comes to accepting a hot-headed Russian, it just does not go down well with the public and the image of UFC that White wants to present, not in the politically charged-up United States of America of today.

Now, Khabib is UFC’s ‘Ivan Drogo’. And the US fans, along with Dana White, are just waiting for Conor McGregor, the ‘Rocky Balboa’, to get ready for a revenge victory in the rematch.

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