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You call it a brawl, UFC just calls it marketing

October 9, 2018

There are two schools of thought about the fracas that ensued following UFC 229′s main event Saturday night in Las Vegas.

First, the post-match melees one with Khabib Nurmagomedov in the crowd and one with Conor McGregor in the octagon won’t hurt the sport at all.

Second, the extracurricular activity simultaneous bonus brawls featuring MMA fighters, trainers and goons actually will help the sport.

Forget about the notion that fans and potential fans were turned off when Nurmagomedov climbed out of the cage to confront McGregor’s jujitsu coach, while three Nurmagomedov associates hopped inside to attack McGregor. Anyone truly offended by those antics isn’t part of UFC president Dana White’s target audience.

People who attend pro wrestling events aren’t appalled when one wrestler hits another over the head with a folding chair. That’s part of the show. The same is true for press conferences leading up to big boxing matches. Chairs aren’t likely to fly, but there’s plenty of trash talk and maybe a few “hold-me-back” moments to whet everyone’s appetite.

Naturally, White can’t condone what took place, especially when high-profile attendees such as Nevada Gov. Brain Sandoval are forced to flee from ringside seats. White said the right things afterward in chastising Nurmagomedov and the fighter’s camp.

“It’s bad,” White said via ESPN. “There’s gonna be an investigation by the Nevada State Athletic Commission, and there’s gonna be big-money fines, and these guys are in trouble. Again, we need to see how this plays out. Nobody has ever done that; nobody should ever do that.”

He’s right. The ruckus detracted from Nurmagomedov’s dominant effort against mixed martial arts’ biggest star, in arguably the sport’s biggest fight. McGregor has a household name compared to the Russian challenger, who won via a fourth-round submission hold. That should’ve been the story, the torch changing hands along with the lightweight championship belt.

Instead, all we’re talking about are the clashes after the bout. And while McGregor clamors for an immediate rematch, Nurmagomedov could face a suspension for his actions. He said they were justified because of the blatant disrespect McGregor exhibited as the event drew near.

“He talked about my religion. He talked about my country. He talked about my father,” the Russian said in a post-match new conference. “This is a respect sport, not a trash-talking sport. For me, this is very important.”

Someone failed to inform McGregor that trash-talk is in poor taste. Verbal abuse wasn’t enough for the Irishman in April, when he used a hand truck to smash the window of Nurmagomedov’s coach bus. McGregor pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor but received no real punishment, certainly not from White, who claimed to be furious about the bus incident but used footage to promote the fight.

The mixed martial arts head sent mixed messages with that decision, giving us every reason to question his sincerity in decrying Saturday’s free-for-all.

“A lot of bad stuff happened that shouldn’t have happened,” he told reporters via The Independent. “All hell broke loose. I don’t even know what to say right now. I’m just disgusted and sick over it.”

I’m pretty sure he doesn’t want to see it repeated.

But I doubt that he’s truly torn up inside.

The post-match brouhaha was the perfect tonic for his desired demographic. MMA offers a unique brand of violence found in no other sport. It’s not “anything goes,” but it comes a lot closer than boxing. And MMA fans might be the most enthusiastic at giving their sport a whirl; ESPN reported on a 17-second video of a sizable brawl in the arena concourse afterward, with several fights going on simultaneously.

Such skirmishes are a bigger threat to the UFC than a bonus round from the paid gladiators. Certainly the Nevada State Athletic Commission frowns on sanctioning events that might scare away the general public.

It’s a good bet we won’t see repeat performances like that. White said he anticipated the bad blood perhaps percolating after the fight, and he put precautions in place, but he didn’t forsee a fighter scaling the cage like Nurmagomedov did.

“We don’t have fights after the fights,” White said Monday on ESPN. He downplayed using the bus incident in promotional footage and said he understood why Nurmagomedov was so upset, but he blamed the Russian for losing control. “The is the fight business and a lot of people don’t like each other,” he said

Few athletes are able to display their dislike as plainly as MMA fighters. From now on, they just have to keep it inside the octagon.

But Saturday’s fray ensures that they’ll receive more attention there.

Deron Snyder writes his award-winning column for The Washington Times on Tuesdays and Thursdays. Follow him on Twitter @DeronSnyder.

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