Two years to the day since their extremely contentious fight at UFC 229, both Khabib Nurmagomedov and Conor McGregor remain inextricably linked but will the two biggest stars in the UFC ever meet in the Octagon again?
Midway through the fourth round of what remains the most-watched UFC fight in history McGregor, who had Nurmagomedov’s vice-like forearms wrapped around his neck, signalled to the referee that he had conceded defeat.
That was supposed to be it: the culmination to a months-long public feud, stoked in religious resentment and taking in all manner of insults and car park criminal damage. Instead, what should have been the defining moment of the Russian’s career to date descended into his most infamous.
With the thrill of victory and a rush of adrenaline overwhelming him, Khabib launched out of the Octagon like caged animal to attack members of McGregor’s team. He briefly exchanged punches with McGregor’s training partner, Dillon Danis, while his own team, current UFC fighter Zubaira Tukhugov among them, dodged referees and Nevada Athletic Commission officials to continue an assault on McGregor.
The ugly incident was condemned by all, and from all angles. McGregor shouldn’t have chosen the words and actions he did in the lead-in to the fight, and Nurmagomedov – by his own admission – shouldn’t have reacted in the way he did immediately after it was over. Bans and strongly-worded statements followed, with cable news decrying the actions of all involved and UFC president Dana White proclaiming it both the most lucrative night in the organization’s history but also its ‘darkest day’ since the last one.
And today, two years removed from UFC 229, the fallout from that fateful night in Las Vegas is still being felt.
Both Nurmagomedov and McGregor have competed just once since (although Khabib is just weeks away from his second), which makes their initial meeting still somewhat fresh in our minds.
There has been enough chatter in the past two years from both fighters to be eternally perpetuated in the media, with much of that coming from Nurmagomedov’s manager Ali Abdelaziz, a man never known to let sleeping dogs lie. Indeed, a trawl through Abdelaziz’s Twitter shows a repeated theme: Conor McGregor.
Recent weeks have shown Abdelaziz reference McGregor when talking about any number of his own stable of fighters, be it Khabib, Justin Gaethje, Kamaru Usman, Khamzat Chimaev, Islam Makhachev… the list goes on. It is arguably the case that the Khabib-McGregor rivalry is referenced more by Abdelaziz than both Khabib and McGregor put together – although Khabib did post to Instagram today, first referencing the anniversary of what he described as ‘Smash Day’, before sharing footage of his destruction of McGregor.
“It’s only business for them, but not for me… It was the night when the masks flew away and few guys from mountains wrote history in downtown Vegas with the blood of rivals,” wrote the 155lbs ruler.
It’s only business for them, but not for me….. It was the night when the masks flew away and few guys from mountains wrote history in downtown Vegas with the blood of rivals. – Это был вечер, когда разлетелись маски и пару горцев писали историю в центре Вегаса кровью соперников.
And this brings it down to the one constant currency which powers the prizefighting economy. Feuds like this draw big, big money.
You know what made the Mike Tyson-Evander Holyfield rematch so big? It was because Tyson bit Holyfield’s ear in the first fight. Without that the sequel isn’t quite so appealing.
The same is true for Khabib Nurmagomedov vs. Conor McGregor II – and everyone associated with it, including Abdelaziz, knows this. If the two heated rivals do end up meeting in the UFC for a second time, it will be big business. Surely the biggest business that the UFC has ever done, and maybe even enough to chart admirably on the list of top-selling fight pay-per-views ever.
Despite how much the narrative has changed in the last two years (Khabib disavowing McGregor and refusing to fight him; McGregor’s ‘retirement’, and so on), Dana White did state that he was extremely close to convincing the Russian not only to rematch the notorious Irishman but to spend six weeks in each other’s company as competing coaches on a season of ‘The Ultimate Fighter’.
All of this is why, two years on, it doesn’t appear that the final chapter has been written in the Khabib-McGregor anthology, despite what anyone tells you. Far from it, in fact.