UFC 229: The night mixed martial arts rose and fell

Khabib Nurmagomedov and Conor McGregor
Harry Kettle Harry Kettle

Tonight we saw 20,034 fans pack into T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas, Nevada to witness the UFC 229 pay per view unfold. The gate was $17.2 million, Aspen Ladd & Derrick Lewis won the Performance of the Night honours, and Tony Ferguson vs Anthony Pettis was deemed to be the Fight of the Night. But we know, that you know, none of that matters in the eyes of the mainstream media, and that’s not exactly a shocking revelation.

From the first minute right up until the finish of the main event, UFC 229 was on track to being, arguably, one of the greatest events in the history of the promotion. We had thrilling finishes, great comebacks and a series of storylines to discuss – but, once again, it’s going to be a while before we get the chance to discuss all of that with the kind of attention it deserves.

The main source of attention and intrigue heading into 229 was the scheduled main event between Khabib Nurmagomedov and Conor McGregor for the UFC Lightweight Championship. It was a fight many had waited years to see, and by the time it actually came around, it was being dubbed the biggest fight that the sport had ever seen.

But we aren’t going to insult your intelligence by pretending like the action itself matters, because what really matters is the fact that in the wake of Khabib’s submission victory, he stormed out of the cage and caused a melee that was utterly unbelievable. Frankly, we’re still left questioning whether or not we dreamt it, because if you’d have written down the worst possible scenario for this event prior to it happening then this probably would’ve been it.

On a night where we witnessed some moments that reminded us why we fell in love with MMA in the first place, we also saw the side of this ‘sport’ that causes casuals to push it to the side. This isn’t something you see in boxing. This isn’t something you even see in any of the major American sports – because this was an incident that occurred outside the realms of the cage itself.

As fans and media members we have spent decades trying to raise this sport up to a level that could be considered respectful, and in one night, it felt like we took 15 steps backwards.

We aren’t going to run down the details about what happened, because to be honest, it’s a thoroughly depressing state of affairs. What we will say is this: Khabib Nurmagomedov’s behaviour tonight was despicable, and he should be punished accordingly. In turn, the members of his team that caused the whole thing to escalate should also be reprimanded.

Oh, and no, we aren’t forgetting about Conor McGregor, and we aren’t forgetting about the bus attack. He knew what he was doing that day just like Khabib did here, and it makes our skin crawl that we have to even include the two acts in this piece. We’re supposed to be celebrating UFC 229, not condemning everything it now stands for.

Conor and Khabib have both committed crimes, and isn’t that just sad? The two biggest names in our sport have been so reckless that they’re both set to be officially recognised as criminals.

There was no winner, tonight, and we don’t want that belt or Bruce Buffer’s announcement to convince you otherwise. Khabib should’ve known better than to retaliate, especially given that we were led to believe he was ‘above’ all of this. When you piece it all together this is a loss for him, it’s a loss for Conor, and most of all it’s an utterly gigantic defeat for mixed martial arts.

So when you look back on this night, whether it be in a week, a month or ten years from now, remember Derrick Lewis. Remember Tony Ferguson. Remember Anthony Pettis. Those, and so many more fighters who put it on the line, are the individuals who should be placed on top of the pedestal.

The domino effect that this is going to have will be unlike anything we’ve ever seen before, and we should all prepare ourselves for that.