LAS VEGAS – The ugly scenes that unfolded at T-Mobile Arena on Saturday night have no place in sports.
The carnage that followed Khabib Nurmagomedov’s main event victory over Conor McGregor was violent, unethical, pathetic and moronic. It sets a poor example. It shouldn’t have happened. People will call it disgusting, and they won’t be wrong. If we want clichés, yes, it is a black eye for mixed martial arts and the Ultimate Fighting Championship.
Will it cost the UFC a single penny financially? Not even. Not one.
Sports, heck – the world – is in a strange place in 2018. You might think that having chaotic images of hooliganism beamed around the globe from a night that was the most-watched pay per view in company history would deliver a damaging blow to the UFC’s popularity.
You wouldn’t be silly for thinking it, such logic makes perfect basic sense. You’d just be wrong.
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People aren’t so secretive about their guilty pleasures any more. They wear them like a badge of honor. Remember that time when a big controversy featuring violence and criminal activity was used to dramatically boost PPV numbers for a major UFC card?
You should, it was for this fight, when McGregor’s notorious Brooklyn bus attack was parlayed into incessant preview fodder and the lead-in video show for the fight was gleefully titled “Bad Blood.”
A few people quietly questioned whether such promotional tactics were appropriate, but that was all. You’ll have a hard time finding anyone who boycotted the card because of it. If you’re willing to make peace with watching two individuals try to smash each other to a pulp for entertainment, you’re probably not going to pull the plug because a dude threw a dolly at a bus. Or now, because things got seriously messy with scraps and sucker punches and what amounted to a street fight in the stadium following McGregor’s fourth-round tap-out.
By leaping over the cage after the fight and letting his fists fly at McGregor’s teammates, Nurmagomedov became that most profitable of things – relevant. Something’s warped here when infamy sells far more successfully than excellence, but that’s exactly how it is, like it or weep. That’s not the UFC, that’s life as we know it.
As of now, Nurmagomedov is either a bona fide, marketable bad guy in a sport where baddest is best, or he is a sympathetic warrior defending the honor of his people against verbal insult and religious attack. Even a blundering fool could sell either narrative. Given such a treasure trove, a pragmatist such as UFC president Dana White can manufacture fiscal fireworks.
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A rematch between Nurmagomedov and McGregor would do an astronomical number, which is why White refused to rule it out late Saturday, despite saying the skirmishes made it a “bad night for me.”
The thing is, and White realizes this better than anyone, professional combatants aren’t saints and they don’t profess to be. They are fighters. Coarse trash talk is a part of it because it sells. No one is condoning fist-fights and stupidity outside the octagon, but if it happens, the UFC will use whatever it has at its disposal to generate numbers, needing no other reason than it is low-hanging fruit and it is there for the taking.
Others can debate whether it is right or wrong, but it is inevitable.
While it is unfortunate that the nonsense overshadowed a superb performance from Nurmagomedov, a quality night of action and, in general, the extraordinary level of competitiveness and athleticism that MMA requires, it’s not going to punch a hole in the UFC’s pocketbook.
Nurmagomedov hates everything McGregor stands for so much that he could lose a massive chunk of his paycheck for his post-fight actions, yet still had the look of a guy for whom it was totally worth it.
The next time he fights the story will be there to use for sales purposes. We can decry them for it all we like but it is not the UFC’s fault. Because the simple fact remains that there is a reason the fight was promoted this way. Because it worked.
It is not a small handful of people attracted by a crude subplot centered around miscreant behavior. It is hundreds of thousands of people, if not millions.
Does it make you a bad person to be drawn to bad blood? Who knows, but even if it does, you’re certainly not alone.