Of all the insane and ridiculous things that happened in the immediate aftermath of Khabib Nurmagomedov’s victory over Conor McGregor at UFC 229, perhaps nothing was more absurd than UFC president Dana White’s shock and disappointment.
During multiple post-match interviews and his press conference, White struck a somber and anguished figure, repeating how disappointed he was by Khabib’s decision to leap into the crowd to fight some shit-talking clown in McGregor’s crew, and groaning about what a terrible mark the ensuing melee left on the sport he’d worked so hard to build. He was particularly upset by Khabib’s inability to respect his opponent:
“What he should have done was walk over, pick Conor up and say some great things to one of other. Whatever you think of Conor, at least respect the guy.
“I don’t like it and don’t want to ever be in that position again. It’s a great sport with great athletes and this is not how we conduct ourselves.”
It’s odd to see White suddenly so concerned with respect and decorum given how much money he’s made off the back of rotten disrespect in the past. McGregor, the man who sold last night’s fight and the only fighter on White’s roster with true crossover star power, has repeatedly been allowed to say vile and straight-up racist things about his opponents while promoting fights. This is the guy who hyped his match with Brazilian fighter Jose Aldo by screaming things like, “If this was a different time, I would invade his favela on horseback and kill anyone that was not fit to work,” at press conferences.
McGregor was up to the same shit during the promotion for last night’s fight. He called Khabib’s manager a “snitch terrorist rat” and implied that he was involved in the 9/11 attacks; he called Khabib’s father a “quivering coward” for not murdering Chechen dictator Ramzan Kadyrov when he had the chance; he mockingly barked “As-salāmu ʿalaykum”; he shouted things like, “My Chechen friends... they told me that they have chicken jaws in Dagestan.”
White was happy to let McGregor play-act as some Great White Conqueror and lob deeply personal insults at his opponents as long as it boosted pay-per-view sales and filled arenas with rowdy white guys draped in Irish flags. But it was inevitable that one day McGregor was going to run into a fighter who wasn’t going to take so kindly to the race-baiting. Khabib, a proud Muslim Dagestani who comes from a place where racial and religious tensions are matters of life and death, proved to be that fighter.
After the fight, Khabib gave a very short press conference in which he calmly explained why he leapt into the crowd:
“This is respect sport. This is not trash-talking sport... I don’t want people talk shit about opponents, talk shit about his father, religion. You cannot talk about religion. You cannot talk about nation. You cannot talk about this stuff,” he said.
The problem is that McGregor is evidence that you can talk about that stuff in the UFC, and be richly rewarded for it. This is all thanks to the way White has chosen to run his company, and his willingness to let McGregor get away with whatever he wants as long as he keeps selling fights. That all this led to an ugly scene like what we saw last night shouldn’t be surprising at all, and White shouldn’t be allowed to cry about dignity and respect for one’s opponent like some sort of try-hard D-III basketball coach. Indignity is baked into the UFC he created, and the bad smell is coming from him.