I had so much to say about one of the best cards I’ve ever seen. About one of the most gripping main events I’ve ever seen. But UFC 229 has been marred by senseless violence. Not condoned, commissioned displays of violence that are a part of the sport we love. No. This was violence of a whole different sort, and there is only one man to blame for this.
His name is Khabib Nurmagomedov. And in a matter of a few seconds, he may have pissed away everything that he accomplished with his fourth-round submission win over Conor McGregor.
The fight itself was captivating. Khabib was a grappling wizard early. He largely dominated the first two rounds, even dropping McGregor with an overhand right. McGregor rebounded in the third, keeping Khabib off of him and engaging in a back-and-forth striking battle that he likely edged out. But in the fourth, he was taken down, mauled, and submitted by the better man.
Then chaos reigned.
Immediately after he stood up, he continued to jaw at McGregor. No big deal. But then he jumped over the cage, charged into the crowd and attacked Dillon Danis. Things went bonkers. Security grabbed Khabib. But his team was in the cage, and one of them went over and sucker punched McGregor. McGregor was just standing there, absorbing the fact that he lost. It was completely uncalled for, and I’d almost call it criminal.
Author edit - I wrote this post immediately in the aftermath of the fight. At the time, the consensus was that McGregor had been attacked without provocation, because that’s what the announcers had said. Video of Conor throwing a punch came out much later. I won’t change what I wrote, because it was my honest reaction in the moment. But it should be noted that the perspective was altered later, based on new evidence. Please stop emailing me about this.
Khabib re-entered the cage, and tried to get at Conor again. His own team, including Luke Rockhold and Daniel Cormier, begged him to calm down. He demanded his belt. Dana White told him straight up that if they put the belt around his waist, the crowd might riot and people might get hurt. Khabib protested, but ultimately went backstage.
And here we are.
Look, there’s a lot to unpack here and I’m writing this in the heat of the moment. Part of me looks at the cowardly bus attack by McGregor and isn’t that bothered by him getting some comeuppance. But that was well over the line, and unfortunately on the biggest day of Khabib’s life, he likely tarnished a legacy he had cemented with a rear naked choke just seconds before.
Is this Conor reaping what he has sown? Is this an eye for an eye? Or is this much, much more than that?
- I’m not sure I have the words to adequately describe the spectacle that was Tony Ferguson vs. Anthony Pettis. Ferguson brought all sorts of pressure, and was in control in the very entertaining first round. The second is where it went crazy. Pettis badly hurt Ferguson, dropping him twice. But in the process, he broke his hand and somehow ended up with a gigantic cut in his hairline. Ferguson made it back to his feet, and the two men engaged in a bloody war that was just insane. Both of them landed huge shots. Blood was everywhere. Pettis was doing cartwheels. Ferguson was yelling. The announce team got covered in blood.
- Unfortunately, Pettis’ broken hand prevented him from going out for the third. And Duke Roufus deserves all the respect in the world for not sending his fighter out without a major weapon against one of the best fighters in the world. He asked Pettis. Pettis was non-committal. So he took charge and protected his boy. That’s what all coaches should do. It may have deprived us of another five minutes of hell, but in all likelihood, Pettis wouldn’t have been able to fight anyway. It was the right decision.
- Can we PLEASE run that back someday? PLEASE?
- Dominick Reyes dominated Ovince Saint Preux. He may have been able to finish him in the first if he showed a little more killer instinct. But they went to the very end - literally the last second - before Reyes absolutely leveled OSP with a punch that left him crumpled on the mat. Oddly though, the horn went and referee Dan Mirgliotta asked OSP to get up. After a few seconds, he did, and the fight went to a decision instead of being ruled a KO. It was a ridiculous choice, and Reyes was robbed of a KO win. Regardless, he won a wide decision and is now a contender in a division almost entirely devoid of top talent.
- Derrick Lewis. What can you say about the man? He gets dominated for 14 minutes and 35 seconds. Then out of nowhere, the hardest hitter in MMA cracks Alexander Volkov with a big shot. And one more. And Volkov goes down. Lewis lands two devastating kill shots on the ground (and Herb Dean might have saved Volkov’s life by holding his arm back before he landed the third). And suddenly, at 4:49 of round 3, Derrick Lewis is probably the top contender for the UFC heavyweight title. What a sport.
- And of course, Lewis entertained the masses with his post-fight interview. “Derrick Lewis, why did you take your pants off?” “My balls was hot.” How do you not laugh at that? Then he kept up the ridiculousness, citing Donald Trump, making fun of himself and saying he doesn’t want to talk about a title shot, and generally just looking like a gigantic exhausted man. Derrick Lewis is a treasure - one of the few men in the sport that can never, ever be counted out. I will pay to watch him fight (and talk) any day of the week. You should too, and he just proved why.
- Michelle Waterson looked excellent against Felice Herrig in the main card opener, and it was a nice example of judges actually understanding what they are looking it. Herrig was the aggressor, pushing Waterson against the cage for much of the fight and generally being the pressure fighter. But Waterson was the much more effective striker, whether it was at range, in the clinch, or even from the the bottom. Herrig put forth a good effort, but the raw stats won’t tell the story of this fight. Waterson definitely won.
- Jussier Formiga has been on the cusp of a flyweight title shot seemingly forever in the UFC, but couldn’t get it done in the top contender fights. He changed that tonight, largely dominating Sergio Pettis with his slick takedowns and grappling. Pettis landed some decent strikes in the first round, but Formiga did too and had some top time. The second was pretty much all Formiga, and the third featured one of Jussier’s insanely cool back takes. He then rode a hapless Pettis like a backpack for the whole rest of the fight. Pettis just looked confused and lost, and then extremely frustrated when the final horn sounded and he knew he had lost.
- Contender Series alum Jalin Turner was in a tough spot, coming in up a weight class against a tough guy in Vicente Luque. While he showed a few flashes of brilliance with his striking, getting too loose ended up costing him when he got flattened while attempting a spinning elbow.
- I picked Tonya Evinger to beat Aspen Ladd. I could not have been more wrong. Ladd’s grappling is slick, and once she got on top? Ohhh man, she was vicious. The primal shrieks while she dropped bombs on Evinger was pretty surreal. Ladd looked excellent against a battle-tested vet, and she’s right there in a thin 135-pound division after just two (impressive) UFC wins.
- Scott Holtzman looked excellent against a very awkward Alan Patrick. Holtzman timed his shots very well, hurting Patrick multiple times with effective counters. Finally he was able to drop a resilient Patrick and pound him out with elbows. Patrick is very underrated, and that was a huge win for “Hot Sauce”.
- Gray Maynard came back to lightweight, and made a grappler look like a striker. Nik Lentz largely lit up the former top 155-pounder for most of the first round, to the point that Maynard’s corner didn’t seem convinced that their fighter could continue. He did though, and a head kick (that landed to the back of the head due to an awkward angle, but was completely legal) sent Maynard to the mat. It might be time to hang ‘em up for The Bully.
- Nik Lentz shouted out his “buddy”, Brett Kavanuagh in his post-fight speech. I’m not even American and thought that was pretty dumb. Just shut up, bro. Totally reminded me of Jacob Volkmann and his horrible Barack Obama “jokes” a few years ago.
- In the UFC 229 opening bout, Tony Martin loaded up his right hand and cracked Ryan LaFlare with it over and over. LaFlare showed a lot of resiliency, but a Martin head kick that he leaned into ended his night in the third round.