Khabib meets Putin: Vladimir hopes Nurmagomedov avoids punishment, but UFC and Dana White must put morals over money
Russian president congratulates lightweight champion for Conor McGregor win and urges authorities – and his father – not to punish him too severely
As if this week in mixed martial arts couldn’t have got any weirder, Khabib Nurmagomedov spent his Wednesday hobnobbing with Vladimir Putin as he continues to enjoy his UFC 229 victory lap.
The Russian president congratulated the lightweight champion on the phone after he retained his title in the biggest bout in UFC history against Conor McGregor last Saturday, but it seems a call wasn’t enough.
He met the Dagestani-born Russian on the sidelines of the “Russia – Country of Sports” forum in Ulyanovsk, where he joked around that Khabib’s father and trainer Abdulmanap Nurmagomedov should “not to punish him too severely” for inciting a post-fight brawl at the T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas.
Abdulmanap had said “discipline comes first” after his son jumped out of the octagon and attacked McGregor’s jiu-jitsu coach Dillon Dannis in the crowd.
McGregor then got into it with Khabib’s team, one of whom climbed into the cage to hit the Irishman from behind, as all hell broke loose.
The fighters were escorted backstage by police, who arrested three of Khabib’s team, though they were later released because McGregor said he would not press charges.
The Nevada State Athletic Commission (NSAC) has withheld Nurmagodemov’s US$2 million purse while it investigates the incident.
As if anybody needed his opinion on the matter, Putin urged the NSAC to go easy on Nurmagomedov.
“No matter what happens, we need to avoid rashness like charging someone,” Putin told Khabib and his father. “Regardless of what’s going on.”
He added: “We all understand that it was a provocation. I’m sure your father understands that too.
“It was done to provoke you and use it against you in the fight.
“If we are attacked from the outside, not only you, we could all jump in such a way … there could be hell to pay. But it’s better not to reach that stage.”
A year-long NSAC suspension should in theory see Khabib stripped of his title. But luckily for Vlad, UFC president Dana White seems happy to let Nurmagomedov’s crazy actions slide.
“He is going to get suspended so maybe you give him four to six months’ suspension,” White said.
“If Nevada puts a suspension on him everyone will put a suspension on him. We are not going to go around the athletic commission in this country to put on a fight.
“He’ll sit out, take some time off and that’s it.”
So file that under “business as usual” for White. Just like when McGregor was arrested for throwing the dolley at the bus, and just like when Jon Jones failed a second drugs test, the UFC is happy to let its big-money fighters off lightly because they draw the most pay-per-view buys.
White has been cosying up to his new star on social media all week, sending him playful Instagram memes. It’s all good fun, but where is the accountability?
Yes, Khabib apologised for his actions in his post-fight interview, but it was half-hearted at best and he tried to put all the blame on McGregor.
“He talk about my religion. He talk about my country. He talk about my father,” Nurmagomedov said on Saturday.
“He came to Brooklyn and he broke bus, he almost killed a couple of people. What about this s***?
“This is a respect sport, this is not a trash-talking sport. … You cannot talk about religion, you cannot talk about a nation, you cannot talk about this stuff. For me, this is very important.”
But trash talk is just part of the fight game, and Nurmagomedov needs to accept that – someone insults you to sell tickets and pay-per-view buys, and then you get to punch their face as revenge.
Yes it was never going to end in handshakes and hugs after that fractious build-up, with the UFC happily promoting the bad blood.
But UFC featherweight champion Max Holloway summed it up best when he gave his take on Twitter.
“When I fight my son sits cage side,” the Hawaiian wrote. “Children could’ve been smashed. Being champ isn’t about the belt and they both know this.
“I hope both champs show what it is about before it’s too late. I know they are better leaders of their teams than what fans have been seeing.”
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A post shared by Khabib Nurmagomedov (@khabib_nurmagomedov) on Oct 9, 2018 at 1:02pm PDT
Whatever happens to Khabib, his victory and the brawl undoubtedly made him an overnight star, who now has the attention of one of the most powerful men in the world.
“Thank you very much Vladimir for warm reception and for congratulations,” Khabib wrote on Instagram. “And I am very pleased that my victory has brought so much joy to our multinational country. This is our common victory.”
Let’s just hope the UFC don’t bend over backwards to accommodate Putin’s wishes like Fifa did at the World Cup.
White needs to set an example with Nurmagomedov, but he won’t, because like with McGregor and all his indiscriminations, money talks.