Mark Sanderson shares his thoughts on an explosive night of mixed martial arts at UFC 229 -
25 years in, October 6th and the UFC saw what was arguably the biggest night of its young life, but for all the wrong reasons. Terminating in the fourth round via submission, the Khabib vs McGregor fight finished in a shambles that could set back MMA and its ambitions for credibility in the sanitised world, countless years.
McGregor's coach, John Kavanagh, has already expressed fears on this front prior to his return to Dublin and ongoing efforts with politicians on behalf of the sport's amateur level there. The three ring circus arising from McGregor's loss is spattered all across you-tube, whilst discussions of bans, withheld purses and investigations by the Nevada State Athletic Commission continue. Where the blame lies - whether with Khabib for taking the fight out of the Octagon; McGregor for his deeply personal trash talk; or Dana White and the UFC for releasing footage of the now infamous 'bus' incident in the run up to the fight - remains unanswered.
Pay per view numbers were nevertheless up to a reported 2.4 million from the mere 1.65 million resulting from McGregor's rematch with Nate Diaz back in August 2016. But all this is to miss the point. The real fight - whilst perhaps an inevitable outcome - did not play out as expected. Predictions swung between a first or second round knockout by McGregor and his notorious left, and Khabib's long grinding of a fighter equally notorious for his suspect cardio and early gassing out. Neither occurred.
Both fighters had obviously addressed weaknesses in their training, with McGregor taking extra wrestling coaching and Khabib focusing on striking. This was clear in the fight, with McGregor holding fast during his first round grounding and Khabib landing a beautiful yet unorthodox overhand right in the second, again grounding the Irishman. Rallying in the third, McGregor revived to avoid further grounding whilst mastering an impressive exchange on foot. The inevitable occurred by the fourth with Khabib eliciting the tap from a rear-naked choke.
Foregone conclusions aside, Kavanagh has cited McGregor's two year rust as the reason for his loss - with only the non-MMA Mayweather fight in 2017 to show for this period - in combination with what was perhaps an overly defensive approach. Khabib was as expected, if not clearly more fuelled by events in the long hyped run up to the fight. Beware, as they say, a patient man. So what next? Although calling for a rematch almost immediately, McGregor has gone on a whistle-stop whiskey promotion. Khabib is courted by 50 Cent money and Bellator whilst apparently challenging Mayweather, stating "there is only one king".
Having gone from the sublime to the ridiculous in merely a matter of months, the question is more a matter for the sport, where, catching the bug, Khabib has seemingly sought to outdo McGregor in not only combat but preposterous spectacle. How we get back to the Octagon from here, is yet another challenge.