UFC needs lead­er­ship, not a pres­i­dent mak­ing ex­cuses

Sunday Independent (Ireland) - Sport - - COMMENT - RONAN O’FLAHERTY

AWEEK has passed since the events that over­shad­owed the most ea­gerly-an­tic­i­pated event in mixed mar­tial arts his­tory. Un­til it de­vi­ated from the script, UFC 229 was an out­stand­ing spec­ta­cle that pro­vided no short­age of en­ter­tain­ment. How­ever, Khabib Nur­magome­dov’s de­ci­sion to climb out of the oc­tagon and at­tack one of Conor McGre­gor’s cor­ner­men was the first in a se­ries of quick-fire in­ci­dents that has left the sport in the spot­light for the wrong rea­sons.

The Rus­sian had just suc­cess­fully de­fended his UFC light­weight ti­tle, so the sight of such a sense­less act was scarcely un­der­stand­able to many who wit­nessed the im­ages on news bul­letins across the globe. How­ever, this was the cul­mi­na­tion of a fall­out that started brew­ing six months pre­vi­ously in New York, when Nur­magome­dov was the tar­get of a bus at­tack by McGre­gor and his as­so­ciates.

In Dana White, the UFC have a pres­i­dent whose com­ments are some­times at odds with his ac­tions. In the im­me­di­ate af­ter­math of the bus at­tack in Brook­lyn, White de­scribed the in­ci­dent as “the most dis­gust­ing thing that has ever hap­pened in the his­tory of the com­pany”. How­ever, the UFC’s de­ci­sion to use footage of that very at­tack in the pro­mo­tional videos for last week­end’s fight was as bad an own goal as one is likely to wit­ness.

White’s de­meanour was sim­i­lar in the af­ter­math of the brawl that over­shad­owed UFC 229, us­ing words like “dis­gusted” and “sick” to de­scribe his mood. How­ever, when asked about the pos­si­bil­ity of a re­match be­tween Nur­magome­dov and McGre­gor, he wouldn’t rule it out.

The sad thing for Nur­magome­dov is that un­til he jumped into the crowd to at­tack McGre­gor’s cor­ner­man Dil­lon Da­nis, he was primed to emerge from the fight and its build-up smelling of roses. The sub­se­quent de­ci­sion of two of his team to then storm the oc­tagon and at­tack McGre­gor merely com­pounded a dire sit­u­a­tion.

Much of the com­men­tary has been hys­ter­i­cal. Some ques­tion whether MMA can re­cover. How­ever, the fig­ures from the event il­lus­trate a sport in a healthy place.

Ticket re­ceipts of $17.2m (€14.8m), gen­er­ated from a sell-out crowd of 20,034, rep­re­sents a stag­ger­ing fig­ure. The pay-per-view au­di­ence has yet to be con­firmed but it is be­lieved to have been in the re­gion of 2.4 mil­lion. That equates to more than €120m and dwarfs the 1.1 mil­lion pay-per-view cus­tomers who stumped up for the big­gest box­ing event of the year, Canelo Al­varez v Gen­nady Golovkin.

Barely five hours had passed when McGre­gor took to so­cial me­dia to de­clare his de­sire for a re­match. The sheer money-mak­ing po­ten­tial of such a show­down means the UFC is un­likely to op­pose it.

How­ever, with more than €100m in the bank, McGre­gor is a very rich man and has lit­tle to gain from squar­ing off with Nur­magome­dov again. The con­vinc­ing na­ture of the Dages­tani’s vic­tory, which cul­mi­nated in a fourth-round sub­mis­sion, was a sober­ing view­ing ex­pe­ri­ence for those who ex­pected more from McGre­gor. It could be ar­gued that a 23-month ab­sence had left him rusty But that is a weak foun­da­tion to build an ar­gu­ment upon.

His great­est as­set — his left fist — was in­ef­fec­tive. Mean­while, all the pop­u­lar com­men­tary sug­gested that Nur­magome­dov pos­sessed no punch­ing power what­so­ever. The right hook that sent McGre­gor stag­ger­ing across the oc­tagon in the sec­ond round dis­pelled that myth. Punch­ing power aside, Nur­magome­dov had more tricks up his sleeve than McGre­gor could fend off. He was brave, but this was a mis­match from the start.

McGre­gor’s coach, John Ka­vanagh, had said a re­match could take place at some stage next sum­mer. How­ever, Ka­vanagh was also clear that he would pre­fer if McGre­gor’s next out­ing was against Nate Diaz. That would cer­tainly ap­pear to be a more sen­si­ble op­tion. They have al­ready served up two thrilling en­coun­ters, win­ning one each. This would be billed as the de­cid­ing fight and it has a ready-made au­di­ence. Cru­cially, McGre­gor can ac­tu­ally beat Diaz.

Ka­vanagh’s ad­mis­sion that he could un­der­stand Nur­magome­dov’s post-fight re­ac­tion could be in­ter­preted as his way of say­ing that McGre­gor went too far. The trash-talk­ing in the build-up to UFC 229 fo­cused on the ul­tra-sen­si­tive top­ics of reli­gion, fam­ily and na­tion­al­ity.

By the time Nur­magome­dov had scaled the oc­tagon and his as­so­ciates had at­tacked McGre­gor, the poi­son of a toxic en­vi­ron­ment had in­fected the crowd at the T-Mo­bile Arena. Fights broke out in pock­ets of the arena and that vi­o­lence spilled out on to the streets of Las Ve­gas. It was a men­ac­ing at­mo­sphere that could be traced back to the bus at­tack, be­fore in­ten­si­fy­ing in the days lead­ing up to the fight.

White says he will never tell fight­ers what they can and can’t say. How­ever, the scenes that fol­lowed last week’s fight should per­haps force him to re­vise that view. Mat­ters re­lat­ing to fam­ily and reli­gion are too sen­si­tive. If the events sur­round­ing UFC 229 haven’t made that clear, then White is ei­ther miss­ing the point or wash­ing his hands of any re­spon­si­bil­ity. Nei­ther ex­cuse is good enough for the pres­i­dent of an or­gan­i­sa­tion that is val­ued at more than €5bn.

Cru­cially, McGre­gor can ac­tu­ally beat Diaz

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