Khabib Nurmagomedov apologised for instigating a brawl following his stunning defeat of Conor McGregor at UFC 229.
McGregor’s mixed martial arts return after a near two-year hiatus fell flat as he tapped out midway through the fourth round, but Nurmagomedov soured a career-best performance with his actions immediately afterwards.
The Russian, whose victory meant he retained his lightweight title, threw his gumshield, vaulted the cage and attacked someone from McGregor’s camp.
While that was happening, McGregor was set upon and attacked by at least two men who entered the cage as the bad blood between the camps came to a head.
Nurmagomedov expressed his regret at what had unfolded but showed his disdain for McGregor’s behaviour leading up to the fight, including the notorious bus attack in April that left several rival fighters injured.
The 30-year-old said: “First of all I want to say sorry to Nevada Athletic Commission and second to Vegas. I know this is not my best side. I’m a human being.
“But I don’t understand how people can talk about how I jump on the cage. He talked about my religion, he talked about my country, he talked about my father.
“He came to Brooklyn and he broke a bus, he almost killed a couple of people. What about this stuff? Why do people talk about me jumping over the cage? I don’t understand.
“This is a respectful sport, not a trash-talking sport. I want to change the game, you cannot talk about religion, about nationality.”
An event which was billed as the biggest in the UFC’s history had an unsavoury end, and company president Dana White appeared shell-shocked by what had happened.
He revealed Nurmagomedov’s fight purse was being held back by the Nevada State Athletic Commission and that three potential members of the fighter’s camp had been arrested.
However, White said that because McGregor did not want to take the matter further, the trio were later released.
White said: “The Nevada State Athletic Commission pulled the footage from us and there’s an investigation going on.
“They are withholding Khabib’s purse but not Conor’s. They looked at the footage and felt there was no need to withhold Conor’s.
“The way it works is Conor is one of the guys attacked, Conor refused to press charges. The guys they had they released.
“There were three guys from Khabib’s team arrested, I think they were from Khabib’s team, I don’t know.”
Nurmagomedov knocked McGregor down in the second round with a thunderous haymaker and was ahead on all three of the judges’ scorecards when he emphatically finished the fight.
Unfazed by the hostile reception he once again faced from a largely pro-McGregor crowd, Nurmagomedov took the Irishman down and locked in a rear-naked choke three minutes and four seconds into the penultimate round.
White, though, refused to confirm whether Nurmagomedov would hold on to his 155lb crown and believes any sanctions handed down to the fighter by the NSAC could force his hand.
White added: “It’s not 100 per cent certain. We’re regulated by the Nevada State Athletic Commission. They’re going to go after Khabib. The governor was here and he ran out of the building.
“The Nevada State Athletic Commission is going to hand out some type of fine, suspension or whatever. If he gets suspended, it depends how long his suspension is.”
Nurmagomedov was not presented with his belt and neither were there any interviews in the octagon, as is customary after a title fight.
White explained he did not want to incite crowd trouble as the reason for not allowing Nurmagomedov to celebrate in the octagon.
“I felt if we put the belt on him in the middle of the octagon, it was going to rain (with missiles),” White added.
“I thought people would throw whatever they had into the octagon and I thought it would be a dangerous situation so I didn’t do it.”
McGregor’s comeback was supposed to be a night of triumph for the UFC, which was expecting to set a new benchmark for pay-per-view figures, but this incident has cast a dark shadow on the sport.
White said: “I’ve been doing this for 18 years and I couldn’t be more disappointed.
“I should be in here bragging about the pay-per-view but I haven’t even looked at that or talked about it with anybody.
“We should all be celebrating how when you put on the right event with the right guys at the right time, it works.
“It was a very good week for everybody. It just sucks to end it like this, instead of celebrating we’re saying ‘that was pretty bad’.”
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McGregor was making his comeback to mixed martial arts after a near two-year hiatus but the former two-weight champion submitted to his rival’s rear-naked choke midway through the fourth round in Las Vegas.
Nurmagomedov therefore retained his lightweight title but then threw his gumshield, mounted the cage and looked to attack someone from McGregor’s team.
A prone McGregor, still sitting on the floor after his defeat, was apparently attacked by someone from Nurmagomedov’s camp as the bad blood that has been building up ahead of this fight came to a head.
IT’S OVER!! KHABIB TAPS MCGREGOR!!
— UFC (@ufc) October 7, 2018
UFC 229 has been billed as the biggest event in the company’s history and is forecast to set a new benchmark for pay-per-view buys, so it will be a relief to organisers that its two headliners successfully made weight.
All fighters on the card had a two-hour window from 9am local time on Friday to weigh in and Nurmagomedov turned up immediately to scale 155lbs.
McGregor, who appeared a little over an hour later and weighed in half a pound less, will have a final staredown against his rival at a ceremonial weigh-in later on Friday.
The Irishman is returning to mixed martial arts following a two-year hiatus, having made a brief switch to boxing in the interim period to take on Floyd Mayweather in a highly lucrative showdown.
He earned around 100million US dollars (£76m) from that bout in August last year, prompting questions as to how he manages to retain his desire in mixed martial arts at Thursday’s final news conference.
Conducting his media duties separately to Nurmagomedov after arriving late to the Park Theater, McGregor said: “I’m starving. I am starving for this man’s head. I am going to eat him alive in there.
“There’s no way this man’s hungrier than me, there’s nobody that’s hungrier than me in this game. I don’t stop, I’m too on it, I am 24/7 on this game.
“I know who the king is and I’m going to show it on Saturday night.”
— ESPN (@espn) October 5, 2018
McGregor was stripped of his featherweight and lightweight titles due to his inactivity and makes his comeback against an opponent who succeeded him as top dog in the latter division.
Animosity between the pair has ramped up significantly since McGregor threw a dolly at the window of a bus containing several rival fighters, including Nurmagomedov, in April, and the war of words has intensified.
Nurmagomedov revealed he is still irked by that incident in Brooklyn just days prior to UFC 223, when he claimed the vacant 155lbs belt with a unanimous points victory over late replacement Al Iaquinta.
Ahead of the first defence of his strap, the Russian said: “If I say no, this is not true. A little bit.
“Of course I am angry and a little bit emotional. But my job when I go to the cage is I control my emotions and stay relaxed. I’ll keep going and maul this guy.
“Sometimes the anger helps, but most important I stay relaxed. This is most important.”
Their fight is being seen as a classic striker versus grappler contest, but McGregor thinks he holds the upper hand.
“He’s afraid of a clatter,” McGregor said. “Make no mistake, he does not like to be hit, he has novice reactions, he’s a flincher. He’s also easily backed up so I’m very prepared and very aware of what to expect. It’s nothing that fazes me.
“I know every shot everyone throws. I know every move everyone makes, that’s it. I keep my eyes on the game that I run, that’s it. I overlook my empire with a hawk eye.
“I believe he’ll spot an exit and try to take it. But I won’t let it happen.”
The wait is almost over!
— UFC (@ufc) October 5, 2018