Tuesday, October 09, 2018

I guess now is the time we’re supposed to be scandalized. Now, after the UFC’s golden child has been stopped for the third time in the past two years, we’re supposed to want fair play, class, and justice for crimes committed by those who have humbled him.

That’s what UFC president Dana White has been suggesting in the immediate aftermath of UFC 229’s post-fight riot in Las Vegas’s T-Mobile Arena. Dana White can only imagine how harshly Nevada’s state athletic commission will come down on Khabib Nurmagomedov for jumping the Octagon fence after submitting McGregor and tussling with one of his training partners.

The commission is so far refusing to pay Nurmagomedov, White says, and teammates of his have been arrested, while McGregor’s purse is still being paid, and doesn’t that all sound correct and fitting, and fair?

Oh, and by the way, the Nevada commission completed an in-depth forensic video investigation of the tumult within minutes and in time (whew!) for White’s post-event press conference and White wants us to know that, speaking for the commission purported to regulate him and his promotion, they saw nothing wrong with McGregor’s actions after the bout, never mind the Irishman’s own attempts at scaling the cage fence and punching (first) at least one of Nurmagomedov’s teammates.

Now is the time we all are to solemnly reflect on the sport of MMA being disgraced by raucous extracurricular action. There was no time for that before, of course, as the UFC glamorized and exploited McGregor’s own at times criminal action in order to uncritically create a toxic environment and facilitate a volatile culture.

I can’t say that Nurmagomedov and some of his teammates don’t deserve serious suspensions and fines from Nevada and the UFC. Unfortunately, both regulators and the promotion have positioned themselves in recent months and years in such a way that they’ll be hypocritical and unduly discriminatory if they do so, here with the crew from Dagestan, when they haven’t in so many other similar If not mirror-exact situations with other fighters, specifically Conor McGregor.

Collective and selective amnesia usually suits those in power quite well, while leaving the rest of us in a state of emotional manipulability fueled by pseudo-events and “official” accounts meant to distract from structural flaws. As the sports world is in a tizzy I’m not interested in criticizing Nurmagomedov and his team’s post-fight actions outside of the context of the table the UFC, athletic commissions, and Conor McGregor and his team themselves set long ago.

In rightfully criticizing Nurmagomedov for getting crowds of fans involved in a fracas and calling for his punishment, how could I responsibly forget McGregor hurling hard, dangerous objects into a press conference crowd of fans towards the general direction of teammates of a rival, starting a mini-riot and subsequently getting no serious sanction from the UFC?

In justifiably condemning Nurmagomedov for leaping over the UFC cage and into the crowd to scuffle with Team McGregor, how could I in good conscience forget being in the arena as McGregor did the same thing a few years ago - jumping over the cage after beating Dennis Siver, charging through and leaping on top of innocent fans, ranting and raving to confront Jose Aldo before being caught by security and receiving no punishment from state regulators or the UFC for the offense?

That night’s Boston Garden security did a much better job than Vegas’ this past weekend, and if not for Aldo keeping his cool and letting them do their jobs, the people between McGregor and Aldo (including a least one little girl) very well could have ended up accidentally injured, caught up in a brawl caused by the brash contender.

How could I agree with some of Nurmagomedov’s teammates being arrested and listen to White wonder if any of them will ever get a visa or fight in the U.S. again last Saturday without at least taking time to reflect on McGregor flying to the States recently and assaulting multiple UFC fighters with potentially deadly items on the eve of their fights, forcing several of them to miss their bouts and paydays, endangering the career of at least one of them (Ray Borg), and giving strawweight champion Rose Namajunas what sounds a whole lot like undiagnosed PTSD?

The consequences for McGregor? A criminal plea deal, no apparent extra difficulty securing visas, no suspension or fines from the UFC or state regulators after his criminal conviction, and a gigantic payday after the UFC celebrated his actions by replaying the scene ad-nauseam in their ads for UFC 229.

As recently as Friday at UFC 229 ceremonial weigh-ins, an unprovoked McGregor smacked Nurmagomedov with his hands and then attempted to kick him while being restrained, violating Nevada and UFC conduct rules once more. And no action taken against him by either body as far as has been announced.

This is, of course, all on top of McGregor’s years of bigoted statements on UFC stages against the likes of Nurmagomedov, Nate Diaz, and Jose Aldo, which he was not punished for by state commissions or the UFC. I refuse to criticize Nurmagomedov’s actions outside of that larger context.

I do lament Khabib Nurmagomedov stooping to a low level after his win over McGregor. In doing so it is also important to point out that the level he was stooping to was one long ago set and accepted by McGregor, the UFC, and state regulators like Nevada.

If Nurmagomedov and his team are punished, now, we have to ask why McGregor has not been seriously so for similar and worse actions that same week and before, and whether that is fair.

Larger problems were revealed Saturday night in Las Vegas than what most popular narratives out there right now may have us believe. Yes, Khabib Nurmagomedov was angry and acted angrily and crazed.

Yes, he’s Russian, and Muslim. Yes, Angry, Crazy, Russian, Muslim, are all terms that we’re trained in Western society to be particularly scared of, especially when they’re joined together as is so often and unfairly done.

If you look more closely at the situation, however, structural issues are revealed - A promotion and entire industry exploiting the ugliest types of tensions and violences and fostering an unhealthy culture, a promotion and entire captive industry speaking of and dealing with similar crimes far differently depending on the people who commit them.

Khabib Nurmagomedov looked bad after the final bell Saturday night, but the UFC and the sport’s regulators far more so.

About the author:
Elias Cepeda is a host of Sports Illustrated's Extra Rounds Podcast, a staff writer at FloCombat, and has a regular column for The UG Blog.

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