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The expectation among some prominent combat sports regulators familiar with Khabib Nurmagomedov’s leap from the UFC octagon Saturday night after defeating Conor McGregor is that the Russian lightweight champion will face a “severe” punishment.
From preliminary assessments in reviewing television footage from the UFC 229 pay-per-view main event, the officials, who discussed the situation on the condition of anonymity out of respect for the Nevada Athletic Commission’s active comprehensive review, said Nurmagomedov likely faces a lengthy suspension of up to one year and a substantial percentage — or all — of his purse money.
Nurmagomedov has argued that McGregor’s pre-fight insults and his April attack of a bus occupied by Nurmagomedov contributed to the decision to leap the cage in pursuit of a McGregor training member who spoke disparagingly to him after he forced former two-division champion McGregor to tap out in a fourth-round chokehold.
The Nevada Athletic Commission immediately launched an investigation into the matter, and as it holds Nurmagomedov’s $2-million purse, it is empowered to suspend and fine him as a result of his post-fight actions.
Nurmagomedov’s manager, Ali Abdelaziz, said McGregor speaking ill of the fighter’s father, religion, patriotism and personal connections in his country in the lead-up to the fight should be considered by the commission for leniency.
“That doesn’t go into the equation,” one official said. “Jumping out of the cage and into the crowd … thank God nobody got hurt.”
One commissioner said an active bylaw of the Assn. of Boxing Commissions almost allowed referee Herb Dean the single-handed power to change Nurmagomedov’s victory to a disqualification and deprive him of his entire purse.
Under the active bylaw, Dean maintains the power from the time commission personnel exit the octagon at the start of the fight until the time they reenter at the end of the fight to make such a decision based on fighter misbehavior.
Commission personnel had already entered the octagon when Nurmagomedov's rage began.
In light of the Nurmagomedov incident, one commissioner said they will ask their superior and the ABC to modify the rule and extend the referee’s power until the time the fighter’s arm is raised in victory inside the ring or octagon.
“It’s definitely something we should consider doing. It would be a deterrent to what happened [Saturday] if the fighter knew his win and purse would be taken away by the referee,” one commissioner said.
The existing bylaw was proposed after a March incident at Morongo Casino in Cabazon that went viral when mixed martial arts fighter Drew Chapman celebrated his knockout of Irvins Ayala by jumping on Ayala’s back and flipping. The California State Athletic Commission ultimately disqualified Chapman, suspended him six months and fined him his entire purse — only $500. You can watch that incident here.
The Nevada Athletic Commission will hold Nurmagomedov’s $2-million purse until his incident is addressed by the full commission, likely later this month. The commission is expected soon to suspend both Nurmagomedov and McGregor for 10 days as it explores all existing video footage and collects statements from those involved in its review.
Nevada’s reputation as the most important state commission, given the prominence of its fights, will be in play along with its in-depth regulations, which led to the stiff six-month suspension earlier this year of current middleweight champion Canelo Alvarez of Mexico for having the banned substance clenbuterol in his system.
That decision scrapped a lucrative rematch between Alvarez and Gennady Golovkin that was ultimately shifted from May to Sept. 15.
Next in line?
Tony Ferguson started the UFC 229 fight week with a strange, agitated session with reporters that raised questions about his mental stability, but the subsequent behavior of Nurmagomedov and McGregor had the elite contender from Orange County closing the weekend looking like the most sturdy among them.
Dressed in a suit and speaking with a frequent grin toward reporters, Ferguson pronounced in his Saturday post-fight news conference, “I am the champ … I’m cleaning up the sport. These two knuckleheads are making the sport look bad.”
Ferguson (24-3) won his 11th consecutive fight in the co-main event Saturday, defeating former champion Anthony Pettis by technical knockout when Pettis’ trainer stopped the fight after two rounds.
The pair shared the UFC’s fight-of-the-night bonus.
Pettis, who’d knocked down Ferguson early in the second round and followed with two clean punches to the head as Ferguson creatively sought to somersault away from further harm, wound up getting cut on the nose, near the eye and on the side of the head by Ferguson’s damaging response.
During one memorable pause in the action, the fighters smiled at each other from opposite sides of the octagon and urged each other on.
“Nobody wants to be trapped inside that cage with me,” Ferguson said afterward.
Pettis suffered a hand injury during the fight, and Ferguson gave proper respect: “He’s not a quitter. This was a world-championship-level fight. I actually had blood in my eyes.
“What the UFC’s going to do with it, I don’t know.”
UFC President Dana White said Monday on ESPN that McGregor has already called him seeking a rematch with Nurmagomedov.
Ferguson stood as the interim lightweight champion from last October until he tore knee ligaments in a parking lot in April. That scrapped – for the fourth time – a scheduled fight against Nurmagomedov. Now, again, he believes he should be considered for the championship fight.
“I’m going to prepare for the next guy. … I went and put my opponent away, got a win bonus and I was glad this chapter of my life [post-knee recovery] is over,” he said.
“We all realized Conor is human [Saturday]. You want to talk about money fights? I have the [interim] belt. … Dana White, you need to pay me.”
Ferguson has longed to fight McGregor before while accusing the former two-division champion of ducking Ferguson due to his acrobatic skill and boxing experience.
“We all realized Conor is human tonight … I’ve known it. I saw Conor in the back strutting up, and then he saw me and he stopped in his tracks,” Ferguson said. “He doesn’t want a piece. Management knows. I’ll make that guy mincemeat.
“I want a title shot, but if you give me Conor, I’ll go toe to toe with him.”
Can talk lead to action?
Terence Crawford, who stands as The Times’ No. 1-ranked pound-for-pound boxer, returns to the ring Saturday in Nebraska to meet unbeaten Jose Benavidez Jr. on ESPN.
Crawford, who’s been in an escalating social-media beef with unbeaten fellow champion Errol Spence Jr., deserves better and has said so — that he would rather try to headline a card in New York after proving he can sell out venues in his home state.
The problem, no matter how Crawford promoter Top Rank spins it, is that the best welterweights fight in rival manager Al Haymon’s Premier Boxing Champions, which includes Spence, Shawn Porter and Keith Thurman.
Benavidez, once an elite prospect who trained at Wild Card Boxing Club in Hollywood before suffering a gunshot wound to the leg, has sought to pepper Crawford with insults and trash talk that has surprised many given the talent divide.
It helped get him the fight, but the true intrigue in this bout is if Crawford wins convincingly, as expected, how fervently will he press his promoter to sincerely pursue the truer tests he deserves?
Until next time