How silence in the face of Conor McGregor's Islamophobia led to a disgraceful mass brawl after his defeat

Earlier this year McGregor threw a metal dolly at a bus on which Khabib Nurmagomedov was travelling. Rather than chastise him, the UFC used it in a promotional video

Assed Baig
Wednesday 10 October 2018 09:52
Khabib jumps out the Octagon after beating Conor McGregor

It was billed as the greatest match in Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) history: the reigning lightweight champion from Russia, Khabib Nurmagomedov, against the UFC’s big money earner and Irish international superstar Conor McGregor.

But yesterday’s event was marred by a mass brawl that broke out. Inside the Octagon, the fight ended in a victory for Nurmagomedov, and an embarrassing defeat for McGregor. But Nurmagomedov is now being heavily criticised as he jumped over the Octagon and became involved in a physical altercation with Dillon Danis, a Bellator welterweight who trains with McGregor. Meanwhile, three members of Nurmagomedov’s entourage took advantage of the chaos to make their way into the Octagon and attack McGregor.

For many, the violent aftermath was predictable – the UFC has long helped stoke the tensions between the two men and their supporters.

Earlier this year McGregor threw a metal dolly at a bus on which Nurmagomedov was travelling, injuring two fighters. Yet the UFC did not chastise him. McGregor brings in the crowds with his huge following – four out of the top pay per view events have headlined McGregor – and part of his persona revolves around his aggression and real-life feud with his nemesis.

Somewhat controversially, the UFC official promotion video featured the bus incident. Its president, Dana White, has insisted the use of the footage was fair game and not inappropriate.

White has long turned a blind eye to McGregor’s behavior, but the build-up to last night’s fight reached new lows, with McGregor invoking racist and Islamophobic slurs. He called Nurmagomedov a “backwards c**t” after the practicing Muslim turned down a whisky at a press conference, and referred to his manager as a terrorist, among other things. McGregor has also called Khabib a “Dagestani rat”, and a picture posted on McGregor’s social media account of himself captioned with “chilling in Jahanum” – Jahanum is the Islamic term for hell.

Throughout all this, Nurmagomedov has remained calm and respectable, but these slurs didn’t go unnoticed and Muslims around the world took to social media to express their outrage – it should have been a warning sign for the promoters. While an element of showmanship is to be expected, such blatantly prejudiced terminology should not be tolerated.

During the build-up to McGregor’s fight with the boxer Floyd Mayweather last year, he was criticised for referring to Mayweather’s African American security guards as “juiced up monkeys” and calling on Mayweather to “dance for me, boy”.

The racial and Islamophobic language should have been reigned in. It’s the responsibility of the UFC to spot the warning signs and demand decent behavior from their fighters – not laugh it away like a mischievous child as White did.

Nurmagomedov has apologised, saying he reacted as his religion, culture and family were insulted. The slurs against him have continued on social media though, some from other fighters, fans and even the former Westlife singer Brian McFadden, who tweeted, seemingly in reference to the fighter: “Kebab,” “Dirty scum,” and that the team should be “band from the ufc.” [sic]

McGregor must have known exactly what he was doing, and the UFC played into it, essentially endorsing his behaviour by staying silent. The UFC is now in no position to get self-righteous and chastise Nurmagomedov for his behavior when they rewarded Mcgregor for his. McGregor has yet to apologise or show any remorse for his actions.

We can’t on one hand turn a blind eye to racism and Islamophobia, and then complain that the sport has been tainted when all hell breaks loose. The sport lost all its grace and dignity when a racist bigot was allowed to use his platform to spread hate.

Nurmagomedov is seen as a hero among Muslim youth throughout the world, and in many people’s eyes the fight’s aftermath will only cement his reputation as a warrior.

Yes his actions were unprofessional, but the UFC is partly to blame for the way the sport has been degraded, for prioritising views over the wellbeing of its fighters and turning a blind eye to racism. If Nurmagomedov is to be sanctioned, it must reflect the pressure he was under living in a world where Islamophobia is rife, and even your own employers refuse to protect you from it.

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