The Fight that Mattered: Cultural Differences in the McGregor v. Nurmagomedov Event

Let’s take a moment to talk about this, now that the dust has settled a bit: Khabib Nurmagomedov vs Conor McGregor was not a particularly exciting fight – it wasn’t even the most exciting fight either man was in that night. After four rounds of Khabib’s exhaustive wrestling style putting Conor out of sorts, it all ended with the Irishman tapping due to a neck crank. It was apparent that Khabib was not done. “The Eagle” climbed the Octagon’s fence and leapt towards McGregor’s jiu-jitsu instructor Dillon Danis. A brawl ensued, Conor got involved in a scuffle with Khabib’s cornermen as they rushed across the Octagon, and security eventually separated everybody and then escorted both fighters and their cornermen out of the arena.

While there was speculation ranging about why Khabib launched his attack, at the press conference held post-fight Khabib seemed to indicate frustration at the trash talk that Conor (and, presumably, his teammates) engaged in, saying they insulted his country, his father, and his religion. Khabib declared an interest in removing these disrespectful elements from the sport, though Dana White was quick to denounce the idea: “This isn’t the last time guys are gonna say mean things to each other… Listen, people’ve been saying mean things to each other for 18 years here at the UFC, nothing like this has ever happened.”

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McGregor did not see immediate repercussions, though both he and Nurmagomedov have been suspended indefinitely following the Athletic Commission’s need to review everything. Khabib’s purse was also withheld in full until recently, where half was released to the Dagestani fighter. But these events have wider questions, of cultural values and personal, as well as organizational, responsibility. Should the UFC consider cultural openness when hiring – or rather, contracting – fighters, as suggested in a paper in the International Journal for Human Resource Management? As the paper is quick to point out, this mere-exposure may only increase knowledge of cultural practice but does not necessarily mean it will be put into action. And besides, which man needs this cultural understanding? Does Conor need to develop a respectful attitude towards Khabib’s values? Does Khabib need to understand the anything-goes element of trash-talk, roll with the verbal punches along with the physical, and do what almost every other fighter does – have it out in the cage?

Not to say Khabib is the only man to ever start a brawl. Before StrikeForce was bought out by UFC’s parent company Zuffa a serious brawl ensued at a Nashville event in 2010:

Zuffa promptly shut down StrikeForce after its purchase, so who can say what fate awaits the two troublemakers after their bout at UFC 229?

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