Trash-talking has long been used to sell mixed martial and boxing contests and it’s a strategy that won’t be changing anytime soon, according to the head of the Ultimate Fighting Championship, despite the ugly scenes that broke out following Conor McGregor’s defeat by Khabib Nurmagomedov at the weekend.
The 30-year-old Russian fighter was unhappy with the way McGregor had talked about him in the build-up to the bout as he tried to explain his part in a post-fight brawl, but UFC President Dana White said this was “part of the game.”
“That’s the fight business,” said White said in a media conference. “That’s sports. There is trash-talking in every sport. They do it in the NBA and the NFL. They do it in baseball.”
“That is never going to change here. We’re never going to tell anybody what they can or can’t say. That’s never going to change.”
On returning to the octagon after nearly two years, McGregor was comfortably beaten by Nurmagomedov.
But the event, projected to attract the biggest audience in the sport’s history, is more likely to be remembered for the chaos that ensued after Nurmagomedov made his opponent tap out and then scaled the octagon to launch an attack on McGregor’s team.
Members of Nurmagomedov’s team also launched their own assault on the beaten McGregor. Three men were reportedly arrested but later released after the Irishman refused to press charges.
While Nurmagomedov apologised for his actions, he pointed to McGregor’s verbal barbs in trying to explain what happened in the fight’s aftermath.
“I don’t understand how people can talk about how I jump on the cage,” Nurmagomedov said during a post-bout media conference.
“He [McGregor] 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.”
“This is a respectful sport, not a trash-talking sport,” added Nurmagomedov. ‘I want to change the game, you cannot talk about religion, about nationality.”
In the run-up to the fight, the 30-year-old McGregor had spoken about Nurmagomedov’s Islamic faith, nationality and family in less that complimentary terms.
He labeled Nurmagomedov’s manager a “snitch terrorist rat” and called his father a “coward” for associating with Chechen leader Ramzan Kadyrov.
White was quick to condemn the ugly scenes, but he dismissed claims that the UFC should have stepped in to temper McGregor’s personal attacks.
“This isn’t the last time guys are going to say mean things to each other,” White said in a press conference.
“People have been saying mean things to each other for 18 years here in the UFC. Nothing like this has ever happened.”
Footage of McGregor throwing a two-wheeled dolly into a bus window in that Brooklyn incident was also used to advertise the bout with Nurmagomedov.
Despite the Irishman’s arrest and the fact that two athletes suffered lacerations to the face, the UFC failed to punish McGregor, who is very much the face of the sport.
But White refuted suggestions that a lack of action helped fuel Saturday’s melee and said using footage of the bus attack was “part of the story.”
“If we suspended Conor, I don’t think that would have stopped or slowed down the hatred between these two camps,” he said.
It’s not yet clear whether Nurmagomedov will be suspended or stripped of his lightweight title, following Saturday night. White passed the responsibility onto the Nevada State Athletic Commission, which governs the sport.
White also refused to rule out a rematch between the pair. If that does happen, expect plenty more trash-talking.
By Ben Church, CNN