Khabib's reaction to McGregor's racism, thuggish behaviour, insults towards his family and faith should be scrutinised. But in America, only the Muslim can be judged.
In absolutely sensational scenes just hours ago, Dagestani grappler and UFC lightweight champion Khabib Nurmagomedov defended his title in a ferociously dominant display against his toughest and most controversial opponent yet, Irish superstar Conor McGregor.
This fight was the biggest in the history of the sport, billed as a clash of fighting styles which also subsequently developed into a clash of personalities and culture, with McGregor’s flamboyant, drink-fuelled Western persona colliding with Nurmagomedov’s icy calm and conservative Muslim demeanour.
The Dagestani champion mauled the brash former “champ champ” - as McGregor calls himself - taking down the Irishman repeatedly, subjecting him to an absolute skull-shattering ground-and-pound that lasted for an excruciating two minutes, before using his terrifying wrestling skills to neutralise McGregor on the ground with a rear naked choke turned neck crank. As Khabib warned before the fight, it was certainly a long night for Conor.
However, controversy struck immediately after the bout, with McGregor’s training partner Dillon Danis being described by veteran UFC commentator and comedian Joe Rogan as having hurled abuse at the reigning champion.
Khabib, renowned for his composure, shocked the world by vaulting the octagon and getting into a fistfight with Danis before being pulled away by security. Conor, who was still recovering from his ordeal at the hands of Khabib, was inside the cage at this point when he threw the first punch at Khabi's entourage and was duly punched back by another Dagestani.
Both fighters had to eventually be escorted out of the building, with promotor Dana White refusing to gird the champion’s belt around Khabib’s waist for fear of inflaming tensions.
Compare and contrast Dana White's response to Conor's savage attack on the UFC bus in April with Khabib's outburst last night.
White was keen to justify and downplay what Conor did by saying that this was what happens in Dublin if one person attacks another's friend, and that's just the kind of guy Conor is. Yet after Khabib's reaction to more than half a year of attacks and abuse from Conor and his camp, he said that he was disgusted and left sick by the champ's actions. How is that remotely balanced, fair and non-discriminatory?
Whereas the Nevada State Athletic Commission, which sanctioned the bout, refused to authorise Khabib’s fight purse being paid to him pending an investigation, while McGregor got paid.
McGregor got away with far worse
It is important to understand the background to why Khabib reacted the way he did.
In my estimation, lesser men than him would have used far greater levels of violence than he did, and far sooner. Indeed, a lesser man has been using violence, intimidation, thuggery and vile racism to get his way and stir up a fight with the champion - none other than Conor McGregor himself.
In April this year, Conor gathered a crew of several dozen thugs from Dublin, bundled them onto a private jet, and flew to New York in startling scenes where he and his friends were caught on camera attacking a UFC bus that Khabib was sat on before his championship bout against Al Iaquinta.
In a crazed rage, Conor threw a metal dolly through the bus window, causing harm to fellow fighters including Michael Chiesa who sustained damage to his eye from the shattered glass.
Conor’s justification was that Khabib had “slapped” his friend, fellow MMA fighter Artem Lobov, when video evidence most certainly shows no such slap. While Conor admittedly was lampooned in the media, ultimately he had to serve a five day community service sentence but was otherwise relatively unscathed.
Taking his hatred for Khabib even further, Conor called his father a “quivering coward” in an Instagram post less than two months before last night’s fight, and during the pre-fight press conference placed his own brand “Proper 12” whiskey in front of the conservative Muslim fighter.
Not only was that highly offensive to Khabib, but Conor then went ahead and attacked his manager Ali Abdelaziz using despicable Islamophobic slurs and branding him a terrorist. Conor insinuated that he was linked to the 9/11 bombers but eventually turned informant on his former conspirators.
Khabib is still the champion
His inflammatory comments about Khabib, his family, friends, religion and country are not the only time he has misbehaved with little to no consequences, as multiple UFC champion and MMA legend Randy Couture noted on his personal Facebook page.
Conor has taken belts off of opponents, thrown water bottles at pressers, and of course used inexcusable racism. Yet we are now supposed to all believe that Conor was a victim after last night’s events?
Conor has been extraordinarily violent outside of the cage, racist, Islamophobic, and generally abusive in a manner that transcends the trash talk that these fights are famous for.
He took his hatred of Khabib and used his superstar platform to amplify his very personal attacks against the champion, before his bravado came crashing down around him and he ended up tapping to a sublime performance by the grappling master.
Conor’s behaviour does not excuse what happened after the bout as Khabib should have shown some restraint, something he acknowledges and has apologised for. But we should be able to at least understand why Khabib would have reacted in the way that he did.
Seeing the avalanche of criticism that has descended upon him smacks of racism.
Why is Conor allowed to get away with a litany of abuses while still being lauded as a “great performer”, “showman” and “champion”, while Khabib is vilified as someone who has completely let down the expectations we collectively have of him as a champion?
To hear former champion turned pundit Michael Bisping, one would think Khabib committed an equivalent amount of violence, hate speech and general misbehaviour as his now crushed Irish opponent.
Yet, where was Bisping’s and others’ criticisms of Conor’s blatant and disgusting Islamophobia? Condemning his violence is one thing, but staying relatively silent on his abhorrent views and racist outlook just because it is “trash talk” is irresponsible and reckless.
It gives the impression that there is one moral standard for Conor and yet Khabib will be crucified for allowing a chink in his otherwise gleaming armour of exemplary conduct throughout his 27-0 career as one of the greatest fighters in combat sport history.
Disclaimer: The viewpoints expressed by the authors do not necessarily reflect the opinions, viewpoints and editorial policies of TRT World.
We welcome all pitches and submissions to TRT World Opinion – please send them via email, to email@example.com