“THE KING IS DEAD, LONG LIVE THE KING.”
-Chris Eubank (from the Ariel Helwani MMA Show)
One thing we can take from UFC 229 and it’s volatile aftermath, is that Khabib Nurmagomedov is on a different journey. His seems to be one on which multi-million dollar purses are not the end goal and he seems to be a man who looks at his training and the trials of competition as a deeper and more humble endeavor. The very different approach to fight promotion undertaken by Conor McGregor brings to light the ways in which big dollars can corrupt––not only the overall promotion of fights––but the lengths an individual fighter may go to achieve their end goal. The UFC’s use of the infamous “bus attack” video in the UFC 229 promotional packages is clear evidence that nothing is really off limits. After all, the video shows a man committing a crime in which other UFC fighters were injured. The bus attack and the unsavory things said by Conor McGregor and his team leading up to the fight, only bring home this point. However, since the media, vloggers and fans have addressed the bus incident, unfiltered fight promotion rhetoric, and the details of the post-fight brawl, I will not belabor them here.
Of all the rhetoric I have come across in the post fight (and post brawl) coverage, none has been more compelling than that of former British boxer and recent guest on ESPN’s the Ariel Helwani MMA show, Chris Eubank. In the interview, Eubank eloquently spoke of Khabib as “the new king” and waxed poetic on the virtues of being a warrior—comparing his leaping into McGregor’s corner, to a king defending his honor and laying claim to his new kingdom. With all the mainstream MMA media now condemning Khabib’s post fight actions, and saying how he ruined his moment in the cage to get the belt strapped on him, not to mention him missing the ceremonial Joe Rogan octagon interview, it brings to light some themes which I believe are being overlooked.
What Khabib represents is something that I believe so many people are longing for in our modern society: integrity, honor, grit, and the triumph of the regular man––not to mention a departure away from strangling, political-correctness. There can be no doubt that in the lead up to the UFC 229 main event, Khabib Nurmagomedov was the David to Conor McGregor’s Goliath, despite the fact that Khabib was a slight betting favorite. Conor clearly represented the big-business side of thngs. He promoted his Proper # Twelve whisky brand and new line of August McGregor suits, and he has risen to the stature of co-promoting with the UFC. McGregor’s boasting of his wealth and not needing to do it for the money, only further confirms that what McGregor has been chasing has taken him off course. What Khabib Nurmagomedov represents, and the way he seems to carry himself, speaks to a more old world approach to sport, and life.
The latest news of Khabib challenging the UFC and essentially threatening to disregard his contract, highlights the contrast between Khabib and Conor even more, and perhaps speaks to some values clearly absent in American culture (especially the entertainment industry). Khabib Nurmagomedov’s honor code, his actions immediately following his UFC 229 victory, and the ways he has laid claim to his kingdom, are powerful statements. And, while perhaps not adherent to the rules, with some examination they can be admired for how they do adhere to a code. It will be interesting to see how the affects of UFC 229 and the subsequent brawl will impact how things play out with the UFC-Khabib standoff.
I’m not holding my breath for a larger awakening among mainstream media and most MMA fans, but for the minority that see the overarching themes at play in this saga, there may be hope of some enlightenment. Now, while I am not condoning Khabib’s actions immediately following his UFC 229 fight, I can see them for what I believe they really are: a man with true grit and integrity standing up for what he believes in, no matter the cost. Long live the new king!