Image Credit: Mahmoud Khaled/AP
MMA turned into a circus.
Admit it. The game went from fighting style vs style to shenanigans vs. cult of personality.
Even Khabib had hoop dreams 😂
— Bleacher Report (@BleacherReport) October 24, 2020
As antics overtook skills, the audience became conditioned to a fight hype prism reminiscent of the WWE. Dana White became an unwitting Vince McMahon and he corralled the highest-grossing clowns into the new Octagonal circus.
Then the shenanigans became racially divisive. McGregor pushed xenophobia upon his Russian sworn enemy in Khabib Nurmagomedov. Fans of his Mickey O’Neil, played by Brad Pitt from the movie Snatch act ignore the Islamophobia and enjoyed the big drama show.
Colby Covington’s political leanings towards Trump’s MAGA America was a perfect vessel to generate hate into viewership. He played the heel during one of the most charged times in political history to the detriment of the soul of the sport.
Still, there were fighters who didn’t play the game and maintained their dignity and personal code while others were breaking the UFC’s own Code of Conduct.
Khabib Nurmagomedov: The Standard Bearer
During the lead up to his now mythic destruction of Conor McGregor at UFC 229 on October 6th, 2020, Khabib Nurmagomedov endured the worst “fight hype” ever.
From his wife being called an Islamophobic slur to a daily pestering of insults from the MMA world’s favorite Irishman, Khabib stood tall. Aside from the calm confidence of a man in control, Khabib never stooped to McGregor’s level.
THERE CAN ONLY BE ONE.
— UFC (@ufc) October 23, 2020
By the time they stepped in the Octagon, he was ready to make McGregor eat every word and he did to the point of making McGregor quit.
The same way he made Justin Gaethje submit with a triangle choke at 1:34 of the second round at Fight Island in Abu Dhabi on Saturday, to become the undisputed lightweight champion and the consensus pound-for-pound king of the sport.
Many could have predicted that Khabib would win convincingly, but few were ready for the abrupt announcement of his retirement after the fight. I guess his work is done.
His final victory was more than a fight. It was a continuance of the standards that made the UFC initially the premier organization in the sport. Today was about reclaiming that honor.