CONOR McGregor vowed to return as king of the octagon but this was a catastrophe for the Irishman rather than a coronation.
The biggest fight in Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) history ended in astonishing circumstances as Khabib Nurmagomedov submitted the ‘Notorious’ before leaping over the cage in T-Mobile Arena, sparking a mass brawl.
His target was McGregor’s team-mate Dillon Danis and security piled in just as one of Khabib’s entourage jumped the cage to punch McGregor in the back of the head. To call it chaos would be a gross understatement.
Both fighters were escorted from the stage without a belt presentation or interviews before Khabib was eventually declared by Bruce Buffer as the victor. Many believed the champion could have been disqualified. He was not, but no doubt there will be severe sanctions to follow.
The Nevada State Athletic commission have withheld Khabib’s $2million pay-check after reviewing footage of the ugly scenes but decided to award McGregor’s $3million.
Before the carnage, the undefeated Russian, now a staggering 27-0, dominated a sensational fight, showcasing his wrestling skills and even skittling the supposedly superior striker with a huge right hand in the second.
There may not have been any fear but there was plenty of loathing in Las Vegas as a frenzied 18,000 fans inside T-Mobile Arena were transfixed by the climax to this ferocious rivalry. You sense this one is far from over and the bad blood runs incredibly deep between the Dagestani and Irish cohorts.
McGregor’s loyal army of fans, as notorious as the fighter they so fervently worship, made this state-of-the-art Las Vegas venue feel more like Dublin’s Croke Park.
The thousands who made their 5,000-mile pilgrimage to Sin City formed a sea of green and belted out ‘Ole, Ole Ole Ole’, roaring in approval every time their talisman landed a strike.
And yet, this freakishly talented Russian was unshaken by both their hostility and McGregor’s attacks. He was a picture of stoicism in the face of all the provocation thrown his way in the build-up and that steely mentality forged in the Northern Caucasus was on show again here.
The carnival of colour and noise providing the soundtrack to McGregor’s comeback was extinguished by Khabib’s utterly suffocating grappling ability. As a nine-year-old, he wrestled with bears but it was McGregor on the receiving end of an animalistic mauling here.
In the opening salvo, McGregor flashed a left hand dangerously close but Khabib lunged at the Irishman’s feet, latching on with a vice-like grip and forcing a takedown. The Russian toiled on top, trying to advance position and eventually doing just but time expired before he could inflict any serious damage.
It could have all been over in the second but for McGregor’s hugely admirable resistance. He clung on by the skin of his teeth. Regarded as one of the finest strikers in UFC history, it was the Dubliner on the receiving end of a knockdown. He was sent tumbling backwards by a thudding overhand right. – MailOnline