It should have been a showcase of mixed martial arts excellence, but UFC 229 in Las Vegas transformed from being a spectacular night of MMA to one of the most controversial events in UFC history, after violent skirmishes broke out following Khabib Nurmagomedov’s victory over Conor McGregor.
Is any publicity good publicity for the UFC?
From failed drug tests to weigh-in mishaps and untimely injuries, the UFC has demonstrated a remarkable ability to bounce back from setbacks and keep moving forward. But this one, coming so soon after McGregor’s attack on a UFC minibus in Brooklyn, is a much trickier problem to navigate.
Once McGregor’s legal issues from that incident had been dealt with, the bout with Nurmagomedov was booked almost immediately, and footage of the bus attack featured prominently as part of the promotion leading up to the event. In doing so, the UFC effectively invested in the incident the organisation’s president Dana White had previously slammed as “disgusting”.
To continue that narrative by booking an immediate rematch may generate the greatest financial return in the short term, but it may also serve to indirectly legitimise the antics of both McGregor and Nurmagomedov, who between them have been responsible for two of the most unsavoury incidents in UFC history within the space of just a few months.
If there is a silver lining it’s the fact that, after a modest start to the year, the explosion in notoriety from the event could also lead to more people tuning in when the likes of Jon Jones, Brock Lesnar, Anderson Silva, and possibly Georges St-Pierre return to action in the New Year. Following the scenes of Saturday night in Vegas, the UFC needs its other stars to step up more than ever.