There are certain lines you can’t cross without a fight. Drop an N-bomb at a booty club and see what happens. Drop a G-bomb in the house of the Lord, or a B-bomb at yo’ mama’s house. There are bound to be consequences, like bruised feelings or reconstructive surgery. And if you mock the sacred values of a bear-wrestling Russian Muslim, like the current UFC lightweight champion, expect to feel the wrath of his righteous violence.
Khabib Nurmagomedov scored an impressive victory on Oct. 6 at UFC 229 in Las Vegas. The grappler submitted the mouthy Conor McGregor with a masterful rear naked choke, solidifying an unprecedented MMA record of 27 wins and 0 losses. Throughout the match, McGregor could be seen taunting his opponent, presumably making reference to skewered Middle Eastern snacks. The Irishman’s venom flowed like stout on tap, until the Russian’s serpentine arms forced him to stop breathing.
While the defeated Celt lay panting on the canvas, Khabib leapt over the the cage and launched a flying kick at McGregor’s corner man. This sparked off a mini riot. Explaining his actions in the post-fight press conference, Khabib said he wants to alter MMA: “He talk about my religion, he talk about my country, he talk about my father. … This is not trash-talking sport. … You cannot talk about this stuff. … Alhamdulillah. [‘Praise be to Allah.’]”
Not a big fan of free speech, this guy. But I dare you to call him a “snowflake” to his face.
To his credit, McGregor refused to press charges, or to apologize for his words. As of this writing, the Nevada State Athletic Commission is holding Nurmagomedov’s $2 million purse. Next week they’ll consider indefinite suspension for both fighters. (After 2.4 million PPV purchases? I doubt it.)
UFC President Dana White spoke of his deep disappointment. Even Mike Tyson, who once gnawed a man’s ear in the ring, claimed to be shocked by the chaos. But not everyone was so dismayed. Immediately after the fight, Vladimir Putin called Nurmagomedov to personally express his national pride. Some things are still sacred.
I’ve seen dozens of live UFC fights over the years, peering into the Octagon in cities all across America. It’s been a surreal privilege. The enjoyment of combat sports is an ancient ritual that quickens the heart and swells the testes. Vicarious violence is as sweet as fine wine. I savor the crunchy smack of a well-placed punch. The blood soaking into the canvas mat. The roar of the crowd and their remorseless heckling. The national flags held aloft. Brazil. Ireland. Poland. Korea. The impromptu anthems and tribal chants. It’s glorious.
The identitarian aspect of cage-fighting has always fascinated me. The collective affinity tends to be far more regional than, say, racial or religious, however much those boundaries overlap. No matter what color an American fighter may be, if he’s facing a foreign opponent, his fellow countrymen in the crowd will chant: “U – S – A! U – S – A!”
If the foreign fighter is popular enough, fans will fly in and descend on the venue in droves. You’ll see the colors of their national flags waving all over the arena. If they’re Irish, you’ll hear them talking lunatic sh-t like leprechauns with Tourette’s Syndrome.
Sporting a Dagestani papakha and praising Allah, Khabib Nurmagomedov creates an interesting identity crisis for American UFC fans. According to the current left-right programming, half of us are supposed to hate Russians and love Muslims. The other half are supposed to hate Muslims and love Russians. The man has something for every bot to detest. He’s like Ivan Drago in an Iron Sheik keffiyah.
When I saw Nurmagomedov take the lightweight title last April at UFC 223 in Brooklyn, the crowd’s reaction surprised me. Khabib’s slotted opponent was pulled due to an injury, then his replacement didn’t make weight. So local fighter Al Iaquinta stepped up with zero notice or preparation. As I’d assumed, the Russian fighter got more boos than a Pollack joke in Warsaw—but not from everyone. (By the way, how many offended Pollacks does it take to get you fired? Only one, if he’s wearing a skirt.)
The crowd in my section was mostly black, with a few white hipsters here and there. I figured they’d all be cheering for their hometown boy, Big Al, the embattled underdog. Yet, for reasons I can only guess, most blacks were cheering for Khabib, while the white hipsters were yelling, with typical irony: “Kick ‘at fer’ner’s -ss! Show ‘im how we do it in ‘MERICA, d-mmit! ‘MERICA!!”
You’d think they’d get knocked off the balcony, but the only Brooklynite who got battered was the underdog in the Octagon. At the end of the fight, as always, Khabib gave thanks to Allah for his victory. The New Yorkers just booed louder.
Bloodlust Pumping in Our Veins
Cage-fighting is a brutal microcosm of modern culture. We either fight for the fun of it, or we like to watch. If you look at the touchscreen horizon, you’ll see civil war fantasies brewing in the comments section. While leftists tempt fate with oblique references to violent revolution, right-wingers are hitting the gun range, feverishly preparing for their moment of glory. It’s just one foul word away.
A lot of people blame the Big T for this climate of hateful words and righteous violence. If that ugly orange b-st-rd wasn’t lobbing mean words across the universe, the reasoning goes, we’d all be swallowing our tongues and farting rainbows. Instead, we’re breathing fire with our thumbs up our -sses.
Just after his stunning 2016 electoral victory, Trump was invited to UFC 205 at Madison Square Garden, but couldn’t attend due to security concerns. It was an historic night: the first legal cage-fight to be held in Manhattan.
The Romanesque event pulled in $17,700,000 at the gate, breaking records for both the league and the venue. The best seats went for a mind-blowing $25,000, and were occupied by such luminary patricians as Gordon Ramsey and Madonna. The main card featured Conor McGregor, who effortlessly took the lightweight belt from Eddie Alvarez, making McGregor the first UFC champion to hold titles in two divisions simultaneously.
The event was also symbolic. The entire country had been altered by Trump’s victory. The Resistance had just begun to mobilize. Trump Tower was under siege. P-ssy hats were being knitted. Mascara tears were clogging the sewer drains. And here was this loud Irishman talking trash in the Octagon, his countrymen screaming in incomprehensible accents all around me. After the bout, he took the mic and said:
Backstage I’m startin’ fights w’ everybody. I’ve ridiculed everyone on the roster. And I just wanna say from the bottom a’ me heart. I’d like to take this chance to apologize… TO ABSOLUTELY NOBODY! The double champ does what the f-ck he wants!
McGregor is the incarnated id of the wild Euro working class, graced with a mean left fist. Careless tongues like his can waggle your clan into war, but man, you have to admire the guy.
After this month’s Las Vegas rumble, progressive voices in the media immediately came to Khabib’s defense, making every excuse for his reckless response to “Islamophobia.” And why not? His double standard sounded just like theirs: “I wanna change this game. You cannot talk about religion. You cannot talk about nation. … This is, for me is very important.”
Do we want to live in a society where sacred cows can be desecrated for the sport of it? Or should profane mouths be silenced with the threat of righteous violence? Better answer that soon. Because before long, the discussion will be over.