Sports

How the UFC’s circus-like theatrics are increasingly making the sport look like a joke

Some were comparing it to “Basketbrawl” or perhaps its more commonly recognized nickname, “Malice at the Palace.”

But I don’t see it.

What transpired after a UFC main event between Conor McGregor and Khabib Nurmagomedov was different.

“Malice at the Palace,” an ugly scene in which NBA players and fans wound up brawling in the stands, was something no one could have seen coming. It started with a fan throwing a drink that landed on Ron Artest, an Indiana Pacers player who was lying on the scorer’s table at the Palace at Auburn Hills during a game against the Detroit Pistons.

The scene of Nurmagomedov going over the Octagon, others entering it and an all-out free-for-all occurring could have been expected. Therefore, it could have been prevented.

I’ll admit I’m a conspiracy guy before throwing out this question: Was this something Dana White and the UFC wanted to happen?

Think about it.

McGregor is a natural when it comes to talking trash leading up to a fight. He’s the bad guy who doesn’t see anything as off limits. Whether it’s an act — as his alleged in-Octagon message, “It’s only business,” to Nurmagomedov would indicate — he’s darn good at it.

Often, I’m sure, fighters see it as merely an act and don’t take him 100 percent seriously.

But there was more to this one. Bad blood had been brewing for about two years after a bus incident in which McGregor injured fighters with his mad-man antics that led to assault charges that were pleaded down. He’d missed his target, who just happened to be Nurmagomedov.

As Nurmagomedov showed Saturday night, he’s not one to sit back and be disrespected. The bus incident, the talk about his father and the lack of respect for his religion proved enough for him to snap. Not only did he take it out on McGregor in the Octagon, but the assault continued after the match.

The targets were clear: corner men of each respective team. Therefore, no, this wasn’t a spontaneous incident that put fans in danger. This had to have been planned from Nurmagomedov’s team at least. As for the UFC, who knows?

But one thing is sure: White wound up talking out of both sides of his mouth afterward. He went from outrage that such a thing could happen and condemning Nurmagomedov to talking about a rematch in no time.

I have to believe he loves the circus. He acknowledged that they were aware that the anger could spill over following the fight while saying he didn’t see it going so far as having men entering and exiting the Octagon.

He’s either purposely leaving things a little loose to create excitement or simply is naive. I have to believe the former, because he got exactly what he wanted out of this: an anticipated rematch and plenty of media attention. Had Nurmagomedvo simply beaten McGregor and rode off with his title, there wouldn’t have been nearly as much pub.

I wrote earlier this year about a similar, yet less-controversial, incident that happened following a UFC match. It looked like something straight out of WWE, which I argued is bad for the sport. It had Brock Lesnar, after all, and it appeared to be staged.

Perhaps White is pushing the envelope even a little more now. Or maybe it was just an oversight.

Either way, the UFC is once again becoming more about the hype than the sport, and I don’t think that’s a good thing.

The UFC made it out of this one relatively unscathed as McGregor decided not to press charges because, well, he’s McGregor. I’ve not heard of any crowd members being injured, which is another lucky thing for the organization.

But more and more, it seems everything big having to do with the UFC comes off as a publicity stunt ever since McGregor took on Floyd Mayweather Jr. Or, perhaps, since I’m not a big fan of the sport, these incidents are the only reason it crosses my radar.

Nonetheless, the UFC is playing with fire. One of these days it might just get burnt.

David Wetzel: @MYBSports, 843-626-0295

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