The oldest question in combat sports goes thus: Can the best striker in the world beat the best wrestler? Stories of heavyweight championship boxers being tied up in knots by their wrestling counterparts are legion. For a time in the early part of last century, every great pugilist employed at least one wrestling champion, eager to learn the tricks of the trade.
MMA, from its inception, was seemingly set up to answer this question. Conventional wisdom suggests that the advantage lies with the grappler. That all the wrestler has to do is slip his way past the striker's guard, take him off his feet and to the ground.
In the battle of Dagestan vs Dublin, conventional wisdom, was once again, proven correct. Khabib Nurmagomedov forced Conor McGregor to submission in the fourth round of their UFC lightweight championship match — and extending his impressive winning streak to 27-0 — thereby cementing his place as one of the greatest fighters in history.
'The Eagle', was always a bad match up for the 'Notorious One'. Stylistically, perhaps worst matchup in McGregor's storied career. McGregor, returning from a two-year layoff in the Octagon (he last fought Eddie Alvarez in 2016), seemed unable to shake off the ring rust. His greatest weapon, the howitzer left hand, didn't fly as often as he'd have liked.
But that may have been down to the threat posed by the man from Dagestan, who seemed intent to get the Irishman to the canvas and beat him down. Which is exactly what he did. Time after time after time.
Round 1 saw McGregor thwart an early takedown attempt. The puncher's wrestling skills, never at par with the elites of the sport, seemed at least capable of momentarily repelling the mauler. Not much happened on the canvas as the combatants jockeyed for position, although Nurmagomedov was able to land at least one good shot.
Round 2 belonged to Nurmagomedov entirely. He placed a perfectly timed overhand right on McGregor's chin that shook up the Dubliner. To steal a line from the great Muhammad Ali: he hit him so hard, it shook up his ancestors.
The rest of the round seemed like a replay of the bear attack scene in the Revenant, with McGregor playing the part of the hapless Leonardo Dicaprio and barely clinging to life and Nurmagomedov the angry Russian bear raining down furious punches.
The referee was more than happy to give McGregor the benefit of the doubt and every chance to get back to his feet. The former two-division champion answered plenty of his critics' charges that he was more sizzle than steak by showing grit, determination and heart.
Round 3 was McGregor's best. The partisan Irish crowd rallied behind their hero and he was content to stay at a distance and outbox his opponent. He even managed to thwart a couple of the Dagestani's attempts at going to ground (something few people would have bet on in the lead up to the fight).
Nurmagomedov seemed content to give away the round, although one could and should question his wisdom of standing in front of the best pure striker the sport has ever seen. McGregor landed a few punches, but nothing that ever seemed to bother Nurmagomedov.
Round 4 saw the finish come swiftly and unmercifully. McGregor, whose gas tank has oft been called into question, found he had nothing left to give. The pressure and sheer effort of trying to keep Nurmagomedov off him told. He made the cardinal sin of giving his opponent his back and was forced to tap after a rear-naked choke was applied.
For the record, all three judges had Nurmagomedov ahead on the scorecards: 29-27. McGregor would have needed a knockout to have his hand raised, and the record shows that he's never put away an opponent past the second round.
It was then that mayhem and madness broke out. Nurmagomedov, just having secured his legacy, seemed intent on throwing it all away. He jumped into the crowd to confront one of McGregor's teammates. Meanwhile, Nurmagomedov's wrestling buddies scaled the cage and accosted a still recovering McGregor, repeatedly punching him in the face.
With tensions running high between the irate Irish and the rowdy Dagestani fans, the venue was lucky not to see a riot. Both fighters were escorted out of the arena after UFC president Dana White refused to put the championship belt around the victor's waist.
Nurmagomedov's teammates were arrested and then cut loose after McGregor refused to press charges. Nurmagomedov's $2 million purse is being held, and he might be fined, suspended and stripped of his new crown. He may never be able to get a visa to fight in the United States. The scenes were utterly shameful and the outrage on social media, for once, was justified. The UFC has sowed these destructive seeds, but that's another column entirely.
McGregor, in honourable defeat, will find his stock rising even higher. Nurmagomedov, in victory, might have made himself the villain of the piece. Will there be a rematch? Bet on it.
Updated Date: Oct 07, 2018 16:32:27 IST