There were certainly some memorable moments in the mixed martial arts world in 2018, but no individual event lit up the night more so than UFC 229: Khabib vs. McGregor.
Sure, UFC 223: Khabib vs. Iaquinta ravaged the headlines in April with Conor McGregor’s media day madness that led to his arrest and legal troubles after he attacked a busload of UFC 223 fighters that included lightweight champion Khabib Nurmagomedov.
Daniel Cormier made history by becoming the first fighter to hold the UFC light heavyweight and heavyweight titles simultaneously by defeating Stipe Miocic at UFC 226 in July. Cormier later put a stamp on his dual-division dominance by becoming the first man to defend the belts in each of the divisions, but none of those events could push the numbers to record levels as did UFC 229.
Sure UFC 229 was just as notable for its post-fight melee as its in-cage action, but it is hard to ignore the fact that it was the biggest event in UFC history.
The Oct. 6 event drew an audience of 20,034 to T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas, amassing a staggering $17.2 million gate. The only larger gate in UFC history was for the promotion’s Madison Square Garden debut, UFC 205, which accounted for $17.7 million. UFC 205 also featured McGregor in the main event.
Not only was the live gate at record levels, the UFC 229 pay-per-view numbers were off the charts. Industry experts estimate the final number to be somewhere around 2.4 million pay-per-view buys, which eclipses anything the UFC has ever done in the past and also makes it one of the biggest draws in the history of pay-per-view. UFC president Dana White has publicly stated that UFC 229 accrued well over 2 million buys.
UFC 229 drew never before seen levels of attention sheerly because of the main event.
Nurmagomedov became the undisputed champion at UFC 223 by defeating last-minute replacement Al Iaquinta. Nurmagomedov had originally been slated to face Tony Ferguson, who was later replaced by featherweight champion Max Holloway. Holloway was pulled from the fight when officials halted his weight cut, leaving the UFC to fallback on Iaquinta as Plan C.
Though Nurmagomedov won in dominating fashion, remaining undefeated, the way it unfolded left some doubts about his legitimacy as champion.
After taking a few months off, he agreed to face McGregor, who was emerging from his legal entanglements after attacking the UFC 223 bus on Media Day when he was trying to get at Nurmagomedov in retribution for a teammate.
McGregor hadn’t fought in nearly two years entering the UFC 229 bout, but his star was as bright as ever after he managed to pull off the unthinkable and score a blockbuster bout with Floyd Mayweather in his professional boxing debut. Though Mayweather handily won the boxing match, McGregor’s fame rose to new levels, as did his fortunes.
Though McGregor was the UFC’s first champ champ, he never defended either the featherweight or lightweight belts before being stripped of both. He certainly had something to prove at UFC 229, as did Nurmagomedov.
In the end, it was Nurmagomedov that validated his position as the UFC lightweight champion and the top fighter in the division in the world. He dominated McGregor en route to a fourth-round submission, pushing his unblemished record to 27-0.
Nurmagomedov’s accomplishment was marred, however, when his temper got the better of him following the victory and he leapt over the cage to attack McGregor’s cornerman Dillon Danis, who had been taunting him. The champion’s actions ignited a post-fight brawl that involved numerous fighters and other members of each man’s camps, landing them all in hot water with the Nevada State Athletic Commission.
Nurmagomedov and McGregor’s disciplinary cases are still being adjudicated by the NSAC, so there is no timetable yet for when either man might return to the Octagon, but rest assured, UFC 229 will go down in history as one of the most memorable mixed martial arts events ever for its in-the-cage and out-of-the-age action setting marks that will be difficult to duplicate.