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Reflections upon a desperate night in Las Vegas

In the early hours of Sunday morning – well, about 0520am to be specific – I tuned into BT Sport’s live coverage of the UFC (mixed martial arts) lightweight world title bout in Las Vegas between the unbeaten incumbent Khabib Nurmagomedov and brash ‘baddest man on the planet’ Colin McGregor.

The world now knows that Nurmagomedov won by a McGregor (throat hold) submission in the fourth of five-minute rounds and that an horrendous brawl – or rather three or four of them – broke out immediately afterwards with the victor, apparently offended by the bad-blood trash-talking that the Irishman had inevitably indulged in during the run-up to the fight, seeking retribution and gloating rights over proceedings by vaulting out of the cage and into the crowd to attack members of McGregor’s entourage.

All hell broke loose and – depending upon which way you look at it – either the sport now faces an existential threat because of the despicable, chaotic and unacceptable behaviour of all concerned … or else is potentially going to go from strength to commercial strength on the back of the fascination of the paying public for the uncontrollable primeval aggression that it engenders.

See here for a link to a report on the evening penned by Karim Zidan that appears today upon the website of – THE GUARDIAN

It seems to me that, arguably, fighting in any form at all is a fundamental human activity albeit one of the vilest that humanity has to offer.

It is impossible to deny that the spectacle of two men – or indeed two women – stepping into a clearing to dog it out for one-to-one supremacy on a particular day, in a particular place, can prompt a certain instinctive inquisitiveness in the most cerebral of onlookers.

All my life I have succumbed to it myself when it comes to professional boxing, despite the issues associated with the fight game, not least a proliferation of world bodies and titles, ‘iffy’ managers and promoters – and of course ‘iffy’ match-making designed to advance the cause of boxers young and old on their way to public recognition, thence (if luck goes their way) to national, continental and then world titles … and of course hopefully the kind of money they could never have made in any ‘normal’ job or career they might otherwise have held down.

Then again – whether it is unlicensed bare-knuckle pugilism, or professional wrestling (some might argue a form of pantomime entertainment indulged in by muscle-bound acrobats not true fighters), or mixed martial arts, or karate, or even taekwondo – there are other, more esoteric versions of the same classic mano-a-mano clash situation that attracts the blood-thirsty, idly-curious ‘car crash scene’ drive-by voyeur-type prurient interest trait in all of us some of the time … or indeed (with some people) all of the time.

Others might suggest that this sort of thing is counter to everything that is noble and positive in an advanced civilisation.

In response, no doubt, those in favour would simply chant the mantra ‘the customer is king’ and if human beings want to watch a world heavyweight boxing bout – or indeed, place a wager on which of two flies walking up a window pane will reach a certain point first, or indeed on which horse will win the Prix de L’Arc de Triomphe – then so what?

That’s sport, that’s business, that’s life.

My comments today relate to Colin McGregor, supposedly one of the biggest sports stars in the world.

In my view he’s got a bit of a career problem brewing.

In its relative infancy, UFC fighting needed a showman who could be a beacon generating publicity and excitement in equal measure for the genre – far beyond the constituency that used to go to the gym to learn a bit of proficiency at wrestling, martial arts or boxing.

McGregor was one such, probably the biggest, best and most entertaining of the lot. So he became vital to UFC as it sought to grow in popularity.

And because he was skilled, tough, zany, rude, boastful and possibly a loony, McGregor suited UFC and it suited him.

So far, so good.

But right now – I’d suggest – he’s at a bit of a crossroads, or should that be ‘on the horns of a dilemma’?

He used to hold UFC world title belts at two different weights and his name on a bill would guarantee a sell-out and then controversy, excitement and global interest.

Then it all went to his head a bit. He lost a couple of bouts, he grew bored with fighting and switched from being a totally dedicated athlete superstar to a pantomime villain who could generate as much income from swanning about being offensive in public as (it seemed) he could by actually plying his trade.

He took time out of UFC to challenge Floyd Mayweather to a ‘proper’ boxing bout. Which he lost.

At the weekend he made the foolhardy sporting decision to go straight into a tough world title challenge against the unbeaten and formidable Nurmagomedov without having two or three warm-up bouts first in order to get himself back to true ‘match fitness’.

To my mind McGregor is a victim of his own ego, self-belief and thousands of acres of fawning publicity laid at his feet by the world at large.

He’s now 30 years of age and in his last two outings was made to look embarrassing by Mayweather and then thoroughly dominated and beaten up by Nurmagomedov yesterday.

Either he’s reached his sell-by date or he (and UFC) have some serious thinking to do.

If he’s going to continue his sporting career he needs to knuckle down and get focused, not swan about like a foul-mouthed self-important peacock. And he need to go back to basics by seriously improving his wrestling techniques and training bloody hard because Nurmagomedov wiped the floor with him every time McGregor was put down on the floor.

Alternatively, maybe he should retire. You cannot be a sport’s one-man Muhammad Ali figure for long if you get beat every time you go to the ring.




About Tom Hollingworth

Tom Hollingsworth is a former deputy sports editor of the Daily Express. For many years he worked in a sports agency, representing mainly football players and motor racing drivers. Tom holds a private pilot’s licence and flying is his principal recreation. More Posts