We all know the phrase: “It was nice while it lasted.” But when we’re talking about Khabib Nurmagomedov and Conor McGregor, it wasn’t nice at all.
It wasn’t nice to see McGregor attack a UFC minibus and throw a loading trolley into one of its windows, showering glass over – and injuring – UFC fighters Michael Chiesa and Ray Borg and traumatising women’s strawweight champ Rose Namajunas.
It wasn’t nice to hear some of the questionable trash talk from McGregor during fight week.
And it wasn’t nice to see the ugly scenes that followed the fight, as the red mist descended on Nurmagomedov, whose cage-jumping antics started a mini-riot inside and outside the octagon at the T-Mobile Arena.
And forget all this “Conor threw the first punch” talk. Khabib had already launched himself, like Finn Balor coming off the top rope, at McGregor’s teammate Dillon Danis, and the Russian’s team were hardly jumping into the cage for a friendly chat.
The whole thing was a mess, with blame to be apportioned on all sides.
Yet there’s a better than average chance that, once the Nevada State Athletic Commission has its say and hands out whatever punishments they choose, the first fight that will be booked for both men will be the rematch.
Sure, Khabib vs Conor needed to happen at UFC 229. McGregor was returning to the UFC to challenge for the belt he never lost in the octagon, and he was doing it against an undefeated phenom who had steamrolled his way to the belt without ever having to actually defeat a champion to get it.
But we’ve seen the fight now, we’ve had the controversy and we’ve picked over the wreckage of what happened afterwards. And even if you dispense with all the shenanigans that took place around the fight, you’re left with the fight itself.
There’s no getting away from it. The fight was one-sided – very one-sided.
Khabib dominated Conor throughout most of the contest, was barely troubled by the Irishman’s much-vaunted striking and forced him to quit in the fourth after standing and trading with him for an entire round in the third.
Hell, Khabib even dropped Conor early in the second round with a fastball overhand right.
Take the names off the card and just watch the fight, red corner versus blue, and there’s almost no sporting argument for a rematch. Certainly, not right now.
Besides, there are more deserving contenders waiting in the wings.
Tony Ferguson would have fought Nurmagomedov already had he not tripped over a cable on the FOX Sports set and ruptured knee ligaments while promoting their scheduled bout back in April.
That freak accident cost him his interim lightweight title, his shot at the undisputed belt and his chance to sit on top of the division. Now he’s back to full fitness, he deserves the next shot.
Dustin Poirier, a former McGregor victim at featherweight has blazed a trail through the division since moving up to 155lbs. He’s right there in the conversation, too.
You can throw Kevin Lee into the mix, too.
After everything that went down – the dominant win for Khabib, then the ugly fracas that marred the event following the bout’s conclusion – there really is no need for the UFC to run this one back.
Sure, it’ll draw colossal numbers. After all, there’s only one thing fight fans love better than a rematch, and that’s a rematch of a grudge match.
But the sport’s reputation took more damage than McGregor’s visage that night, and it would be best for everyone concerned if the UFC put any rematch plans on the back burner at least until Ferguson (and possibly Poirier) have had a shot at the belt.
That doesn’t mean McGregor has to sit and wait, or take unattractive fights.
The UFC can book him in a trilogy against Nate Diaz and they’ll still print money at the box office and rake in the pay-per-view buys.
McGregor and Diaz are a dream combination for the UFC, and their first two fights are two of the most memorable in the sport’s history.
With each man holding a win over the other, booking a rubber match is a no-brainer.
But after seeing McGregor beaten so cleanly, so clearly, so decisively, it’s now time the UFC went back to what made it such a huge success in the first place – the best fighting the best.
That means Nurmagomedov vs Ferguson simply has to be next.