Usually, any pre-fight ill will or hurt feelings subside once a bout is over, as the need to play up animosity to inflate pay-per-view buys is no longer there. But with the post-fight melee leading to repercussions for Nurmagomedov and his camp — not least having his $2 million paycheck withheld pending a hearing scheduled by the Nevada State Athletic Commission for October 24 — feelings are still raw, with the Russian continuing to speak out against McGregor and the UFC despite winning in the octagon.
So what exactly fanned the flames of hatred between these two fighters? To understand that, here’s our brief history of McGregor vs. Nurmagomedov beef.
Chapter One: A Happier Time
There was a time when McGregor and Nurmagomedov were not only cordial, but actually friends.
Ahead of McGregor’s clash with Dustin Poirier at UFC 178, the two shared an exchange on Twitter after Nurmagomedov said he wanted to get his hands on a T-shirt depicting the Irish fighter in the style of a playing card. In response to the Russian’s initial tweet, McGregor wrote, “My man Khabib!!!”
“Hey Conor, I’m in Vegas when you come let me know, I want you gave [sic] me this shirt,” Nurmagomedov replied.
McGregor later used this apparently mutual admiration as ammo against Nurmagomedov in the press conference ahead of their fight, calling him a “fanboy bitch.”
Although it’s unclear whether the two actually did train together, the pair looked like buddies in a photograph taken shortly after McGregor beat Poirier to go 4-0 in the UFC.
Chapter Two: The Prediction
In advance of his featherweight bout against José Aldo at UFC 194, McGregor had to make a significant weight cut to get down to the 145-pound limit. Most fight fans understood that McGregor wouldn’t make a career at featherweight and would eventually move back up to the 155-pound lightweight division.
When asked which lightweight he anticipated taking the belt from in future, McGregor replied, “I think Khabib will get the lightweight belt.”
Chapter Three: Khabib Responds
A few days after McGregor’s prediction, the Russian responded. “You know, I like Conor McGregor, but he come 155 [pounds], four minutes, [I will] smash him, no problem,” he said.
There was still an element of respect, however, with the Russian correctly predicting that McGregor would best Aldo (albeit not in 13 seconds). “He’s fighting guy, I like him,” Nurmagomedov said, adding, “His trash talk is not bad. He knows how [to] make money.”
Chapter Four: First Hints of a Feud
Once McGregor had dispatched Aldo, in 2016 he fought twice at welterweight against Nate Diaz (winning the rematch after a submission in the first bout). Notorious then made good on his desire to compete at lightweight, beating champion Eddie Alvarez to become the first UFC fighter to hold titles in two divisions.
Prior to McGregor vs. Alvarez, Nurmagomedov staked his own claim with a victory against Darrell Horcher in April 2016 after a two-year injury layoff and started to goad McGregor on Twitter.
Chapter Five: Coach Kavanagh Brings Religion Into It
Nurmagomedov is from Dagestan, a North Caucasus republic within the Russian Federation that is majority Muslim. McGregor’s longtime coach John Kavanagh was one of the first in the Irish fighter’s camp to poke at Nurmagomedov’s religion.
MMA reporter Ariel Heiwaini tweeted that Nurmagomedov wanted to push back a proposed fight between himself and Rafael dos Anjos to avoid the Islamic festival of Ramadan, when Muslims fast during daylight hours. Kavanagh posted the tweet above in reply, to which Nurmagomedov responded, “you can’t [sic] joking about religion, be careful,” and, “I hope you will never mix religion and joke, be serious.”
However, things were defused when Kavanagh replied, “ok we’ll agree to disagree- congrats on your latest victory and I wish you well in the future.”
Chapter Six: UFC 205 Sets It Off
When McGregor beat Alvarez in November 2016 at UFC 205, it was the first time he and Nurmagomedov had fought on the same bill, the Russian beating Michael Johnson.
Prior to the weigh-in, Nurmagomedov and McGregor had to be kept apart backstage, with the Russian saying, “I will smash your face. You will see.”
Chapter Seven: UFC 219 Fans the Flames
After an extended leave from the UFC in which he dabbled in boxing, losing to Floyd Mayweather, McGregor used the dawn of 2018 to comment on MMA affairs, specifically Nurmagomedov’s defeat of Brazilian Edson Barboza.
It was more big talk, only this time with bad Photoshops of Nurmagomedov riding a bear as a terrified McGregor scampers away.
Chapter Eight: A Storm Brewing at UFC 223
UFC 223 was supposed to host a long-awaited showdown between Nurmagomedov and Tony Ferguson. However, Ferguson was injured and replacement Max Holloway was declared medically unfit.
Perhaps the frustration got the best of the Russian in the days leading up to his fight against last-minute stand-in Al Iaquinta, with Nurmagomedov slapping McGregor teammate Artem Lobov on April 3, apparently in response to comments his compatriot had made about him in the Russian media.
At this point, McGregor is believed to have got on a plane from Dublin to New York.
Chapter Nine: The Bus Attack
On April 5, in a scene out of a WWE script, McGregor ambushed a bus full of fighters — including Nurmagomedov — in the loading dock of Brooklyn’s Barclays Center in Brooklyn, launching a dolly through a window. Michael Chiesa and Ray Borg suffered injuries to the head, face, and eye, missing their fights as a consequence. Nurmagomedov was unscathed.
In the aftermath, UFC president Dana White called it “the most disgusting thing that has ever happened in the history of the company.”
Since his fight against McGregor, Nurmagomedov has alleged the UFC was complicit in the attack.
Chapter 10: McGregor’s Antics
Several names are important role when dissecting the beef between McGregor and Nurmagomedov.
In March this year, Ziyavudin Magomedov, a Russian oligarch with a reported net worth of $1.4 billion, was charged with embezzling funds related to the building of the football World Cup stadium in Kaliningrad. The tycoon is also the financier of Nurmagomedov’s team, Eagles MMA.
At UFC 223, Nurmagomedov said in a post-fight interview, “Our elder brother, co-owner of our team Ziyavudin Magomedov, is in a difficult situation. He was very helpful to me and other athletes from Russia. Now he has problems, but I want him to know that we, the athletes, are praying for him. I believe that this situation will soon be resolved. I hope that our leader Vladimir Putin will help him. I want to congratulate him on the victory in the last election.”
During a pre-UFC 229 press conference, McGregor poked at this wound, telling Nurmagomedov, “When money got pumped into your camp by that little scumbag that’s now in the little eight-by-10 cell, you thought you were a don. Now look at you. No money left.”
McGregor also called Nurmagomedov’s father a “quivering coward” in reference to alleged ties to Chechen dictator Ramzan Kadyrov and called the Russian fighter’s manager Ali Abdelaziz a “terrorist snitch.”
In Matt Apuzzo and Adam Goldman’s book Enemies Within: Inside the NYPD’s Secret Spying Unit and Bin Laden’s Final Plot Against America, it’s alleged that Abdelaziz had been recruited by the NYPD and FBI as an informant against a suspected extremist group in Virginia, but was let go after agents started to suspect he was working as a double-agent and tried to deport him.
Chapter 11: In-Ring Chatter
McGregor is outspoken, but Nurmagomedov also has a reputation for talking to opponents in the ring. UFC 229 was no different. At one point in the second round, the Russian can be heard repeatedly saying, “Let’s talk now,” as he pummels McGregor. When the bell sounds, a bewildered McGregor walks back to his corner, responding, “It’s only business.”
Chapter 12: Who Is Dillon Danis?
It would be easy to classify the post-fight brawl a result of everything that came before. But footage from outside the ring could shed new light on why Nurmagomedov launched himself out of the cage toward McGregor’s jiu-jitsu coach Dillion Danis.
Rizvan Magomedov, a managing partner of Dominance MMA, can be seen patting Danis on the back as he attempts to get to the cage after fight. Danis looks like he shoves Magomedov, and Nurmagomedov leaps out of the octagon shortly after.
Conflicting reports state that Nurmagomedov believes Danis had called him an anti-Muslim slur, which Danis denies. “Khabib fans are attempting to smear me in an effort to justify his actions,” Danis said in a statement to ESPN. “I have never and would never denigrate anyone’s religion. I look forward to the results of the Nevada Gaming Commission investigation, which will reject this bullshit claim and put the blame where it belongs.”
Now, even though both McGregor and Nurmagomedov are temporarily suspended, their fight’s record 2.4 million pay-per-view buys means you shouldn’t be surprised if the two square off again once the Nevada State Athletic Commission has sifted through the aftermath.