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Was Nevada Suspension of a Russian Fighter Monstrously Disproportionate?

USA-Oct 6, 2018; Las Vegas, NV, USA; Khabib Nurmagomedov (red gloves) fights Conor McGregor (blue gloves) during UFC 229 at T-Mobile Arena. Mandatory Credit: Stephen R. Sylvanie-USA TODAY Sports
USA-Oct 6, 2018; Las Vegas, NV, USA; Khabib Nurmagomedov (red gloves) fights Conor McGregor (blue gloves) during UFC 229 at T-Mobile Arena. Mandatory Credit: Stephen R. Sylvanie-USA TODAY Sports
Ramzan Kadyrov

Ramzan Kadyrov

Head of Chechnya, Russia

“Everything was done to ensure that our guys, and in their person the entire Caucasus, were humiliated and trampled in the dirt. The result speaks for itself – look at the monstrously disproportionate punishment imposed on our fighters and that [imposed on] the swaggering Irish provocateur Conor McGregor.”

Likely false
Nurmagomedov was offered a reduced term but rejected it

The Nevada State Athletic Commission (NSAC) voted unanimously at the end of January to fine and suspend four professional Mixed Martial Arts (MMA) fighters for their role in a post-fight melee at UFC 229 in October 2018.

The four fighters are UFC champion Khabib Nurmagomedov, who received a nine-month suspension and $500,000 fine, and his rival Conor McGregor, who received a six-month suspension and $50,000 fine. The other two were Khabib’s younger cousin, Professional Fighters League (PFL) lightweight Abubakar Nurmagomedov, and teammate Zubaira Tukhugov, who were each suspended for 12 months and fined $25,000.

On February 21, the NSAC penalized a fifth fighter who took part in the brawl -- Dillon Danis, a Bellator welterweight and McGregor’s training partner, who received a seven-month suspension and $7,500 fine.

The brawl was sparked after Khabib Nurmagomedov, who defeated McGregor by fourth-round submission, jumped over the cage and attacked Danis, whom he accused of insulting “my faith and my father.”

The head of Russia’s Chechen Republic, Ramzan Kadyrov, claimed in response to the NSAC sentencing on February 21, said that the decision had been motivated by “Western Caucasophobia” (the Caucasus is the geographic name of the Chechen and Dagestani fighters’ home region in Russia). Kadyrov said the NSAC’s aim was to “humiliate our guys” and “trample in the dirt the entire Caucasus,” calling the punishment “monstrously disproportional.”

​The Chechen leader, however, missed quite a few essential details.

The NSAC offered K. Nurmagomedov the opportunity to shorten his suspension to six months – the same as McGregor’s – on condition he agree to participate in an anti-bullying campaign. The champion refused, calling Nevada a “sin state” and pledging never to fight there again. The suspension was also applied retroactively, meaning it started from October, when the incident occurred.

Additionally, UFC fans and experts alike questioned the fairness of Danis’s punishment. He said he was acting in self-defense after being attacked by Nurmagomedov.

Kadyrov is a fan and supporter of the champ, Nurmagomedov, with the two calling each other “brothers.” Friendship with Chechen leader reportedly comes with benefits: for instance, on February 5, Nurmagomedov posted on his Instagram account a photo of his father standing next to a new Mercedes SUV.

“This gift for my father arrived today from Chechnya,” Nurmagomedov wrote, thanking Kadyrov.

​In his home region of Dagestan, Nurmagomedov has also assumed an “ethics police” role in his public speeches and highly popular social media posts, condemning “sinners” and demanding that local authorities “cleanse” the republic of “faggots” and “prostitutes” that offend “local morals.”

Last week, a local theater cancelled a play after Khabib said it was “pornographic” because an actress appeared on stage in a negligée.

The fighter’s outrage provoked a storm of threats against the play’s director and actors, who later issued a public apology for “insulting local traditions.”

Regarding the suspension, some have noted that K. Nurmagomedov received a lesser punishment than his corner men, even though he’s the one who initiated the brawl. Others, including his coach at the American Kickboxing Academy, Javier Mendez, said making Nurmagomedov participate in an anti-bullying campaign to reduce his suspension was hypocritical.

“Khabib gets fined only nine months, plus if he does anti-bullying or whatever, he gets three months off so he can fight when Conor can fight,” MMA Fighting quoted Mendez as saying. “Okay, but now you’re telling the guy that was bullied two months out by verbally assaulting his family, his religion and his country that you need to do an anti-bull[y]ing slogan? F you! I ain’t doing nothing. And I support that one hundred percent. I’m not doing nothing for you.”

McGregor faced several felony charges following an attack on a bus transporting UFC fighters, including Nurmagomedov, in Brooklyn, New York in April 2018. In July of that year he entered a plea deal to avoid jail time, which was viewed as a slap on the wrist by many in the MMA community. That punishment, however, was meted out by the Kings County Criminal Court in Brooklyn and not any state athletic commission.

And while some MMA fans back Mendez’s sentiment, by far the top-rated comment on that article stated that Nurmagomedov’s outrage over the punishment was unjustified.

“Maybe I'm in the minority, but you can’t hop out of the cage, flying jump kick someone, damn near start a riot, and then complain about being fined,” wrote user “MMA Escape.”

Whatever position one takes on Nurmagomedov’s punishment, Kadyrov provided no evidence it was in any way influenced by the Dagestani fighter’s ethnicity. therefore finds Kadyrov’s claim that Nurmagomedov and his teammates were unduly punished to “humiliate” the Caucasus to be false.