The rivalry between Conor McGregor and Khabib Nurmagomedov has been boiling over for some time now. The whole series of events started off poorly, with McGregor taunting Khabib over various ethnic tensions between Dagestan and Chechnya, along with barbs directed at members of Khabib’s family and training partners. Artem Lobov became caught in the middle, when he was confronted by Nurmagomedov and his entourage in a hotel ahead of UFC 223. Since that moment, the feud between the two sides has only escalated — and been marked by several incidents of public violence.
McGregor infamously swooped to Lobov’s aid, shortly after the hotel incident, by lobbing a hand truck at a bus full of UFC 223 fighters – including Nurmagomedov – injuring several of them, and causing the cancellation of several fights. The two men finally got an official chance to settle their score at UFC 229, when McGregor and Khabib met in the Octagon for the lightweight title. And while Nurmagomedov won a decisive fourth round stoppage victory, he was clearly far from satisfied that their beef had been settled.
After the bout was over, Nurmagomedov climbed the cage wall and leapt into the audience to attack members of McGregor’s team, while his own teammates swarmed the cage to attack the SBG Ireland-trained star. The violence was explosive, and tense in the moment. But, while the Nevada Athletic Commission ended handing out suspensions for all parties involved, the UFC eventually decided that no further action was necessary.
Recent events, however, appear to have forced the promotion’s hand. Starting on April 2nd (and seemingly stoked by an altercation between Artem Lobov and Paulie Malignaggi at a Bare Knuckle FC media event), McGregor unleashed a storm of tweets. Most were directed at the former boxing champion – and largely consisted of photos of their infamous training session together – but he took aim at Nurmagomedov as well. McGregor tweeted out photos of Khabib alongside his wife, who was wearing a veil, with the caption “Your wife is a towel mate.” He also tweeted out photos of Khabib’s cousin, Abubakar – showing the facial cuts caused by McGregor’s punches during the UFC 229 brawl – with the caption “I smacked your brother around and took a sh-t in his hat.”
Khabib responded in kind, taunting McGregor for the recent New York Times report of sexual assault allegations against the UFC superstar. “Rapist, you are Rapist. You are a hypocrite who is not responsible for your actions. Justice will find you. We will see,” the UFC lightweight champion wrote.
For two men who have already shown an open willingness for public violence outside the ring toward one another, this continually escalating war of words seems likely to produce another incident, potentially even worse than those that marred UFCs 223 & 229. At the very least it’s gotten Dana White to issue a public statement that the UFC will be taking action.
“I am aware of the recent social media exchange between Khabib Nurmagomedov and Conor McGregor,” Dana White said, via a UFC press release. “The ongoing situation has escalated to a level that is unacceptable. As such, we are taking the necessary steps to reach out to both athlete camps and this situation is being addressed by all parties internally.”
Shortly after Dana White’s statement to the media, McGregor was back on Twitter, and once again going after his rival’s spouse.
As for what actions the UFC can take? The UFC ‘Code of Conduct,’ was introduced by the promotion way back in 2013. But actual instances of its use have been rare.
“Fighters shall conduct themselves in accordance with commonly accepted standards of decency, social convention, and morals, and fighters will not commit any act or become involved in any situation or occurrence or make any statement which will reflect negatively upon or bring disrepute, contempt, scandal, ridicule or disdain to the fighter or the UFC.”
The contractual provision includes various violent and non-violent criminal offenses, PED and substance abuse, ‘violent, threatening or harassing behavior,’ and…
“Derogatory or offensive conduct, including without limitation insulting language, symbols, or actions about a person’s ethnic background, heritage, color, race, national origin, age, religion, disability, gender or sexual orientation.”
It even includes clauses about inappropriate “online behavior” and “conduct that undermines or puts at risk the organization or promotion of a UFC event.”
That should give the UFC the legal muscle to make something happen, whether it’s fines, suspensions, or something less tangible. In its few uses, the code has mostly been a way to suspend athletes. Whether the UFC is willing to wield a heavy enough stick that Conor or Khabib feel the need to pay attention, or whether any of that actually eases the tension between them (or prevents any future violence), remains to be seen.