- Lightweight champion Khabib Nurmagomedov threatened to leave the UFC after its president, Dana White, said one of his teammates would be barred from fighting.
- White had said Nurmagomedov's teammate Zubaira Tukhugov would not fight with UFC again because of his involvement in the brawl after Nurmagomedov defeated Conor McGregor on Saturday.
- Nurmagomedov's response shows that he's not afraid to play hardball with the UFC — and as an undefeated champion who just took down its biggest star, he couldn't be negotiating from a stronger position.
Lightweight champion Khabib Nurmagomedov is not afraid to show his power with the UFC.
The undefeated Russian fighter made headlines on Saturday after defeating Conor McGregor by submission in the biggest fight in UFC history to retain his lightweight title. After forcing McGregor to tap, Nurmagomedov jumped the cage, stormed into the crowd, and started a brawl that ended in numerous arrests and Nurmagomedov's fight check being withheld.
While Nurmagomedov's chaos spilled out of the octagon and into the crowd, some of the crowd spilled into the octagon. Zubaira Tukhugov, another fighter on the UFC roster who's on Nurmagomedov's team, jumped into the cage and attacked McGregor.
After the fight, UFC's president, Dana White, said Tukhugov wouldn't fight in the UFC again. In an Instagram post on Thursday, Nurmagomedov said that if that happened, he'd walk away as well.
"Why do you have to punish my team, when both teams fought," Nurmagomedov said. "If you say that I started it, then I do not agree, I finished what he had started."
He added: "You canceled Zubaira's fight and you want to dismiss him just because he hit Conor. But don't forget that it was Conor who had hit my another Brother FIRST, just check the video. if you decide to fire him, you should know that you'll lose me too. We never give up on our brothers in Russia and I will go to the end for my Brother."
I would like to address @uf... @ khabib_nurmagomedov
In his post, Nurmagomedov made clear he was more concerned with respect than money, saying White could keep his check.
Nurmagomedov also criticized inconsistencies between a UFC ban and the punishments doled out when McGregor and his crew attacked his bus in April, and he accused McGregor of insulting his religion and homeland.
"Why didn't you fire anyone when their team attacked the bus and injured a couple of people?" Nurmagomedov said in his post. "They could have killed someone there, why no one says anything about insulting my homeland, religion, nation, family?"
To answer Nurmagomedov's question: to sell fights. The UFC is willing to forgive fighters for their misdeeds if it leads to record-breaking pay-per-view buys. White put on a stern face in the days immediately after McGregor's bus attack — for which McGregor was charged with assault — but when it came time for McGregor to fight Nurmagomedov, UFC used footage from the attack to promote the championship bout.
Meanwhile, Tukhugov is just four fights into his UFC career and has had just one PPV fight — making it much easier for White to bar him without worrying about potentially missed profits.
With this in mind, Nurmagomedov's post is a solid power play to protect his teammate, and a threat he could certainly make good on. Nurmagomedov still holds an undefeated record, has what is likely the most coveted belt in UFC, and just easily beat its biggest draw. White can't afford to lose him.
With the potential for a Nurmagomedov-McGregor rematch to be even bigger than the first fight, there's little chance that White would follow through on his threat of a ban — he's more likely to find a McGregor teammate who could fight Tukhugov in the undercard.