The backlash against Khabib is racist and Islamophobic

The backlash against Khabib is racist and Islamophobic

5 min read
09 Oct, 2018
Comment: Khabib Nurmagomedov's post-fight behaviour was indefensible, but Conor McGregor's racist comments cannot be dismissed as 'just trash talk', either writes Tallha Abdulrazaq.
Khabib Nurmagomedov apologised, saying the vicious attack 'was not his best side' [Getty]
As millions watched, Dagestani grappler and UFC lightweight champion Khabib Nurmagomedov defended his title in a ferociously dominant display against his toughest and most controversial opponent yet, Irish superstar Conor McGregor.

This fight was the biggest in the history of the sport, billed as a clash of fighting styles which also subsequently developed into a clash of personalities.

The Dagestani champion mauled the former "champ champ" - as McGregor calls himself - taking down the Irishman repeatedly, subjecting him to a skull-shattering ground-and-pound that lasted for an excruciating two minutes, before using his terrifying wrestling skills to neutralise McGregor on the ground. As Khabib warned before the fight, it was certainly a long night for Conor.

But the drama had only just begun. Immediately after the fight, McGregor's training partner Dillon Danis apparently  hurled abuse at the reigning champion.

Khabib then shocked audiences by vaulting the octagon and getting into a violent fistfight with Danis, causing him to be seized upon by several members of UFC security. Conor, who was still recovering from his ordeal at the hands of Khabib, was inside the cage when he lashed out at one of the Dagestani's entourage, who fought back.

Both fighters had to eventually be escorted out of the building, with promotor Dana White refusing to gird the champion's belt around Khabib's waist for fear of inflaming tensions.

Conor has been extraordinarily violent outside of the cage, racist, Islamophobic, and generally abusive in a manner that transcends the trash talk that these fights are famous for

The Nevada State Athletic Commission, which sanctioned the bout refused to authorise Khabib's fight purse being paid to him pending an investigation, while McGregor got paid.

McGregor got away with far worse

To understand why Khabib reacted the way he did, it's worth exploring the pair's historic rivalry. Indeed, in a cheap line of attack, Conor has been using thuggery and outright racism to get his way and stir up a fight with the champion.

In April this year, he gathered a crew of several dozen thugs from Dublin, bundled them onto a private jet, and flew to New York. He and his friends were caught on camera attacking a UFC bus that Khabib was sat on before his championship bout against Al Iaquinta.

In a crazed rage, Conor 
threw a metal dolly through the bus window, causing harm to fellow fighters including Michael Chiesa who sustained damage to his eye from the shattered glass.

Conor's justification was that Khabib had "slapped" his friend, fellow MMA fighter Artem Lobov. Conor was lampooned in the media, and ultimately had to serve a five day community service sentence, but was otherwise relatively unscathed.

Taking his hatred for Khabib online, Conor called his father a "quivering coward" in an Instagram post less than two months before last night's fight. Then, at Thursday's news conference to promote the fight, the Irishman attacked Khabib's manager, Ali Abdelaziz, using despicable Islamophobic slurs, and branding him a terrorist.

Conor insinuated that he was linked to the 9/11 bombers but had eventually turned informant on his former conspirators.

Khabib is still the champion

Conor's inflammatory comments about Khabib, his family, friends, religion and country are not the only time he has misbehaved with few or no consequences, as multiple UFC champion and MMA legend Randy Couture noted on his personal Facebook page.

Conor has taken belts off of opponents, thrown water bottles at pressers, and of course used inexcusable racism. Yet we are now supposed to all believe that Conor was a victim after last night's events?

Where were former champion turned pundit Michael Bisping's and others' criticisms of Conor's blatant and disgusting Islamophobia?

It's worth comparing Dana White's response to Conor's savage attack on the UFC bus in April, with how she responded to Khabib's outburst the other night.

White was keen to justify and downplay what Conor did by saying that if one person attacks another's friend, that's what happens - and that's just the kind of guy Conor is.

Yet after Khabib's reaction to continued racist and Islamophobic attacks and abuse from Conor and his camp, White said that he was disgusted and left sick by the champ's actions.

How is that balanced, fair and non-discriminatory? 

Conor has been extraordinarily violent outside of the cage, racist, Islamophobic, and generally abusive in a manner that transcends the trash talk that these fights are famous for.

Seeing the avalanche of criticism that has descended upon him smacks of racism

He took his hatred of Khabib and used his superstar platform to amplify his very personal attacks against the champion, before his bravado came crashing down and he ended up losing the fight.

Conor's behaviour does not excuse what happened after the bout as Khabib should have shown some restraint, something he acknowledges and has 
apologised for.

But seeing the avalanche of criticism that has descended upon him smacks of racism.

Why is Conor allowed to get away with a litany of abuses while still being lauded as a "great performer", "showman" and "champion", while Khabib is vilified as someone who has completely let down the expectations we collectively have of him as a champion?

Where were former champion turned pundit Michael Bisping's and others' criticisms of Conor's blatant and disgusting Islamophobia?

Staying relatively silent on his abhorrent views and racist outlook just because it is "trash talk" is irresponsible, reckless, and gives the impression that there is one moral standard for Conor, and another for Khabib, who will be remembered for allowing a chink in his otherwise gleaming career as one of the most successful fighters in combat sport history.

Tallha Abdulrazaq is a researcher at the University of Exeter's Strategy and Security Institute and winner of the 2015 Al Jazeera Young Researcher Award. His research focuses on Middle Eastern security and counter-terrorism issues. 

Follow him on Twitter: @thewarjournal

Opinions expressed in this article remain those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of The New Arab, its editorial board or staff.