UFC 229 on Oct. 6 -- Sherdog.com’s 2018 “Event of the Year” -- broke Ultimate Fighting Championship pay-per-view records and came close to breaking the promotion’s live gate records. It took place at T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas. The card set the record for UFC pay-per-view sales with a reported 2.4 million buys, and its $17.2 million gate ranks second all-time to UFC 205. There is a reason the numbers were so great: The main event saw superstar Conor McGregor make his long-awaited return to MMA to take on Khabib Nurmagomedov for the lightweight title. It was by far the most-anticipated fight of the year, and it should come as no surprise that so many people tuned in to watch. It turned out to be a tremendous night of fights, with many of the bouts ending in stunning fashion. However, the controversy after the main event helped make it even more memorable.
Out of 12 fights on the card, eight ended with a finish. Who can forget Tony Ferguson and Anthony Pettis putting on a “Fight of the Year” candidate in the co-headliner -- a grueling bout in which Ferguson eventually won by second-round corner stoppage? How about Derrick Lewis being down two rounds and well on his way to losing a unanimous decision to Alexander Volkov before he brutally knocked out the former Bellator MMA champion with just nine seconds left in the third round? It was one of the most impressive comebacks of the year and earned Lewis a title shot against heavyweight champion Daniel Cormier. This does not even mention some of the other impressive showings on the undercard, including Nik Lentz finishing Gray Maynard with a head kick, Anthony Rocco Martin knocking out Ryan LaFlare, Aspen Ladd destroying Tonya Evinger, Vicente Luque continuing a solid run with a knockout of Jalin Turner and Scott Holtzman thrashing Alan Patrick Silva Alves with elbows. It was a great card, from top to bottom.
However, the reason why UFC 229 was so special is because of the main event between Nurmagomedov and McGregor. This was the fight all MMA fans were begging to see. The fight itself was not as competitive as one would have hoped, as Nurmagomedov used his vaunted grappling game to take down McGregor, control him on the mat and beat him up with ground-and-pound. Nurmagomedov looked better than expected on the feet, at one point landing a looping bomb right on McGregor’s chin for one of the most surprising knockdowns of the year. The Russian eventually secured a neck crank submission late in the fourth round to defend his title. It was arguably the most dominant Nurmagomedov has looked in his entire UFC career, and the performance came against his most high-profile opponent. In many ways, it is the fight that made Nurmagomedov a global superstar. Although McGregor is the UFC’s cash cow, it felt like this fight was a passing of the torch, as it revealed the identity of the best lightweight in the world.
What happened after Nurmagomedov finished McGregor is what makes this event so memorable, in many ways for the wrong reasons. After submitting McGregor, Nurmagomedov scaled the Octagon wall and jumped into the sea of people standing cageside, attacking McGregor’s cornerman Dillon Danis and igniting one of the ugliest brawls in MMA history. The melee quickly spilled back into the cage, where McGregor was attacked by Nurmagomedov’s teammate Zubaira Tukhugov before cooler heads prevailed. There was some worry that Nurmagomedov was going to be disqualified, as UFC President Dana White did not immediately put the belt around him, but it was later explained that White did not want to incite the crowd further. It turned out to be the right call, as garbage was thrown all over the place before the fighters were able to safely get to the back. Meanwhile, the UFC did its best to end the pay-per-view broadcast as quickly as possible. It was the UFC’s version of Strikeforce “Nashville.”
Nurmagomedov and McGregor are still awaiting word on possible punishment from the Nevada Athletic Commission. It is possible that both men will sit out the better part of the year due to their involvement in the post-fight fracas, but when they return to the Octagon, the UFC has a tough decision on its hands. Does it give the next title shot to Ferguson, or does it give a rematch to McGregor and try to break PPV records once again? Money talks, and the route the UFC decides to take will be a storyline worth watching well into 2019. As far as 2018 goes, there was no event that captivated audiences quite like UFC 229.