LAS VEGAS -- As Khabib Nurmagomedov got on the Terminal 1 tram at McCarran International Airport on Sunday morning, he blended in with all the other travelers making their way back home after a weekend in Las Vegas.
No one bothered him as he zipped up his signature K.N. hoodie with his nickname, "The Eagle," on the back and put on his black UFC backpack. Nurmagomedov was less than 24 hours removed from winning arguably the biggest fight in UFC history, but he walked through the airport unnoticed despite an outfit that screamed, "Hey, I'm a UFC fighter!"
He almost seemed surprised when someone asked for his picture near his gate before he returned to being an inconspicuous traveler waiting for his flight to board.
Saturday was supposed to be Nurmagomedov's coming-out party as a crossover star and the next face of the company. MMA fans have known about Nurmagomedov for years, but this was a chance for the rest of the public and casual fans to see him dominate Conor McGregor, the UFC's biggest star, and make him tap just as he said he would.
Nurmagomedov was supposed to have his hand raised while UFC president Dana White wrapped the undisputed UFC lightweight championship belt around his waist in the center of the Octagon. He was supposed to own the spotlight afterward at his press conference and answer questions about his dominant performance.
None of that happened. Nurmagomedov's biggest win was forgotten almost as soon as it was over after a postfight melee marred and overshadowed his performance. It was a little hard to focus on Nurmagomedov's neck crank in the fourth round that made McGregor tap when seconds later he jumped out of the Octagon and went after Dillon Danis, McGregor's jiu-jitsu coach and Bellator welterweight, leading to absolute chaos on the arena floor and in the Octagon. Three members of Nurmagomedov's team were arrested after the incident, according to White, who refused to put the belt on Nurmagomedov in the Octagon for fear of flying objects from the crowd after the incident. Nurmagomedov's fight-night purse was withheld, pending an investigation into the incident by the Nevada State Athletic Commission, which will likely discipline him with some form of a fine and suspension. White said he wouldn't rule out stripping Nurmagomedov of the title depending on what the commission decides to do following their investigation.
"There's going to be fines, there's going to be God knows what. Can these guys get visas and get back in the country?" White said. "We'll see how this thing plays out. ... The Nevada State Athletic Commission is going to go after him pretty hard, I'm sure. He doesn't have to worry about me right now; he has to worry about Nevada. The governor was here tonight, and he went running out of the building. That's not good. He's in trouble."
As lucrative as a rematch between McGregor and Nurmagomedov will be, White would have preferred to promote that fight without worrying about Nurmagomedov being suspended for a year or more and possibly having difficulty getting a visa after the incident. This was supposed to be a night and a moment to celebrate Nurmagomedov instead of wondering what his immediate future holds.
"What Khabib should have done was pick Conor up, pull him up from the ground, hug him and say good fight or whatever and get his belt," White said. "Even if you're the biggest Conor fan ever, you would at least have to respect it. He won the fight, and he looked great doing it, and he had the opportunity to walk out of that place tonight a champion and look like a stud instead of flying over the cage and starting this whole thing that he did. It should have been a very different night for him."
Even when Nurmagomedov had a chance to capture some of the spotlight at the end of the night with his press conference, he simply made a three-minute statement before walking out without answering a single question about the fight, his performance or becoming the undisputed champion. "This is not my best side," Nurmagomedov said. "I'm a human being, but I don't understand how people can talk about jumping on the cage when [McGregor] talks about my religion, he talks about my country, he talks about my father and he comes to Brooklyn and he broke the bus and almost killed a couple of people. What about this? Why are people talking about my jumping over the cage? I don't understand. ... You cannot talk about religion, you cannot talk about [country], you cannot talk about this stuff."
As much as Nurmagomedov wanted to make a point by going after McGregor's corner and fighting for his beliefs, he could have made a far greater impact by simply letting his performance in the Octagon speak for itself and being the bigger man after the fight as he had been for much of the buildup leading into it. At this point in McGregor's career as the biggest star in combat sports, Nurmagomedov forcing him to tap is a far better story for him than a postfight melee that overshadowed everything he did in the Octagon and perhaps endangered his career in the short term.
Nurmagomedov is on the path to becoming the face of UFC and a crossover star, but after Saturday's postfight incident and pending investigation, he will have to wait for that moment -- and his fight purse -- while he waits on his flight back home, feeling as shortchanged as everyone else leaving Vegas on Sunday morning.