Conor-Khabib bitterness parallels another great rivalry: Ali vs. Frazier

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The story of Khabib Nurmagomedov’s mixed martial arts career can never be told without Conor McGregor, without the explanation of McGregor’s attack on a bus on which Nurmagomedov was seated and without McGregor’s months-long string of provocative and highly inflammatory taunts toward the UFC lightweight champion from Dagestan, Russia.

The story of McGregor’s career is far more than just a one-sided defeat at the hands of his biggest rival, though history will never forget the cruel nature of his words and the relentlessness of his verbal assault.

They’ve ensured that for as long as people talk about MMA, one name can’t be spoken without saying the other. They once were friendly acquaintances who by the nature of their sport were turned into bitter rivals.

In many ways, their rivalry mirrors the relationship between the late legendary former heavyweight champions Muhammad Ali and Joe Frazier. Professional sports of all sorts are defined by rivalries. There may never, though, have been a greater, more heated and more complex rivalry in sports than Ali-Frazier. It began when they were young men, the two best heavyweight boxers in the world, and continued until they were old men, when Frazier struggled to forgive Ali for his many transgressions. And though the two appeared cordial in public together in their later years, the hatred had softened, but never dissipated.

Nurmagomedov and McGregor are in the midst of their rivalry and it has yet to play out over decades, or even multiple fights, the way it occurred with Ali and Frazier.

But by attacking a bus on which Nurmagomedov was seated and then taunting the champion about his religion, ripping his father and taking far too many personal shots, McGregor pushed Nurmagomedov past the boiling point.

When Nurmagomedov forced McGregor to tap his submission in the fourth round of a one-sided fight on Saturday in the main event of UFC 229 at T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas, he got what should have been the ultimate vindication.

McGregor’s words had cut to the very core of who Nurmagomedov is as a person, though, and a mere submission victory did not put out the fire that McGregor had lit inside of him. And so, in an extraordinarily bad decision, Nurmagomedov leaped over the cage after submitting McGregor to begin a brawl with McGregor’s jiu-jitsu coach, Dillon Danis.

Danis is a Bellator fighter who is more accomplished as a trash-talker at this point than he is as an MMA fighter. But he taunted Nurmagomedov, too, and Nurmagomedov couldn’t contain himself. He changed the story arc of his career forever by vaulting the cage and going after Danis, a man the majority of the 20,034 fans at T-Mobile Arena had never previously heard of.

There are differences, to be sure, but the many similarities between the McGregor-Nurmagomedov rivalry and the Ali-Frazier rivalry are eerie.

In 2000, HBO Sports broadcast a brilliant documentary on the Ali-Frazier rivalry that provided viewers with a fuller understanding of what fueled the boxers and why their rivalry persisted for so long. It may be a case where the past is prologue; a look at what is to come with the star MMA fighters.

The documentary, “Ali-Frazier: One Nation Divisible,” debuted on HBO on July 21, 2000. It explained the parallel rise to prominence of the fighters and how Frazier’s efforts to help Ali during his banishment from boxing backfired.

It detailed how while Ali meant his words as a way to promote their fights and earn each other large sums of money, Frazier took them very personally. That, in a nutshell, is why Nurmagomedov went over the cage on Saturday. McGregor was selling the fight by mocking Nurmagomedov’s father, denigrating his religion and making inflammatory personal comments about him.

Source: Yahoo Sports

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