The ordering process for Ultimate Fighting Championship pay-per-views has changed: UFC 249 is only available on ESPN+ in the U.S.
By the time morning broke in Brooklyn, New York, on April 5, 2018, UFC 223 was already limping along. Just four days before, the headlining bout between lightweight champion Khabib Nurmagomedov and interim titleholder Tony Ferguson had been scrapped for an Ultimate Fighting Championship-record fourth time. The specifics of the cancellation—Ferguson tripping over a power cable in a darkened television studio and tearing a ligament in his knee—were so bizarre that it was difficult to believe the story was not simply an April Fools’ joke.
The UFC cast about desperately for a short-notice challenger for Nurmagomedov, looking towards other lightweights on the card such as Paul Felder, Anthony Pettis and Michael Chiesa. It even brought featherweight titleholder Max Holloway into town for a potential champion-versus-champion matchup. Meanwhile, another fight week incident made the rounds, featuring cell phone video of Nurmagomedov and several of his teammates accosting Artem Lobov—a close friend and longtime training partner of former featherweight champion Conor McGregor—in the lobby of the fighter hotel. In the footage that circulated, Nurmagomedov collared Lobov for a few harsh words in Russian. As the search for a main-event dance partner for Nurmagomedov dominated the headlines, however, the Lobov incident seemed to come and go with little notice.
One person who absolutely noticed was McGregor, who jumped on a plane from Ireland with a few friends, went directly to the hotel and began searching for Nurmagomedov. As luck would have it, he arrived in the midst of Media Day. Followed by a UFC camera crew, McGregor and his entourage—now including Lobov—found Nurmagomedov on a charter bus with other fighters, waiting to be transported to the next event. After shouting demands that Nurmagomedov exit the vehicle, McGregor picked up a steel loading dolly and hurled it at the bus, smashing a window and showering several rows of seats in broken glass.
The effects on the card were immediate and wide-ranging. Chiesa, who had been scheduled to fight Pettis, suffered multiple cuts and had to withdraw, as did flyweight Ray Borg, who took splinters of glass to the eye. Lobov, for his involvement in the incident, was pulled from his scheduled featherweight bout with Alex Caceres. McGregor himself left the scene, but turned himself in to police late that evening.
With barely 48 hours to go before fight night, the UFC salvaged what it could, plugged Al Iaquinta into a short-notice title shot against Nurmagomedov and soldiered on with a nine-fight card. UFC President Dana White called the incident “the most disgusting thing that has ever happened in the history of the company,” but that did not stop the promotion from using footage of the dolly throw exhaustively to promote the grudge match between McGregor and Nurmagomedov six months later. The strategy worked: Their meeting at UFC 229 was the biggest pay-per-view success in UFC history. It also yielded unsurprising fruit in another regard, as Nurmagomedov’s win in the main event was marred by a post-fight melee featuring the champion, several of his teammates and McGregor teammate Dillon Danis.
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