The Law Behind the Suspension of Khabib and McGregor Following the UFC 229 Brawl

Adam Ares, Associate Member, University of Cincinnati Law Review

UFC 229 was supposed to mark the dramatic return of Conor McGregor to the octagon, after fourteen months away from fighting, and was to feature a dramatic lightweight title showdown between McGregor and his unbeaten opponent, Khabib Nurmagomedov.[1] However, after Nurmagomedov defeated McGregor in the fourth round, via a submission, to end the fight, another fight ensued.[2] In the immediate aftermath of the fight, at the sold-out T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas, Nurmagomedov leaped out of the ring into the crowd to attack members of McGregor’s camp, while members of Nurmagomedov’s camp entered into the octagon to attack McGregor.[3] As a result of these actions, the Nevada State Athletic Commission voted on October 24 to indefinitely suspend both McGregor and Nurmagomedov until the end of their investigation, and also voted to withhold half of Nurmagomedov’s $2 million purse that he won in the fight.[4]

Nevada is a very popular destination for major sporting events, particularly fight events. The rules for fight events hosted in Nevada are governed by the Nevada Revised Statutes (NRS),[5] the Nevada Administrative Code (NAR),[6] and regulated by the Nevada State Athletic Commission (NSAC).[7] This article will examine (1) the general licensing and permitting required to host fight events in Nevada; (2) the violations committed by McGregor and Nurmagomedov; and (3) the potential penalties that may result from these violations.

Fighting events in Nevada, termed “unarmed combat” within the statutes, are regulated and governed by Chapter 467 of the NRS, with further clarifications in Chapter 467 of the NAR (also deemed the Regulations of the Commission).[8] The NSAC was established in 1941 to administer “the State laws and regulations governing unarmed combat for the protection of the public and to ensure the health and safety of the contestants.”[9] Within the NRS, “unarmed combat” is defined as “boxing or any form of competition in which a blow is usually struck which may reasonably be expected to inflict injury.”[10] The NRS provides that “no contest or exhibition may be conducted, held or given within this state except in accordance with the provisions of this chapter.”[11] The NRS primarily outlines the licensing requirements for unarmed combat events, as well as detailing rules, fees, and penalties for fight events held in the state.[12] The statute gives the NSAC the authority to issue or revoke licenses for fight events, and requires each event to submit an application for a license in writing.[13] Furthermore, all contestants are required to be licensed by the NSAC, and “[n]o person may participate directly or indirectly, in any professional contest or exhibition of unarmed combat unless the person has first procured a license from the Commission.”[14] The NAR adds some additional requirements for unarmed contests held within the state, however much of the NAR is a further codification of the provisions outlined in the NRS.[15]

On October 24, the State argued at the hearing held by the NSAC that both McGregor and Nurmagomedov exhibited “unsportsmanlike conduct,”[16] in violation of NRS § 467.110(1)(f). This statute provides that the Commission may suspend or revoke a license, or otherwise discipline a contestant who “[i]s guilty of an act or conduct that is detrimental to a contest or exhibition of unarmed combat, including, but not limited to, any foul or unsportsmanlike conduct in connection with a contest or exhibition of unarmed combat[.]”[17] After UFC 229 on October 6, the Executive Director of the Commission invoked his right under NRS § 467.117 to suspend McGregor and Nurmagomedov “for a period not exceeding 10 days any license or permit until final determination by the Commission if, in his or her opinion, the action is necessary to protect the public welfare and the best interests of the sports regulated[.]”[18] The October 24 hearing was held for the NSAC to make a determination on whether to continue the suspension “until it makes a final determination of any disciplinary action to be taken[.]”[19] The NSAC voted to uphold the suspensions indefinitely until the conclusion of the investigation.[20]

When the investigation is concluded, both McGregor and Nurmagomedov could face serious penalties under the NRS. The NRS provides that the contestants may have their licenses revoked or the NSAC may refuse to issue future licenses for the violations committed under NRS § 467.110.[21] Furthermore, the NSAC may issue a penalty in the form of withholding 100 percent of the contestants’ share of the purse for the contest, as well as requiring the contestant to pay for the costs of the proceeding, including attorney’s fees.[22] Additionally, the “Commission may impose a ban from participation in unarmed combat in [the] State for a certain period, including a lifetime ban from participation in unarmed combat in [the] State.”[23]

The NSAC has already voted to withhold half of Nurmagomedov’s purse for the fight.[24] Additionally, both McGregor and Nurmagomedov could receive lifetime bans that would prevent them from participating in fights in the state of Nevada. While this ban would only apply to Nevada, such a ban would be a major blow to the careers of both fighters. Las Vegas has become a major destination for fight events, such as boxing and the UFC. In 2018 alone, the UFC has scheduled at least five events in Las Vegas.[25] A lifetime ban from participating in events in Nevada would be devasting to both the fighters individually and the UFC. Nevada statutes give the NSAC a significant amount of discretion when it comes to assessing penalties to contestants and it will have to make a final determination on what penalties to assess both fighters for the brawl that occurred at UFC 229.

[1] Glen Levy, UFC: Conor McGregor Comeback Ends in Defeat Amid Chaotic Scenes, cnn (Oct. 7, 2018 4:32 AM), https://www.cnn.com/2018/10/07/sport/ufc-229-conor-mcgregor-intl/index.html.

[2] Id.

[3] Id.

[4] Bianca Britton, Brawlers Conor McGregor and Khabib Nurmagomedov Suspended Indefinitely, cnn (Oct. 25, 2018 6:55 AM), https://www.cnn.com/2018/10/25/sport/conor-mcgregor-khabib-nurmagomedov-ufc-fight-ban-spt-intl/index.html.

[5] Nev. Rev. Stat. Ann. § 467.

[6] Nev. Admin. Code § 467.

[7] Welcome, Nev. State Athletic Comm’n, http://boxing.nv.gov/about/Mission/ (last visited Oct. 27, 2018).

[8] Id.

[9] Id.

[10] Nev. Rev. Stat. Ann. § 467.0107.

[11] Id. at § 467.070.

[12] Id. at § 467.

[13] Id. at § 467.080.

[14] Id. at § 467.100.

[15] Nev. Admin. Code § 467.

[16] Fox5 Las Vegas, LIVE: Nevada State Athletic Commission Holds Hearing on Khabib and McGregor, Facebook (Oct. 24 2018 9:06 AM), https://www.facebook.com/FOX5Vegas/videos/935580183294886.

[17] Nev. Rev. Stat. Ann. § 467.110(1)(f).

[18] Id. at § 467.117(1).

[19] Id. at § 467.117(2).

[20] Britton, supra note 4.

[21] Nev. Rev. Stat. Ann. § 467.110.

[22] Id. at § 467.158.

[23] Id. at § 467.158(4).

[24]Britton, supra note 4.

[25] Guilherme Crux, UFC Headed to Las Vegas for Five Events in 2018, mma fighting (Dec. 30, 2017 11:04 PM), https://www.mmafighting.com/2017/12/30/16834316/ufc-headed-to-t-mobile-arena-five-events-in-2018.

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