Nevada Fighters and the Right to Trash Talk

But the Nevada State Athletic Commission is considering restricting speech after taunts spark a brawl


|||Stephen Smith/Sipa USA/Newscom
Stephen Smith/Sipa USA/Newscom

Insulting one's prizefighting opponent is a tradition that reaches back to boxer Jack Johnson, was perfected by Muhammad Ali, and is now an accepted form of mental warfare in boxing and MMA fights. When Lennox Lewis called fellow black British boxer Frank Bruno an "Uncle Tom," some invisible line of civility may have been crossed, but doing so never resulted in penalties for Lewis.

But an ugly brawl sparked by racial and religious insults after an Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) bout has Nevada regulators wondering if the time has finally come to put controls on pre-fight speech.

"I think it's gotten to the point with certain unarmed combatants to where it's become totally unacceptable," said Nevada State Athletic Commission (NSAC) Executive Director Bob Bennett. "I definitely think, unequivocally, that's something we need to take a more active role in and hold fighters accountable for their language."

Bennett's comments came at a disciplinary hearing for the UFC's verbal warfare king, Conor McGregor, and his November 2018 opponent, Khabib Nurmagomedov. After defeating McGregor, Nurmagomedov jumped out of the cage and attacked members of McGregor's team. McGregor remained in the cage but gave and received punches.

Nurmagomedov later defended his actions saying, "He talked about my religion, he talked about my country, he talked about my father." Nurmagomedov is a Dagestani Avar––an ethnic group from southern Russia––and a Sunni Muslim.

McGregor called Nurmagomedov a "smelly Dagestani rat" and a "backwards cunt" for his choice not to drink alcohol because of his Muslim faith.

In its role as the state regulatory body in Nevada for combat sports, including MMA and boxing, the NSAC issued large fines and suspensions to both fighters. (The $500,000 levied against Nurmagomedov for the attack on McGregor's team was the largest fine handed down since Mike Tyson was fined $3 million in 1997 for biting off part of Evander Holyfield's ear in the now-legendary "Bite Fight.")

Still, punishing only the fighters' actions left regulators wondering if they could punish their trash talking, too.

"None of these settlements take into account verbal statements made by parties to one another," said NSAC Chairman Anthony Marnell. So far, the NSAC has never punished a fighter for speech.

McGregor's other verbal blows include calling Nurmagomedov's manager Ali Abdelaziz: "a fucking snitch terrorist rat and that's it. I could go into heavy detail… and I will! He was pulled off of a flight going from Cairo, Egypt, to New York City on September 11, 2001. He was caught with fake passports in his possession. He turned informant and turned on the people that he was working with. He is a — I don't even know how that man is in this fucking country."

The commission members agreed to pursue rule changes to punish this type of fighter speech or what they called "inciting comments," but realized they weren't prepared to draft the actual regulations and placed the topic on a list of "items for future agendas." "[It] would break a lot of precedent and without notice that we're going to start fining and/or suspending for what you say vs. what you do," Marnell said.

The NSAC declined to comment for this story or clarify the status of any proposed regulation changes.

The UFC itself is much better positioned to regulate fighter speech (as the NFL and NBA do) owing to its existing fighter contracts, which stipulate adherence to the UFC Code of Conduct and which already include a prohibition on certain speech:

"Derogatory or offensive conduct, including without limitation insulting language, symbols, or actions about a person's ethnic background, heritage, color, race, national origin, age, religion, disability, gender or sexual orientation."

The UFC's official reaction to NSAC's proposed regulation was not supportive. "I think it's crazy. I think it's insane. I think it's unconstitutional," said UFC President Dana White at a Jan. 31 press conference.

"First of all, I don't think you can legally do that. These guys get into a cage and they punch each other in the face. They can knock each other unconscious, they can choke each other, but they can't say mean things to each other? It's pretty ridiculous."

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    1. That’s pretty damned good!

  1. Time for a new tryout of the U. S. Supreme Court’s fighting words precedents.

  2. The fighters can trash talk only if they have a permit.
    Otherwise, anyone would be able to not only have trash, but speak of it freely, and we all know that leads to acne, miscarriages and cancer.
    So do what’s right.
    Get that permit and live a clean healthy life.

  3. My goodness, man! Such barbs are an affront to the gentlemanly pugilistic arts! Unacceptable, simply unacceptable!

    Now get in that ring and beat that rapscallion within an inch of his life!

    1. He did. Khabib choked the shit out of Connor. Amazing event, which also featured Dereck Lewis removing his shorts in the octagon, after winning by knockout in the last 10 seconds a fight he was soundly losing. When Rogan asked him why he took his short off, he said “Cause my balls was hot.”

  4. Sounds like McDumbshit may have hit a little close to home.

    I see a DHS investigation in Nurmagomedovs future.

  5. Insulting one’s prizefighting opponent is a tradition that reaches back to boxer Jack Johnson,

    Jesus H. Christ! Taunting didn’t exist until a black man invented it in the Jim Crow South? What planet are you living on?

    I mean for fucks sake, Lincoln and Shields got into a duel because Lincoln made fun of him for running the banks into the ground. If “His very features, in the ecstatic agony of his soul, spoke audibly and distinctly?’Dear girls, it is distressing, but I cannot marry you all. Too well I know how much you suffer; but do, do remember, it is not my fault that I am so handsome and so interesting.” isn’t mocking someone, I don’t know what is.

    Boxing, as a term for the sport predates Lincoln by almost another half century. The idea that neither one happened until Johnson did it in the 1900s is just plain ignorant.

    1. Just plain name calling goes back to before languages — watch all animals daring each other on with hisses and hoots and screams.

      Sticks and stones
      May break my bones
      But words will never hurt me

      How far back does that go?

      1. The first insult was found on a Phonecian clay tablet. “Did you hear the one about the Sumerian? He was very stupid, ha ha.”

        (actually this was a joke by Dave Barry, but it sounds true, which is the key point)

    2. You’re missing the point. What matters is to link trash talking to black athletes. We all know that we white folks never indulge in such stuff. Which is why Conor McGregor would never sink ? oh, wait.

      Well anyway, gotta admit that McGregor certainly took it all to a new level and if nothing else gave the phrase “getting into your opponent’s head” a whole new meaning.

    3. “Insulting one’s prizefighting opponent is a tradition that reaches back to boxer Jack Johnson”

      And someone hasn’t read the Illiad or, for an exact parallel, Book 6 of Virgil’s Aeneid, which details a boxing match (part of their celebratory Olympic style games once they reach Sicily) that features quite a bit of trash talking.

      So, prizefighters talking shit to each other goes back at least 2,000 years – and I suspect much, much, much longer than that.
      Pretty sure it started when spoken language became a thing

  6. Encroaching sharia law strikes again.

  7. Words are violence, but real violence is ok.
    Am I doing this right?

    1. only if the real violence is the correct group making violence

  8. I’m a UFC fan and have no problem with the kids blowing off steam. But I’m also perfectly OK with anyone who does contrive to take offense going ahead and taking a swing at the athlete to teach him some manners. Once snowflakes start doing their own coercing I’ll gain respect for whatever is left of them.

  9. “I think it’s gotten to the point with certain unarmed combatants to where it’s become totally unacceptable,” said Nevada State Athletic Commission (NSAC) Executive Director Bob Bennett.

    Armed combatants, on the other hand, are models of civility.

  10. I don’t care what he says but that jacket has got to go.

  11. Maybe boxers should follow the example of Emile Griffith when he beat Benny Paret to death live on TV during their fight on March 24, 1962 after Paret called Griffith a maric?n (faggot) at the weigh-in.

  12. so I went to a pre-fight event and a fight broke out…who’da thunk it!

  13. At this point, MacGregor’s taunts and pre-fight antics are much more entertaining than any of his fights.

    And I say this as a CM fan who kinda resembles the guy (minus the stylish clothes and physique).

  14. jeez give em tridents and nets and swords and chariots and let em have at it. winner truly takes all.

  15. Sooo something that has happened since the dawn of time is now COMPLETELY UNACCEPTABLE… Because some Muslim guy bitched and got butt hurt.

    Sounds about right for 2019.

    Shouldn’t the fact that he’s also technically a Russian like offset this or something, since the Russians are the evilest people ever again the last few years?

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