MMA manager Alex Davis has seen a few things in all these years working in the fight business. But being in the bus that allegedly got attacked by Conor McGregor at Barclays Center on Thursday was certainly a one-of-a-kind experience.
“There were some points when it was really scary,” Davis told MMAjunkie’s John Morgan on The MMA Road Show podcast.
Davis was in the bus with his fighter, featherweight Renato Moicano, as well as other UFC 223 stars like headliner Khabib Nurmagomedov, champ Rose Namajunas, lightweight Michael Chiesa and flyweight Ray Borg after what had been, to that point, a somewhat calm media event to promote Saturday’s pay-per-view card.
People were looking at their phones, going about their lives as they prepared to head back to the host hotel, when chaos erupted.
“All of a sudden, I start hearing some noise and I hear somebody slap the window of the bus,” Davis said. “And I see Khabib get up and things start getting heated … At that point, things start happening real fast. People start slamming the bus and slamming on the window and Khabib is sitting right in front of me.
“Khabib and Rizvan (Magomedov) start getting up, and then I realize we’re under attack. Then, (expletive) starts getting loose. Then, all of a sudden, something hits the windshield and that cracks. And then something hits the left side window, front window of the bus, and it breaks.”
We now have an understanding of the situation, which appears to have been set off by a previous altercation between Nurmagomedov and McGregor’s(21-3 MMA, 9-1 UFC) longtime friend, Artem Lobov, who was set to fight on Saturday as well. We saw it unfold quite dramatically, too: Lobov was pulled from the card, as well as Chiesa and Borg, who both got hurt by the vehicle’s shattered safety glass.
McGregor, who was captured throwing objects at the van, was most recently seen being escorted out of the 78th Precinct building of the New York Police Department and has been charged with three counts of assault and one count of criminal mischief.
But, at that point, it was hard to tell exactly what was going on.
“I look at Chiesa, he’s bleeding,” Davis said. “And I’m near Khabib – and I knew about the Lobov thing. I didn’t know exactly what it was, but in my mind, I said, ‘This is Russian mob.’ So I come after Khabib and I say, ‘Khabib, calm down. Don’t try to go out. Get down, get down, these guys can shoot.’
“I’m thinking it’s Russian mob, they can shoot. I’m trying to calm Khabib down and Khabib is ‘No, I’m accustomed to this (expletive), (expletive) them,’ he’s cursing them in Russian and they’re cursing back from the window. I’m trying to calm him down. Very chaotic scene”
Davis won’t go so far as to give the experience a near-death rating like UFC exec Reed Harris did, but his account is certainly that of a frightening scenario, made worse by the uncertainty.
“The real problem was, from us inside the bus, we couldn’t exactly tell what was happening,” Davis said. “I’ve been in a lot of situations. If I can see what’s happening … But there, I was a sitting duck. I couldn’t get off the bus, I couldn’t fight, I couldn’t defend myself, I couldn’t do nothing. And that, for me, is a scary situation.”
It was Moicano’s wife, Davis said, who initially pointed out McGregor was causing the fracas. While Davis thought that it didn’t make sense at the time, she’d, of course, soon be proven right. Nurmagomedov, he says, caught on quickly to what was happening and, while Davis says he remained composed throughout, he also didn’t just sit there.
“You’ve got to remember these are fighters,” Davis said. “Khabib, when he gets confronted, he’s confronting too. The moment he saw it was about him, he wanted to fight. And he’s cursing them back.”
While the reactions in the bus varied, Davis recalls champ Namajunas, who UFC President Dana White said left the van and walked back to the hotel, being particularly affected by the whole situation.
“When you’re from Brazil, like me and Renato and his wife, we’re accustomed to seeing ugly things,” Davis said. “We’re accustomed to seeing car accidents and shoot-outs and fights and stuff like that. Rose is a fighter, but she’s not accustomed to that kind of stuff.
“She was really really really shaken up about this. Her husband, Pat Barry, said, ‘No, we’re going back, we’re leaving this place.’ And who’s going to stand in front of him? He’s taking his wife away from the mess. He did the right thing.”
Davis also believes Chiesa not moving forward with his fight with Anthony Pettis was the right thing. Davis has seen a few cuts in his life and gauged, just by looking at the laceration in the middle of Chiesa’s forehead, that it would require at least three stitches.
“All Pettis had to was look at him an he’d start bleeding,” Davis said. “If he was my fighter, I would have not even thought about putting him to fight. Wasn’t worth it.”
The ride back to the hotel was a tense one, Davis recalls. And while being greeted by an entourage of Dagestani men upon arrival at the hotel is probably not particularly soothing under regular circumstances, Davis says he actually felt safer and appreciated seeing how they backed up Nurmagomedov.
As a result of the melee, three fights were scrapped and McGregor’s gimmick may end up landing him in serious legal trouble. But, considering there were entire groups involved, Davis believes the situation could have been worse.
“The risk that was taken there was huge,” Davis said. “This could have ruined MMA in New York. It could have created such a blotch on everything that we’ve been doing for years and years to make this a realistic sport.”
Not to mention what could have happened in the bus, had it not been for the work of the UFC’s head of security.
“I’ll tell you something, though, Joe Williams, from the UFC, he was very clear-minded at the moment,” Davis said. “He closed the door of the bus, so nobody of the bus could get off and nobody could come on. And he faced the guys. He saved the day.”
Davis’ full account of the incident can be heard in the first half hour of the latest episode of The MMA Road Show. (MMA Junkie | Fernanda Prates, The Blue Corner | Video, TMZ Sports)