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UFC Bout as Craziest Sports Event? Not Close

October 10th, 2018 · 1 Comment · Boxing, soccer, Sports Journalism

Much has been made this week of the moments of madness after Khabib Nurmagodemov defeated Conor McGregor in a highly anticipated Ultimate Fighting Championship event in Las Vegas.

People rushed into the ring, punches were thrown.

Some people who were at the event feared that the situation could devolve into a riot in the sold-out MGM Grand arena.

Two of those alarmists did a podcast for theringer.com, a site mostly concerned with sports topics, and they seemed to agree that the risk of general violence and the threat to civilians in the stands was high.

One described it as “the craziest event I’ve ever been to.”

No doubt things looked dangerous for a moment, but then that moment was gone –which enables us to demonstrate that Khabib-MGregor was a long, long way down the list of crazy or, more, lethal sports events.

Let’s cite a few.

–Sticking to combat sports, Khabib-McGregor seems to fall significantly short in the “craziest” competition, when compared to the Mike Tyson vs. Evander Holyfield heavyweight title fight, in that same Las Vegas arena, back on June 28, 1997.

I was sitting in the media section, at ringside, when Tyson bit off a one-inch chunk of Holyfield’s right ear, in the third round. I will never forget seeing Tyson spit out the piece he had bitten off. Not something you see every day. Or more than once in a career, as it turned out.

Enraged by his belief that Holyfield was repeatedly butting him, Tyson bit Holyfield again, on the left ear (though none of it was severed from Holyfield’s body), and after lots of chaos the fight was ruled a victory for Holyfield with Tyson disqualified.

–On a starker front, soccer has had several incidents when fans were killed inside a crowded venue — what The Ringer correspondents thought might happen at Las Vegas, but did not.

The most deadly was the Hillsborough disaster, in 1989, when 96 people died after Liverpool fans rushed to enter standing areas in the Sheffield stadium before an FA Cup semifinal with Nottingham Forest. Too many people in too small an area …

A second deadly incident also involved Liverpool fans, at the 1985 European Cup final at the Heysel Stadium, in Brussells. Some of them spilled into an area where seating was meant to be for fans from the Italian club Juventus. Some of those fans panicked, and while rushing to get out of the stadium a wall collapsed: 39 people died.

And if we are just talking about “crazy” at a sports event, Heysel has to be in the running — officials went on with the match, won 1-0 by Juventus.

My experience, over 40 years of covering sports events as a professional journalist, is that nearly any crowded stadium can quickly turn into a killing field if fans stampede. It is astonishing how quickly “a bit of crowding” can morph into a potentially fatal crush.

(I would advise anyone worried about a crush of fans to 1) plan an escape route beforehand and 2) leave the event early.)

I no longer remember when it was, or which teams were involved, but the greatest alarm I have ever felt was at a World Cup soccer match. I was trying to leave the stadium when a tremendous weight seemed to arise from nowhere, and I was suddenly trapped against other anxious fans — without an obvious way out. Luckily (miraculously?), the pressure around me eased after a few seconds, and nobody died that day.

My recollection of that moment has made me wary of international soccer crowds, in particular. This link rounds up the riskiest moments in soccer around the world, and there are a lot of them, many with fatalities attached.

No doubt the end of the Khabib-McGregor fight offered a sense of danger, but declaring it “the craziest” sports event … demonstrates a lack of long experience or perhaps a short memory.

 

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1 response so far ↓

  • 1 Gene Hiigel // Oct 10, 2018 at 7:22 pm

    Actually Hillsborough and Heysel were relatively small compared to the disaster at the Estadio Nacional in Lima in 1964 where at least 328 people died at a Peru-Argentina qualifier. The crowd was trying to escape the tear gas shot off by the Peruvian Army to control a pitch invasion only to find locked exit gates.

    As a 19-year old male (a phrase meaning “stupid”), I had to attend a Peruvian league match at the Estadio later that year just to say I had been there. Since there were only 250 people at the game, there was actually zero risk. (This was on vacation during my two-year stint as a Peace Corps volunteer in the Dominican Republic)

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