Does the UFC Have a Crowd Control Problem?

The UFC is where some of the best fights in the world happen, but sometimes things get out of control. Sometimes, fans join in on the action and get into fights and brawls themselves. That begs the question, does the UFC have a crowd control problem? And if so, what does it do to stop brawls from happening?

Rowdy crowds at UFC events

The nature of a fight in the UFC is that anything can happen, and sometimes, it’s incredibly frustrating for fans. For example, during the main event of UFC Mexico, Yair Rodriguez accidentally poked Jeremy Stephens in the eye in the first 15 seconds of the fight. Rodriguez is Mexican, and many fans bought tickets just to see him fight. 

However, Stephens couldn’t see due to that eye poke, and because of it, the fight was stopped and ruled a no contest. That is uncommon, but it happens from time to time, and in fact, a similar incident happened about a week earlier at UFC Vancouver.

But because it was the main event of the night and because the two men barely even touched each other before it ended, the fans became restless. Fans started chanting obscenities at Stephens, and some also started throwing bottles and beer at the cage. That was clearly a perfect storm of circumstances that led to the rowdy crowd.

However, sometimes it’s not just pure luck that causes fans to grow restless. Sometimes, it’s prompted by the fighters themselves. 

Khabib’s brawls outside the octagon

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Sports riots aren’t uncommon in other sports, but the UFC’s never had one so far. However, the closest the UFC came to having a riot on its hands was undoubtedly when Khabib Nurmagomedov defended his title against Conor McGregor. 

The buildup to their fight was intense. Earlier, at UFC 223, Nurmagomedov got into an argument with Artem Lobov, who’s McGregor’s friend, and slapped him in the face. McGregor, who wasn’t scheduled to fight at UFC 223, flew to the event with a group of his friends and then broke into the backstage area of the arena.

McGregor infamously attacked a busload of fighters with a dolly. That was in retaliation against Nurmagomedov, but the attack didn’t even affect him. However, it set the stage for the animosity between the two men. 

When Nurmagomedov choked out McGregor in the fourth round of their bout, the first thing he did was scale the cage and yell at one of McGregor’s friends. His friend shouted something back at Nurmagomedov, and that caused him to jump off the cage and do a flying kick at McGregor’s friend. That incited the brawl between both men’s teams as well as some of their fans.

Security eventually stopped the fights, but clearly, the UFC’s security didn’t do a good job of preventing it from happening.

What does the UFC to prevent crowd fights?

The fights sometimes spill outside of the octagon at UFC bouts when fans get too into the action.
UFC fighter Conor McGregor plays to the crowd. | Josh Hedges/Zuffa LLC/Zuffa LLC

There’s not much that the UFC can do to keep the fans from fighting other than to stop those fights as soon as they start. A UFC event, like any other major sporting event, has a large security presence, and they usually do a fine job at making sure that the only fights happening are inside the octagon.

However, the combination of alcohol, fighting, and rivalries can and often do lead to brawls in the crowds. There isn’t a magic bullet that the UFC can use to prevent brawls from happening, and if the UFC tries something like removing alcohol from events, then that’ll probably alienate its fans.

The UFC can always get more security, and after the brawl between Nurmagomedov and McGregor, that seems to be what the UFC has done. But other than that, the UFC doesn’t seem to have made much progress in that area of the sport.