Khabib Nurmagomedov is held back outside of the cage after fighting Conor McGregor in a lightweight title mixed martial arts bout at UFC 229 in Las Vegas on Saturday. Nurmagomedov won the fight by submission during the fourth round to retain the title. Credit: John Locher | AP

The teammate of Conor McGregor who was the target when Khabib Nurmagomedov shockingly leaped from the cage at UFC 229 is denying that he incited the Russian fighter with an anti-Muslim slur. Dillon Danis described reports that he made the comments as a “smear,” and he said Wednesday that an official investigation into the ensuing melee would vindicate him.

Danis, McGregor’s jiu-jitsu coach and an MMA fighter in his own right, was working Saturday as one of the Irish fighter’s cornermen when Nurmagomedov punctuated his successful UFC lightweight title defense by climbing out of the Octagon and jumping into the crowd seated nearby. After being led away from the skirmish, Nurmagomedov had his $2 million purse withheld by the Nevada State Athletic Commission pending an inquiry into the incident, and three of his teammates, some of whom got into the cage and attacked McGregor, were arrested, then released when the latter declined to press charges.

According to a report Monday by TMZ Sports, which cited a “ringside witness,” Danis had enraged Nurmagomedov by calling him a “f—-ing Muslim rat” toward the end of the bout. The witness told the website that Nurmagomedov, a practicing Sunni Muslim, “shot a death stare right at Dillon” between the second and third rounds after hearing some of the insults Danis was allegedly hurling at him.

“Khabib fans are attempting to smear me in an effort to justify his actions,” Danis said in a statement published by ESPN. “I have never and would never denigrate anyone’s religion. I look forward to the results of the Nevada Gaming Commission investigation which will reject this [B.S.] claim and put the blame where it belongs.”

In an update to its report, TMZ noted that representatives of Danis had told the website that he “absolutely did NOT fire the slur” at Nurmagomedov, and that “the witness we spoke with is dead wrong.” However, TMZ claimed that it spoke to “multiple groups of people who were sitting very close” to Danis, who insisted that “they heard him shouting insults” at the Russian.

[Melee at UFC 229 after Nurmagomedov chokes out McGregor]

In a post-fight news conference on Saturday, Nurmagomedov apologized for his behavior but wondered aloud why more wasn’t being made of what he saw as unacceptable comments McGregor made during the pre-fight buildup.

“He talk about my religion. He talk about my country. He talk about my father,” Nurmagomedov said then of McGregor, adding, “This is a respect sport, this is not a trash-talking sport. … You cannot talk about religion, you cannot talk about a nation, you cannot talk about this stuff. For me, this is very important.”

Nurmagomedov was referring to verbal jabs from McGregor that included the epithet, “Dagestani rat,” as well as his father being called a “quivering coward” in a social media post by the Irishman. In addition, McGregor tauntingly offered whiskey to Nurmagomedov and called his Egypt-born manager, Ali Abdelaziz, a “terrorist.”

While meeting with Nurmagomedov on Wednesday to offer his congratulations in person, Russian President Vladimir Putin said that the fighter’s post-fight actions were unfortunate but also understandable, given the goading he had been receiving.

“Anyone could have jumped [from the cage] in the same way,” Putin said via RT. “If we are attacked from the outside, not only you, we could all jump in such a way … there could be hell to pay.”

“But,” Putin added, “it’s better not to reach that stage.”

That remark reportedly elicited smiles and nods of agreement from the fighter and his father, Abdulmanap Nurmagomedov, who also attended the meeting in the Russian city of Ulyanovsk. The elder Nurmagomedov said earlier this week that he would “impose a punishment tougher than the UFC’s” on his son for sparking the melee, but Putin asked the father not to punish Nurmagomedov “too strictly.”

McGregor had used the Russian president for another one of his attempts to get under Nurmagomedov’s skin, during a September promotional appearance in which it was noted that both fighters attended July’s World Cup final in Moscow. Whereas McGregor, though, was there as a guest of Putin’s — and posted a photo of himself with the president, whom he called “one of the greatest leaders of our time” — Nurmagomedov was elsewhere in the stands of the stadium, and he said at the event that he “never want to take picture with someone,” adding, “Doesn’t matter with president.”

“Are you disrespecting your president Vladimir Putin?” McGregor shouted at Nurmagomedov at the time. “Are you disrespecting your president Vladimir Putin? Then what do you mean by that?!”

On Wednesday, however, Putin was happy to show his respect and admiration for Nurmagomedov’s triumph, calling it “worthy and convincing.” In turn, the fighter said on Instagram that he was “very pleased that my victory brought so much joy to our multinational country,” calling it “our common victory.”

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