After leaving the UFC in 2016 following a loss to Brian Ortega that halted any post-Conor McGregor momentum, Diego Brandao tested the waters of free agency and ended up in Russian' organisation Fight Nights Global.
With two wins under his belt in 2017 already, Brandao was in the main event against Dagestani fighter Akhmed Aliev last weekend at the FNG 73 in Dagestan, of all places, when something happened in the 2nd round that sparked utterly farcical scenes.
After the referee intervened following an illegal headbutt used by Aliev on the ground, Brandao escaped the cage and fled after bottles and objects started raining down from the crowd. After the fight, Aliev claimed that Brandao had bitten his ear, which prompted him to do the headbutt, but those claims were refuted by Brandao while speaking to MMAFighting.com:
That’s what he says. I was going for the armbar and started to talk trash at him, saying I’d catch him, and he started to yell that I was biting his ear, that I removed the mouthpiece to bit him. Bullshit. The mouthpiece never left my mouth. That’s his excuse for headbutting me.
The footage does not look great for the Brazilian as it shows his mouth around the ear area of Aliev before the Dagestani fighter reacts suddenly and is very unhappy.
What follows next is total shitshow.
The fight was awarded as a TKO win for Aliev due to 'retirement' as Brandao did not return to the cage.
After summarising what he remembered from the incident, Brandao outlined how difficult it is to fight in a place like Dagestan where the locals are so emotionally invested in the success of their fighters.
Russians don’t play around. They said they would rip my head off and things like that, and when I responded they got mad at me. I had 20 bodyguards and three armoured cars protecting me all week. It was intense.
The fight started to get dirty and the referee had no control. Akhmet Aliev asked the crowd to stop throwing things into the cage and couldn’t control them, so I decided to get the hell out of there. They were throwing so many bottles at us. Khabib’s father, who's the man in Dagestan, said ‘Diego was right to leave the cage. He shouldn’t have jumped, I don’t agree with it, but staying there wasn’t safe.’ Khabib's father told me that.
Leaving the arena was scary. My corners were hit with bottles, and that pissed me off. I wanted to catch the guy that threw it, but they convinced me to return to the cage to restart the fight, but no one could control the crowd. They hit a judge with a bottle, too. It’s crazy over there. Imagine if I knocked Aliev out? They would kill me.
Russians always try to play mental games with you. They don’t help you cut weight, they take forever to give you money to buy food, so that starts to mess you up. But that was my third time fighting there so I was adapted to this war. That’s not an excuse for leaving the cage, but there was a brawl out there, people with guns.
You can't help but wonder what sort of environment Conor McGregor is going to walk into if he does end up taking on Khabib Nurmagomedov in Russia as he has said he would like to do.
The 'trash talk' that is often so entertaining ahead of his UFC fights would be taken very, very seriously and he would have to have a lot of protection around him even in a major city as Dagestan will not be hosting any UFC events in the near future.
As for Diego Brandao, it's unclear as to what his next move will be as although it would be difficult for him to return to Russia under the Fight Nights Global banner, he has claimed they just need to find somewhere else for him to fight. He is making three figures per fight in FNG, which is far better than what he would make in the UFC, so it's not surprising he wishes to continue.
You can watch the main event of FNG 73 in full below: