When sports stars go crazy: From Cantona to Khabib, 10 moments when sports heroes lost the plot
Eric Cantona kicks off at Crystal Palace – January 26, 1995
Eric Cantona’s indelible impact on the Premier League is forever immortalized by the night at Selhurst Park when the striker showed the incendiary personality of the poet he has since become.
Four minutes after the break in a match that would finish 1-1, Crystal Palace defender Richard Shaw’s close marking of the Manchester United magician caused Cantona to lose his cool in violent fashion and lash out at the defender in close quarters to the assistant referee, resulting in a red card.
As he strutted towards the tunnel, Cantona was offered choice words by a 20-year-old Palace fan who had raced down a stand, and his reaction – described by one newspaper as “nitro-glycerine in human form” – was to leap feet-first across a hoarding towards his taunting adversary.
Cantona’s leap was labeled a kung-fu move, but in truth it was too primally unconstrained to honor the discipline. He received a nine-month ban from the sport and 120 hours of community service.
Conor McGregor throws cans at the Diaz brothers – August 17, 2006
If Nate Diaz’s response to Conor McGregor’s sharp tongue ahead of UFC 202 – launching a plastic bottle at his rival as he angrily exited a press conference – was intended as a petty parting shot, it provoked a rippling response from the sport’s fiercest figure.
“You’ll do nothin’,” McGregor’s initial repeated barb into the microphone, has become a fixture of memes and mockery, but the former champion earned the reaction he really wanted in the form of a harmlessly lobbed receptacle.
Apparently incensed by the chuck, he leaped to his feet, grabbed drinks from the press table and began furiously launching them into the darkness, where Diaz and his mob were goading his team in kind.
One of the impromptu weapons was a Monster energy can which was reported to have struck a young viewer on its flight towards team Diaz.
“He shouldn’t have been throwing cans like that,” said featherweight Chris Avila, who revealed the identity of the luckless can victim.
Ayrton Senna trashes Alain Prost’s car to win the F1 World Championship – October 21, 1990
Brazilian Formula 1 great Ayrton Senna entered the 1990 Japanese Grand Prix in pole position, knowing that the only man who could deny him the World Championship was familiar foe Alain Prost, who had beaten him to the title the previous season.
Starting the day seven points ahead of Ferrari’s Prost, Senna was ruthless and reckless in knocking the Frenchman off the circuit at the first corner in a crash at around 130mph that savaged the right wing of his McLaren Honda before he had even achieved impact.
Understandably, Prost was disgusted by the precarious ploy, and the danger involved was underlined when Formula 3000 driver Hitoshi Ogawa was killed in a crash on the same corner two years later.
Conor McGregor's bus attack at UFC 223 media day – April 5, 2018
If the water bottle wobbly at UFC 202 was a warm-up, McGregor’s violent attack on a minibus in Brooklyn – which contained future opponent Khabib Nurmagomedov and several other fighters – was an outbreak of unbridled menace.
Following a hotel confrontation involving Nurmagomedov and McGregor teammate Artem Lobov, McGregor and his team hopped on a private plane to New York and attempted to exact revenge by attacking the bus containing the Russian star.
Steel dollies, garbage cans and railings were a few of the weapons said to have been rained on the buses in the loading docks at the Barclays Centre, where McGregor and his cronies had stormed the innards and reached the mini-convoy.
All of which unwittingly gave Nurmagomedov ample motivation for his eventual encounter in the Octagon with McGregor, scoring a shock fourth-round win at UFC 229 to usurp the lightweight champion and secure his position as a name not to be messed with. More on that later.
Nick Kyrgios hurling a chair across a court at the Italian Open – May 16, 2019
Where do we start with Nick Kyrgios? Let’s take a recent flashpoint in the Australian showman’s histrionic history, when he reacted to being docked a game for swearing in typically reasonable fashion at the Italian Open, hurling a chair aside before packing his bag, marching off and defaulting the match.
He accrued more fines for a string of misdemeanors at Queen’s in London the following month, including lampooning an official’s headwear, but those incidents were only the latest in a litany of incidents that have been equal parts distasteful, disturbing and entertaining.
One of the earliest, when he made abusive remarks to Stan Wawrinka about new girlfriend and fellow pro Donna Vekic in 2015, left the multiple Grand Slam winner publicly appalled by remarks he called “disrespectful in a way I could never even imagine.”
Since then, Kyrgios has stropped out of Wimbledon, faced sanctions for apparently throwing a match, been at the center of a BBC apology for seeming to simulate a sex act with a bottle and annoyed Rafael Nadal by serving underhand - although Judy Murray praised that unorthodox tactic as “genius”.
The underarm serve. 💕 The whole point of tennis competition is to disrupt ur opponents game by applying pressure through changing the speed, spin, direction, depth or height of the ball. And that includes the serve. Kyrgios is a genius. I’m surprised more players don’t do it. pic.twitter.com/lBfI8XM7MN— judy murray (@JudyMurray) March 25, 2019
Mike Tyson is disqualified for biting Evander Holyfield’s ear – June 28, 1997
Heavyweight Holyfield had inflicted the first defeat of Tyson’s fearsome career since a wake-up loss to Buster Douglas six years earlier, so it was forgivable that the rematch of their 1996 contest, in Nevada in 1997, was a source of anger for the dethroned WBA champion.
Less forgivable - and comprehensible - was Tyson’s increasing tendency to target Holyfield’s head and ears with his teeth as he grappled to regain his crown in the early stages of their second fight.
The fight has been viewed in a funnier light in the years that have followed, but it’s hard to forget how appallingly gruesome the animalistic assault seemed at the time, with Tyson gobbing part of Holyfield’s lobe onto the canvas before it was carried away in a bag by officials.
Holyfield said a prayer for his disqualified opponent in his dressing room, and Tyson has offered a variety of explanations since that night, which caused his boxing license to be revoked in a move that kept him out of the ring for 18 months.
Luis Suarez bites an opponent at the 2014 World Cup – June 24, 2014
One of the abiding memories of the 2014 World Cup group stages came in the moments after a bizarre incident in which Luis Suarez, Uruguay’s mercurial striker and playmaker who was about to join Barcelona from Liverpool, appeared to bite Italy’s Giorgio Chiellini.
Most fans squinted at their screens in an attempt to deduce whether their eyes were deceiving them at the sight of an inexplicable act that was later shown to have left visible teeth marks on the shoulder area of the Juventus defender.
Suarez received a retrospective ban from even entering football stadiums until October, with a panel rejecting his defense and finding him guilty after viewing the collision from 34 different camera angles.
Many were unaware that Suarez had first been banned for biting while at Ajax in 2010. A year later, he was found guilty by the English FA of racially abusing Patrice Evra, and he also sat out ten matches for biting Chelsea’s Branislav Ivanovic while with Liverpool in 2013.
Serena Williams smashing rackets at Wimbledon – July 8, 2019
No-one could accuse Serena Williams of lacking passion and will to win, although her most recent racket-smashing wrangle came in a non-competitive setting
“Maybe I’m super-strong - I don’t know,” said the tennis great, asking reporters to help her understand how she had caused $10,000 dollars in damage to a practice court the day before this year’s Wimbledon began.
Williams was docked the same amount by the All England Club for battering her racket during a seemingly innocuous second-round win at Wimbledon in 2016 - an earlier example of her repeated incapacity to conceal her frustration on court.
During last year’s US Open final defeat to Naomi Osaka, Williams was deducted a point as part of a code violation partly enacted by racket abuse in a match-long feud during which she called umpire Carlos Ramos a “thief”.
Khabib jumping the cage at UFC 229 – October 6, 2018
Khabib’s victory over McGregor was never going to pass quietly, but few could have foreseen the chaotic scenes that would follow the headline fight of UFC 229 in Las Vegas.
With emotions running stratospherically high on both sides of the Octagon, the newborn star sparked ferociously unedifying scenes by leaving the cage and attacking the dethroned champion’s coach, Dillon Danis.
A stunned McGregor, who had lost his lightweight title, attempted to follow Khabib out of the cage before taking a swipe at the winner’s brother, Magomed.
UFC boss Dana White said three of Khabib’s entourage were arrested as both sides tangled in a mass brawl, creating a deeply hostile crowd. It marked an ugly end to a sensational contest, although the night remains momentous in the history of the sport.
Andrew Golota disqualified for low blows to Riddick Bowe, December 14, 1996
Heavyweight Pole Andrew Golota would probably have ended his slugfests against American Riddick Bowe victorious had he not bafflingly sent in a succession of low blows to effectively beat himself.
The nature of his seventh-round disqualification in their first meeting, at Madison Square Garden in July 1996, caused a riot. Five months later, Golota embarrassed Bowe again, but also repeated his failing by targeting his opponent’s groin in spite of the advice of his corner and the warnings and sanctions of referee Eddie Cotton.
With just two seconds left in round nine, the cruising Golota gave Cotton no choice but to call the scrap off in front of an incredulous worldwide audience, as unable to understand his tactics as the fighter apparently was at comprehending instructions to switch to his jab.
The "what-could-have-been" feel of Golota’s near-victories ended when he was knocked out inside a round by Lennox Lewis the following year, by which time Bowe had retired from boxing.