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UFC 227 is now available on Amazon Prime.
“Why should I apologize for the monster I’ve become? No one ever apologized for making me this way.” – The Joker (The Dark Knight, 2008)
All felony counts dismissed. A guilty plea for disorderly conduct. Five days community service. Anger management classes. An order for restitution to be paid to victims of the attack.
Those are the terms of a court order applying to one Mr. Conor McGregor, who walked out of a Brooklyn courtroom last week having avoided all but the most languid form of punishment for his now infamous UFC 223 bus attack back in April. When he approached the media to make a brief statement thanking the District Attorney and the Judge for “allowing [him] to move forward,” he seemed barely able to repress a smirk.
The incident that brought “The Notorious” within the orbit of the New York justice system has been written and re-written into MMA lore. It involved McGregor and an entourage of teammates storming the Barclays Centre in an act of apparent retribution towards Khabib Nurmagomedov, who’d been videotaped roughing up Artem Lobov, a teammate of McGregor’s.
McGregor and his band of assailants, given access to the Barclays Centre loading dock by members of the McGregor-owned media outlet The Mac Life, encircled a bus transporting fighters and their teams from the UFC Media Day back to their hotel, screaming for Nurmagomedov to disembark. As the bus tried to pull away -- and security guards tried desperately to intervene -- McGregor grabbed a metal dolly and hurled it through the bus window, raining down glass on its passengers and injuring lightweight contender Michael Chiesa and former flyweight title challenger Ray Borg. Afterwards, as a member of security restrained McGregor, he screamed at his entourage to “smash the windows” and when he and his crew fled the scene moments later, they were howling with glee.
In the aftermath of the attack -- which derailed a full quarter of fights on the card -- Ultimate Fighting Championship President Dana White called it “the most disgusting thing that has ever happened in the history of the company.” He confirmed the promotion would take punitive measures against McGregor after letting the legal process play out, and stoically asserted that “we as an organization need to make sure that this never happens again.” The organization released an official statement to similar effect, “deem[ing the] disruption completely unacceptable” and foreshadowing “consequences that will follow.” ().
McGregor would later turn himself in to the New York police, facing three counts of assault and one count of criminal mischief, and for a while there, fans and the sports media seemed genuinely resigned to the possibility his fighting career was permanently compromised. If it weren’t the justice system suspending his passport, then it would be the UFC finally stepping up and reprimanding him for his progressively erratic and now criminal behaviour -- a notion that seemed almost inevitable given McGregor’s apparent lack of remorse.
But that’s not how this story ended. Before the dust had even settled from the UFC 223 incident, White had already had a change-of-heart -- “there’s a lot worse that goes on in other sports” he demurred at the post-fight press conference -- and talk of a McGregor being suspended quickly evaporated after the news-cycle moved on. In the wake of the plea deal, the UFC confirmed that the organisation would not be following through on its promise to punish its star athlete, with White ludicrously suggesting McGregor had already “faced a lot of repercussions.” Now, talk has turned to the finalisation of a fight between McGregor and Nurmagomedov, with early signs pointing towards UFC 229 in October as the most likely booking.
Should we be surprised at the UFC’s reversal on the McGregor issue? Not unless you’ve been living offline in a bomb shelter for the past two years.
In an age where the UFC has made a habit of giving fighters who’ve missed weight title shots, and Brock Lesnar -- winless in eight years and still serving a suspension for performance-enhancing drugs -- can jump a laundry list of contenders to fight heavyweight champion Daniel Cormier, we’re beyond the point where actions have consequences. McGregor is far and away the UFC’s biggest draw, and at least the UFC’s financial imperatives align with meritocratic norms for a change.
All otherwise valid moral objections about the rich being above the law aside, it would be a travesty if a fight between McGregor, the former champion who never lost his crown, and Nurmagomedov, the reigning titleholder holding a perfect 26-0 record, didn’t come together. Never mind the UFC’s flagrant hypocrisy, its apparent disregard for the fighters McGregor injured or White’s disingenuous suggestion that the time and money the Irishman lost in legal fees won’t be eclipsed by his pay-per-view cut of his showdown with Nurmagomedov; these guys need to fight -- period, end of story.
But that’s not the issue here. Rather, it’s whether McGregor can be trusted to make it to fight-day without creating another melee and derailing the whole event.
Consider the fact that McGregor’s antics have been gradually escalating since his debut with the UFC organisation back in 2013. From stealing the microphone at the weigh ins back at UFC Fight Night 46, to punching Nate Diaz’s hand at the UFC 196 pre-fight press conference, to lobbing Monster Energy cans at Diaz at UFC 202, McGregor has made breaking increasingly serious rules, and getting away with it, part of his identity. The fact that this trait is increasing manifesting itself outside of fight promotion -- with speeding tickets, an alleged run-in with the Irish mob and an assault on referee Marc Goddard at Bellator 187 preceding the bus incident at UFC 223 -- should give all of us reason to think he’ll continue behaving in self-destructive fashion until his actions prompt real consequences.
In light of this, and given the genuine acrimony brewing between the Irishman and Nurmagomedov, does anyone really think McGregor can be in the same room -- let alone face-to-face -- with the lightweight champion without doing something stupid? Doesn’t a clash between members of McGregor’s Straight Blast Gym and Nurmagomedov’s Eagles MMA feel inevitable? Aren’t we all really just waiting for McGregor to engage in another act of self-sabotage, spend another night in a cell, and retreat back into career limbo?
Only time will tell whether “The Notorious” can face his demons and make a successful return to competition. In spite of his behaviour, and the nearly two years that has elapsed since he last competed under the UFC banner, the red carpet has been rolled out for his homecoming, and there isn’t an MMA fan alive that wouldn’t pay money to see his feud with Nurmagomedov get settled in the Octagon.
Let’s just pray that he has enough foresight to seize the opportunity and get his life back on track -- and that if a McGregor-Nurmagomedov fight does come together, the UFC don’t skimp on the security.
Jacob Debets is a recent law graduate who lives in Melbourne, Australia. He has been an MMA fan for more than a decade and trains in muay Thai and boxing at DMDs MMA in Brunswick. His work has been published widely, including on Fight News Australia, LawinSports, LowKickMMA, MMASucka De Minimis and Farrago. He is currently writing a book analyzing the economics and politics of the MMA Industry. You can view more of his writing at jacobdebets.com.
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