Conor McGregor Loses His Mind

Conor McGregor's outrageousness is part of his appeal. He's not polite or politically correct, and he operates on a "might makes right" philosophy. He has broken social norms in the past, from simple rudeness, to racism and homophobia, to shoving a referee and slapping a commissioner at Bellator 187. If you're a McGregor fan, Conor's lack of adherence to expected behavior makes him "authentic." If you're not Team Conor, his behavior looks more like "reckless" and "sociopathic."

Last weekend, McGregor attacked a bus full of fighters before UFC 223. He didn't attack the fighters themselves, wading into battle like Chuck Liddell or Lee Murray after UFC 38. No, McGregor attacked the bus itself, damaging windows and injuring two fighters with broken glass. Neither of those injured fighters was Khabib Nurmagomedov, McGregor's intended target, who went on to win the UFC Lightweight title on Saturday night. Of course, the attack would still be crazy, unjustified, and criminal even if Nurmagomedov had been injured rather than Ray Borg and Michael Chiesa, but that McGregor injured innocent bystanders without finding his intended target highlights how reckless his attack was.

Both Borg and Chiesa were denied medical clearance to fight, and McGregor's teammate Artem Lobov, present for the bus attack, was pulled from his scheduled fight with Alex Caceres. The UFC paid show money — but not win bonuses — to fighters whose bouts were cancelled. Withholding the win bonuses was cheap and ugly, since those bonuses are a drop in the bucket for the UFC and deeply important to struggling fighters, but that's another issue. The larger point here is that McGregor's loss of control cancelled three fights and materially damaged the careers of people who were simply in the wrong place at the wrong time.

McGregor's unhinged assault on a bus full of fighters, because he thought one of them had disrespected his teammate, was criminal. Turns out it's illegal to throw guard rails and hand trucks at the windows of occupied buses. McGregor was arrested and charged with three counts of assault and one count of criminal mischief. He was released on bail, but it's hard for me to understand — and I'm not a lawyer, but this seems pretty straightforward — how McGregor won't face criminal indictment, and perhaps civil lawsuits from fighters who were injured and/or had their fights cancelled due to the incident.

There is a difference between being "authentic" and a "bad boy" because you're rude compared to earning those labels by violating broadly accepted standards of civilized interaction. One is Tito Ortiz, Anderson Silva, Ronda Rousey, Cody Garbrandt, probably the Diaz brothers ... the other is Junie Browning and War Machine. McGregor is a far more talented fighter than Browning and War Machine, but his lack of boundaries is similar. One of the appeals of martial arts is that you can express your rage safely and legally in the cage. For McGregor, violence bleeds over into his life outside the cage. That's not normal, it's not healthy, and it's not okay.

In an interview on FOX Sports 1, UFC President Dana White explained that McGregor still feels that attacking the bus was the right thing to do. "It's not that I don't think he understood what happened. It's just, he justified it, it was justified to him. [He said] Listen, I'm sorry about Mike and I'm sorry about Rose, and whoever else might've whatever, but this had to be done."

Let's talk about Mike and about Rose. Michael Chiesa was booked for the biggest fight of his career, against former UFC and WEC champion Anthony Pettis. Two days before the fight, after a full training camp and well into his weight cut, Chiesa was on the same bus as Nurmagomedov. When McGregor attacked the bus, Chiesa was badly cut, hospitalized, and removed from his fight.

Rose Namajunas was co-headlining UFC 223, an underdog making her first title defense against longtime champion Joanna Jedrzejczyk. Multiple reports, not to mention Dana White, indicated that Rose was shaken by the bus attack. She went on to successfully defend her title, winning a unanimous decision, so maybe all's well that ends well. But that was a close fight: while most observers agreed that Namajunas deserved the decision, it's not implausible that she could have lost. Several professional writers scored the fight for Jedrzejczyk. Rose could have fought the exact same fight but lost a split decision. And if that had happened, the potential impact of McGregor's assault on her bus would be a very big deal indeed, potentially interfering with the outcome of a title fight.

In the other championship fight, Nurmagomedov seemed unfazed. His opponent changed multiple times in the last two weeks, from Tony Ferguson to Max Holloway to Ragin' Al Iaquinta, and he took the changes in stride. He won a convincing decision over Iaquinta, 50-43, 50-43, and 50-44. It would have been nice if he showed more urgency and finished his overmatched opponent, but if McGregor rattled him, it didn't show in the cage.

Some fans have questioned whether McGregor's assault on his fellow fighters was "staged" — that is, planned in coordination with the UFC. Strictly speaking, the answer is obviously no. The UFC had no interest in getting everyone assigned to the red corner attacked and in losing three fights from a card that had already changed headliners and was about to do so again. Dana White is not faking when he says he's mad at Conor. That said, it is obviously possible that the UFC encouraged a confrontation between McGregor and Nurmagomedov, and that it got out of hand because Conor is a lunatic. Frankly, I don't think the "was it staged?" question is all that interesting: even if the UFC encouraged a conflict, their vision didn't resemble what McGregor carried out.

I'm not going to opine on what the UFC should do with McGregor at this point. They can't cut him, because he'll sign with a competitor. They don't want to cut him, because he's more famous than ever, and a fight with Nurmagomedov would promote itself at this point. They can suspend him, but that seems pointless when he's not fighting right now anyway. I suppose you could suspend him for a few months so it looks like you're doing something, but that's so transparent it might make the UFC look weak. Ask the NFL, which got burned for giving Ray Rice a two-game suspension: issuing no punishment is a better P.R. move than a laughably weak one.

I agree with MMA Junkie's Ben Fowlkes: "The appropriate punishment is probably a criminal and civil one. McGregor already got arrested and I'd be shocked if he doesn't get sued by multiple people. This isn't like jumping into the cage at a Bellator event and shoving a few officials around. The punishment here will not be limited to the discretion of the promoters and athletic commissions, both of whom have a financial incentive to get him back to work."

I actually don't think Conor is likely to see much in the way of civil lawsuits, but I believe Fowlkes is right that the primary punishment for McGregor is more likely to come from the criminal justice system than the UFC, and I don't think there's anything wrong with that. McGregor committed criminal assault last weekend, injuring innocent people and needlessly terrifying others, while reinforcing negative stereotypes about mixed martial arts. The way he conducts himself is wrong — morally wrong — and it's time for his fans to stop making excuses for him. Being authentic about who you are is not a good thing when who you are is an asshole.

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