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Conor McGregor arrest: Why did he attack Khabib’s bus and where does this leave Dana White and the UFC?

Opinion: This was no preordained PR stunt. Once again McGregor completely lost control, with a return to the UFC now looking more unlikely than ever

Luke Brown
Sunday 08 April 2018 14:58 BST
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Conor McGregor appears to attack a coach carrying UFC fighters at the Barclays Centre in New York

Dana White has been the bombastic president of the UFC since January 2001, and is not a man given to bouts of quiet introspection. But on Thursday afternoon, fresh from witnessing Conor McGregor hurl a metal sack barrow through the window of a bus containing several of his fighters — injuring two — he could not hide the shock and disappointment in his voice.

“This is the most disgusting thing that has ever happened in the history of the company, and there is a warrant out for McGregor’s arrest,” he said quietly, having been ushered into a nondescript backroom at Brooklyn’s Barclays Center, while McGregor and his group of goons fled the scene of the crime in a blacked out SUV.

“The police are looking for him right now,” White continued. “His plane cannot take off, he cannot leave the state of New York with this warrant. He’ll be grounded, and I’m assuming eventually if they don’t catch him, he’ll turn himself in. You can imagine he’s going to be sued beyond belief and this was a real bad career move for him.”

It is testament to the frankly unsustainable level of influence that McGregor holds over the UFC that the first sign his career could be in some form of mild peril was not when he decided to endanger the health of his fellow athletes, but when White finally decided to stop defending the superstar he has backed to the hilt on so many previous occasions.

His message was clear: McGregor has to sort out this mess on his own.

And what a mess it is. Video footage appears to show White’s most bankable star throwing everything from a sack barrow to an aluminium rubbish bin at the bus full of fighters, injuring at least two scheduled to compete on Saturday. McGregor was supposedly attempting to confront long-term rival Khabib Nurmagomedov, who was involved in a minor altercation with one of his training partners earlier this week.

Having initially made a run for it, the New York Police Department announced that McGregor had surrendered to police at the department's 78th Precinct late on Thursday night. He was charged with three counts of assault and one count of criminal mischief by the NYPD and will appear at Brooklyn Criminal Court after 9.30am local time (14.30 GMT).

Conor McGregor lost all control on Thursday afternoon (Getty)

Contrary to the conspiracy theories that immediately began to do the rounds, the whole sorry saga is nothing short of a nightmare for the UFC. McGregor is by far the biggest star in the sport; the first man in the history of the promotion to simultaneously hold titles in two different weight classes, responsible for four of the six highest selling pay-per-views in the company’s history. He is also arguably the UFC’s sole remaining crossover star, recognisable to MMA fans and non-fans alike.

But he hasn't appeared for the UFC since November 2016, instead deciding to move into boxing for a lucrative fight with Floyd Mayweather, and was this week stripped by White of the 155-pound championship he had never defended. The UFC has been eagerly anticipating his move back into the sport — and the money that will bring — but White’s insistence that McGregor “would return this year” now looks desperately unlikely.

And then there are the wider ramifications of McGregor’s actions. Three fights have now been scrapped from UFC 223 as a result of the incident, at a difficult time in the calendar when the promotion desperately needs this event to succeed. Artem Lobov — McGregor’s training partner and close friend — was the first to go, his bout with Alex Caceres scrapped by White in response to his involvement in the bus attack.

Artem Lobov was also involved in the attack (Getty)

Next it was announced that popular lightweight Michael Chiesa would be unable to make his fight with Anthony Pettis as a result of the injuries he sustained in the altercation. Chiesa was standing directly next to the window McGregor lobbed the sack barrow through, resulting in several cuts to his face and upper body.

“A decision was made by the New York State Athletic Commission to pull me from UFC 223,” Chiesa later tweeted. “I'm devastated to say the least. Anthony, I hope to run this match up ASAP. June 9th in your backyard. That's all I have to say for now. Much love.”

Flyweight Ray Borg also was injured in the wake of the McGregor attack, with glass fragments reportedly damaging his eye. It was soon announced that his fight with Brandon Moreno was also off, robbing UFC 223 of yet another scheduled bout.

McGregor is no stranger to controversy (Zuffa LLC via Getty Images)

Such was the fallout that the UFC felt compelled to issue an official statement on the mayhem, an unusual move considering the months of tactical silence over McGregor’s inactivity and stubborn refusal to defend his lightweight title. “The organisation deems today's disruption completely unacceptable and is currently working on the consequences that will follow,” they said.

“Individuals involved in the incident are not welcome at tomorrow's ceremonial weigh-in or Saturday's event at Barclays Center.”

White elaborated further as the dust began to settle. He admitted that McGregor was now unlikely to fight again this year, as had been planned, while wondering aloud whether the Irishman was using drugs. Such raw disappointment in his cash cow made clear just how ambiguous McGregor’s current status with the promotion is, while also rebutting those who immediately insisted the whole row had to be some sort of preordained PR stunt.

McGregor now faces an anxious wait to learn his punishment — both from the police and the UFC. White has also warned him to expect several lawsuits. “I know a handful of people here already that are filing lawsuits against him,” he added. “God knows how many he's going to have by the time this is done.”

As for the UFC, Saturday night will proceed as planned with lightweight contender Nurmagomedov due to face Max Holloway in a showdown for McGregor's belt, which he won in 2016 but never defended. But shorn of three fighters and with their biggest star now further than ever from returning to the Octagon, these are precarious days for the promotion.

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