Punching Out Gangsters, Jumping in Competitor’s Cages: Can UFC Reign Conor McGregor In?

Conor McGregor
Conor McGregor Credit: Idris Elba/Mayweather Promotions

Punching out gangsters and jumping in competitor’s cages: where does Conor McGregor go from here? And what if anything can the UFC do to reign him in?

A lifetime or so ago (or earlier this year, actually), I argued that Conor McGregor was a monster of the UFC’s own making. Risen from the primordial soup of the regional Irish scene, all the way to the UFC, where an opportunistic promoter like Dana White, a modern-day P.T. Barnum, could neither turn him away, nor control him. Getting his start in promotions and events that sound silly even by MMA standards (K.O.: The Fight Before Christmas), we all know where McGregor wound up: in the ‘Money Fight’ — boxing’s modern-day version of Ali vs. Inoki. Along the way he was the UFC’s first two-division champion.

McGregor has hit the big time, and when he’s not rushing into Bellator’s cage and causing a ruckus with ref Marc Goddard, and punching out Irish gangsters, he sometimes moonlights as the UFC’s lightweight champion. The problem is, he’s so out of control, he may as well appear in the new Rampage movie alongside The Rock. No, not as Dwayne Johnson’s co-star, but rather as one of the monsters.

Rock star behavior is befitting of rock stars, and to some extent, McGregor is one. He’s larger than life. He is, as he wryly noted recently, “The Celebrity.”

Of course, that was following unconfirmed (though they seem rather confirmed now) reports that he had laid hands on associates of Ireland’s Kinahan cartel. The initial stories simply referred to an Irish “celebrity” who had crossed paths with the mob. Bloody Elbow did one of the few responsible rundowns of the allegations, which you can read here. Dana White would later respond by saying “I don’t think it’s true, because if it were true, it would be big” which is far from a denial, but probably more diplomatic. Secretly, rest assured that he is concerned. His biggest star seems to have a knack for landing himself in hot water lately. At least he’s not sharing supplements with Jon Jones. Or d*** pills.

In any case, the most recent McGregor rumors are concerning, especially given there seems to be at least some truth to them. And because of the rather serious nature of the gang involved.

The Kinahan gang, a better term than “cartel,” has undertaken something of a bloody war against the rival Hutch gang in the Republic of Ireland over the past few years, resulting in at least ten bodies piling up. While punching out anyone associated with being a career lowlife should probably be lauded, it’s not the safest or smartest of moves. Coincidentally, Kinahan gang patriarch Christy Kinahan’s sons Daniel and Christopher Jr. are both involved in combat sports, as boxing promoters.

Various tabloids have since reported that the gang is looking for a $1 million payment following the Crumlin bar brawl, which involved McGregor, Kinahan associate Graham ‘The Wig’ Whelan, and others. Take those reports with a very big grain of salt. Smart mobsters (which may be an oxymoron) generally don’t advertise what they’re doing.

Then there’s the aforementioned Bellator 187 kerfuffle, in which McGregor jumped in the cage to celebrate with teammate Charlie Ward, only to lash out at ref Marc Goddard when instructed to vacate the area. Goddard and McGregor have something of a history: Goddard, who is British, actually stopped the Artem Lobov vs. Andre Fili fight at UFC Gdansk to order McGregor (who was circling the octagon and essentially coaching teammate Lobov) back to his seat. McGregor was not a cornerman for that bout, either.

These are the actions of a fighter out of control, and the UFC has only itself to blame — albeit understandably. No way does any fight promotion shun a star of McGregor’s magnitude. And there is some upside to McGregor’s ability to wrestle control away from the promoter: while he may be the first, he won’t be the last. Yet at this point, what if anything can they do to fix all this?

Very little. Which is why Dana White was downplaying everything in the week leading up to the TUF 26 finale and UFC 218. “Conor might never fight again” White said (via MMA Junkie), knowing full well that the UFC will do everything in their power to ensure that isn’t the case. Still, once again, the shadow of McGregor hung over the promotion despite the fact that it’s been over a year since he had a fight in the octagon.

Here’s the takeaway: Can the UFC reign McGregor in? Probably not. His name carries more value, for now, than their initials. That said, the UFC shouldn’t have to reign McGregor in. Within reason, they don’t even want to. It would be, however, the perfect time for McGregor’s friends and family, for the star’s inner circle, to have a little heart-to-heart. Until then? Lets hope he doesn’t crash and burn.