Another Conor controversy: Welcome to UFC 257 fight week | Opinion

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Dave Doyle
·4 min read
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It wouldn’t be a Conor McGregor fight week without controversy.

McGregor (22-4 MMA, 10-2 UFC) and Dustin Poirier will square off in the lightweight main event of UFC 257 on Saturday in Abu Dhabi, and the stakes in both competitors’ careers are major.

Can the former UFC lightweight and featherweight champion make a statement that he’s got his head on straight and has one more title run left in him? Can Poirier, who was knocked out in less than two minutes by McGregor in their 2014 fight, cap his own rise by removing an old blemish from his record? How will UFC president Dana White’s teenage crush-like thirst to lure retired lightweight champ Khabib Nurmagomedov back to presumably fight the winner loom over the week.

Ever since the UFC arrived in Abu Dhabi last week, the hype has steadily built. For better or worse, McGregor’s events are still the biggest in mixed martial arts, the ones that get the rest of the mainstream sports world to pay attention in a way he alone can command, at least since Ronda Rousey retired.

Then came Tuesday’s news that McGregor has been been named in a multimillion-dollar lawsuit in his homeland of Ireland stemming from a December 2018 sexual assault allegation, and we were reminded that whenever McGregor resurfaces, baggage is certain to follow.

In this case, a woman filed a personal injury suit against McGregor, and her mother filed a separate claim. The details of the case, as reported by the New York Times, are not pretty. We’re not casting judgment either way on the merits of this specific case. The timing of the news, right as the week’s media hype begins, was clearly meant to maximize attention, and it has succeeded in that regard.

But this is also far from the first time McGregor’s name has popped up in the press for the wrong reasons. There was the infamous April 2018 assault on a bus transporting Nurmagomedov and several others from a UFC 223 media day in Brooklyn. The arrest in Miami after taking a fan’s phone outside a hotel and stomping it. The time he allegedly punched an old man in a Dublin bar soon thereafter. The pair of New York Times reports in 2019 that he was under investigation for sexual assault. An arrest in France for yet another assault claim.

Conor McGregor at UFC 246. (Mark J. Rebilas, USA TODAY Sports)

Maybe this is just a long string of “mo’ money, mo’ problems” coincidences, gold diggers coming out of the woodwork at every turn. Or maybe where there’s smoke, there’s fire.

We can already be reasonably sure what the UFC will do about this. We got our answer once and for all when Endeavor took footage of McGregor’s criminal acts in New York and used it to build the biggest fight in the history of the promotion, McGregor’s fourth-round submission loss to Nurmagomedov at UFC 229.

And, yes, the media plays a role, too, and we’d be hypocritical if we didn’t acknowledge it. That McGregor brings the biggest traffic to MMA websites is hardly a state secret. If you consider for a moment that White, a week into this “Fight Island” stint, has yet to be pushed on his support of Donald Trump in the wake of Trump fomenting an insurrection on our nation’s capitol on Jan. 6, then you can be sure a significant portion of the media will be a bit too content to simply pass along whatever statement is released about McGregor’s situation and continue with the rest of the week as if it never happened.

The truth of the matter is that the fight business is amoral, one in which those who generate the most revenue often have an unsavory side, and sometimes the more trouble in which they get, the more popular they become.

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Consider the magnitude of Mike Tyson’s fights after the former heavyweight champion served time in an Indiana penitentiary for rape. Or that Floyd Mayweather made money that left even the LeBron James and Ronaldos of the sports world in his dust after he did a stint in jail for domestic violence.

Give the fans a fight they want to see, and they’ll watch. The people are not going into this expecting people who concuss one another for a living to be choir boys. McGregor vs. Poirier might be the most significant rematch held with as much distance between the two fights as this sport has ever seen, and it has the potential to be a sensational fight.

But the difference between McGregor and his superstar boxing peers is that the others seriously were held to account by the legal system at some point along the way for their transgressions. Tyson has rehabbed his image to the point he’s considered a lovable grandfatherly figure, and Mayweather, if nothing else, hasn’t been back in serious trouble.

As yet another accusation comes down against “The Notorious,” without repercussion, you can’t help but wonder where this is all headed.