Conor McGregor was always the life of the party, but is the party nearing an end?

·Combat columnist

LAS VEGAS — The euphoria that would normally follow a surprise Thanksgiving Day announcement that Conor McGregor had signed to fight Donald Cerrone was mysteriously absent on Thursday when the UFC confirmed the news that the ex-featherweight and lightweight champion would return to meet “Cowboy” in the main event of UFC 246 at T-Mobile Arena on Jan. 18.

There were some complaints that McGregor will fight Cerrone instead of — insert your choice of Khabib Nurmagomedov, Tony Ferguson, Justin Gaethje, Jorge Masvidal, Nate Diaz or Dustin Poirier here — and would also do it at welterweight instead of at lightweight.

Others aren’t thrilled with Cerrone as the opponent because they see him as on the back side of his career, having lost two in a row while taking significant punishment throughout his legendary career.

Those, though, are the usual debates that occur when any fight gets made. There are thousands of would-be matchmakers making their opinions heard on social media, but it’s just louder because McGregor is the biggest star in the history of the sport and one of the biggest stars in sports, period.

Then there are those who are outraged by McGregor’s recent behavior, which to be kind has frequently been repugnant. The most notable was his 2018 attack on a bus in Brooklyn, but he also smashed a fan’s cellphone when the man took a photo of him; punched a man seated at a bar who declined a shot of his whiskey; and scores of traffic violations.

Most troubling, though, are the allegations of sexual assault that have been levied against him.

Mixed martial arts (MMA) fighter Conor McGregor speaks to the media as he exits the court after appearing in the Brooklyn court on charges of assault stemming from a melee, in the Brooklyn borough of New York City, U.S., July 26, 2018. REUTERS/Eduardo Munoz
Conor McGregor speaks to the media after appearing in the Brooklyn court on charges of assault stemming from a melee, in the Brooklyn borough of New York City, on July 26, 2018. (Reuters/Eduardo Munoz)

The New York Times reported in March McGregor is under investigation by Irish authorities for a sexual assault. He was questioned by Irish police for that in January, but no official reason was given so as to comply with Irish law. We don’t know if he was a witness or the target of the investigation.

In October, the Times followed with a report quoting “people familiar with the matter” that McGregor was under investigation for a second sexual assault.

He hasn’t been charged in connection with either of those cases and, in accordance with Irish law, he hasn’t even been named. There had been whispers in the fight community going back to last December that a “high-profile Irish sports star” had been involved in some sort of assault, but McGregor wasn’t associated with that until the Times made its first report on March 26.

McGregor became such an iconic figure in the MMA because he was so fun, and so real. He loved to fight and would do so anywhere versus anyone under just about any circumstance, showing up even if he were injured or didn’t have enough time to train.

He had a great sense of humor and loved to shoot the breeze over a cold beer. That’s the guy the world fell in love with and couldn’t wait to watch fight every few months.

He’s a lot less appealing, though, and the jokes and the laughs end pretty quickly when he goes from a great fighter who loves his beer to one who is alleged to have sexually assaulted multiple women.

There are three possibilities here:

The most chilling and disturbing is that McGregor committed one or both of the acts and sexually assaulted at least one of the women, if not both.

The second is that something occurred between McGregor and the women that, while distasteful, may not have risen to the level of a sexual assault.

The third is that the allegations are false.

If he is guilty of either, or both, of the sexual assault allegations, he deserves to spend time in jail.

But whenever these cases arise involving high-profile people, whether they’re athletes, politicians or celebrities of any stripe, opinions on what should occur are more extreme and positions are hardened.

What we should want to happen in these cases is for the truth to come out and for justice to be done. What we don’t want is for McGregor to get off because of his celebrity. Just as much, though, we don’t want him treated more harshly for that very reason.

Given that he has not been charged in either assault case, there is no legal or even moral/ethical grounds for him not to fight. He has the right to pursue a living and fighting is one of the ways he earns his living.

Sep 20, 2018; New York, NY, USA; Conor McGregor speaks during a press conference for UFC 229 at Radio City Music Hall. Mandatory Credit: Noah K. Murray-USA TODAY Sports
Conor McGregor speaks during a press conference for UFC 229 at Radio City Music Hall. (Noah K. Murray-USA Today Sports)

He’s making a surprisingly good living beyond the fight game, with both his Proper 12 whiskey as well as his August McGregor clothing line. It’s partly why he hasn’t fought since being submitted by Nurmagomedov on Oct. 6, 2018. He’s made generational money already in the fight game, and who wants to abuse one’s body in the way it takes to prepare for a bout at the highest level with tens of millions in the bank and more coming in each month?

At his core, though, McGregor is a fighter. It provides his identity. It gives him a purpose. Other than slinging back a cold one while telling a story, it’s what he loves to do more than anything else.

The fight with Cerrone is the perfect one for both of them at this point. By fight night, McGregor will have fought just one MMA fight in the preceding 38 months, a one-sided loss to Nurmagomedov. He doesn’t deserve a bout against the best of the best, nor is he ready for that yet.

Cerrone is an entertaining fighter who will guarantee there are fireworks, no matter how this one ends.

The story won’t end with the outcome of one fight, though.

We’re OK with him when he’s the beer-guzzling life of the party who also happens to be the baddest man in town. We’re a lot less OK with it if his fun turns to sexual assault.

The investigations, wherever they stand, seem to be proceeding very slowly.

While it’s natural to want closure as quickly as possible, we also want the investigations to be thorough and complete and get to the truth.

The excitement that percolates to the surface quickly when a McGregor fight is announced isn’t there, I suspect, because many of us are holding our breath to see how this ultimately plays out.

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