No, the Conor McGregor melee wasn't staged. Yes, the UFC will capitalize on it

Dan WetzelColumnist
Yahoo Sports
Conor McGregor attacks a bus carrying fighters in UFC 223. (Screen shot)
Conor McGregor attacks a bus carrying fighters in UFC 223. (Screen shot)

There are few, if any, sports organizations that do a better job producing in-house video content than the UFC through its “Embedded” series. It’s become a chief promotional tool for the company.

On Friday, it released an episode that focused heavily on Conor McGregor and his merry band of “goons” (as Dana White described them) storming of the Barclays Center in Brooklyn and carrying out an attack on a bus carrying Khabib Nurmagomedov.

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McGregor, in an effort to express his great displeasure with Nurmagomedov for challenging a member of his team earlier in the week, had flown his private jet all the way from Ireland. Unable to confront Nurmagomedov, McGregor threw a dolly, a steel barrier and a chair at the bus, smashing windows, causing injuries inside the bus and creating general tumult.

He was arrested and arraigned on Friday and is likely facing some jail time, potentially up to seven years. We’ll see. He’s due back in court on June 14 in New York.

The “Embedded” episode showed the attack in ways that grainy cellphone videos couldn’t. It was crystal clear, perfectly produced and built the drama up. It was pretty riveting.

That the UFC quickly released a promotional video of this supposed terrible moment further raised (for those forever skeptical or critical of the UFC) two questions that are related but not precisely linked.

1. Was this all staged?
2. Does this assure McGregor and Nurmagomedov will fight?

The answers?
1. No.
2. Probably.

The UFC has a long and colorful history of pushes, punches, thrown water bottles, toppled staging and weigh-in mayhem that has helped draw interest and pay-per-view buys to its fights. These are cage fighters, after all. They aren’t exactly looking to talk out their disputes.

If these incidents are forced at times, well, they are mostly harmless and the act of fighters trying to drum up their careers. The UFC isn’t choreographing this stuff. It doesn’t exactly discourage it, but this isn’t pro wrestling.

McGregor’s antics are clearly the act of McGregor and McGregor alone.

Even if you don’t believe the UFC would never conduct itself as such, consider that this would make no sense for the company.

Nurmagomedov is fighting Al Iaquinta, not McGregor on Saturday’s UFC 223 (ordering information conveniently scrolls on the bottom of the video).

Presumably there is more attention on the UFC now than if McGrgeor hadn’t gone bananas, but if you’re going to pull out this wild of a trick then you wait until the McGregor-Nurmagomedov fight is booked. After all, Iaquinta could win Saturday. It’s cage fighting, anything can happen. That’s the fun part of the sport.

McGregor could have also injured Nurmagomedov, causing further damage to UFC 223. Lightweight Michael Chiesa was pulled from the card due to lacerations to his face, which are clearly shown in “Embedded.” What if that was Nurmagomedov? Or women’s strawweight champion Rose Namajunas, who is in the co-main event and likely the most commercial fight of the night? Namajunas was, apparently, shook up by the attack.

There is just no way the UFC would risk its 223 card for some possible surge in sales. There would also be potential lawsuits from the injured fighters and the Barclays Center for doing so, which not only would be costly but would expose the whole thing and crush the sport’s credibility.

Conor McGregor (L) stands with his lawyer Jim Walden during his arraignment in Brooklyn Criminal Court on Friday in New York. McGregor is facing criminal charges in the wake of a backstage melee. (AP)
Conor McGregor (L) stands with his lawyer Jim Walden during his arraignment in Brooklyn Criminal Court on Friday in New York. McGregor is facing criminal charges in the wake of a backstage melee. (AP)

Then there is the fact it took place in a public building, which resulted in McGregor getting arrested. A judge in Brooklyn, not Dana White, now controls his future. Here’s guessing the judge doesn’t care about the UFC and is quite willing to make an example of a rich, famous guy who came all the way to America just to beat people up.

Considering the video available, McGregor’s defense is going to be … well, there isn’t much of one. He’s going to have to plead guilty and hope it minimizes the jail time.

If this was staged, it was a terrible idea. It would have been better to wait until Nurmagomedov got through UFC 223 and then have Conor throw things around the UFC Performance Center in Las Vegas, where it could remain a private incident and not a matter for law enforcement.

It just wasn’t staged. Conspiracy theories can be fun, but they are rarely true. This was real.

All of that said … while the UFC wasn’t happy with what happened, it is still the UFC. Of course it is going to put out a high-quality video of the incident and milk it for whatever it can. And while it is possible that White bans McGregor for life or something, it sure doesn’t seem likely.

Why would he? There’s a fear that other fighters will try to duplicate McGregor’s actions, which drove him to popularity and commercial success. The jail time should be deterrent enough on that, though.

As for the ethics of excusing this stuff, well, if what you seek is moral guidance, maybe consider looking for it in places other than the actions of America’s preeminent cage fighting operation. Just a thought.

McGregor and Nurmagomedov want to fight. The people, especially now, want to see them fight. The UFC can clean up selling this fight.

One of the challenges of the UFC since November 2016, when McGregor last competed, is trying to find a fight he’s motivated to take. He wants the right opponent for the right money and even skipped off to box Floyd Mayweather (with the UFC taking a nice cut of action) instead of defending his UFC belts.

About the only potential McGregor opponent with any kind of box office draw is Nate Diaz. The two could meet in a trilogy fight, each currently owns a victory, and push maybe 2 million pay-per-view buys.

Nurmagomedov has been out there, but he has been unreliable in his career at making weight, isn’t a big name and, perhaps most notably, is an incredibly dangerous fighter. There were questions whether McGregor would even want to risk a beatdown from Khabib.

Apparently, he is.

So, no, it wasn’t staged, but man is this going to be a big fight when it eventually goes down.

More UFC 223 coverage on Yahoo Sports:

Kevin Iole: McGregor’s violent outburst could end his UFC career
Abdelaziz: McGregor scared of Nurmagomedov
Nurmagomedov finally set to break through

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