Conor McGregor – the ‘Notorious’ face of the Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) – has once again found himself mired in controversy as serious allegations of sexual assault cast a shadow over his anticipated return to the sport.
Last week, the Irish mixed martial artist was accused of assaulting an unnamed woman at the Kaseya Center in Miami during Game 4 of the NBA finals. In a demand letter, attorney Ariel Mitchell described her client’s alleged encounter with McGregor, which took place in the VIP men’s bathroom. The letter also claimed that McGregor was “aided and abetted by the NBA and Miami Heat Kaseya security.”
In a statement, Miami Heat revealed the organization is “aware of the allegations” and is “conducting a full investigation.” The NBA is assisting the Heat while the Miami Police revealed it is investigating a report filed Sunday.
Through a lawyer, McGregor said he has not been charged with a crime and denied the accusations and vowed “not be intimidated.”
The incident marks the latest in a long series of accusations, litigation, and criminal conduct on McGregor’s part. It is also the fourth time that McGregor has been accused of sexual assault in the last five years.
In March 2019, reports emerged that McGregor was under investigation in Ireland after a woman accused him of sexual assault in a Dublin penthouse the previous December. McGregor was arrested and questioned but was released pending further investigation. In October 2019, police received another complaint against McGregor from a woman who said he had sexually assaulted her in a car outside a Dublin pub. The UFC fighter denied both claims and did not face criminal charges in either case.
In September 2020, McGregor was detained and questioned by authorities on the French island of Corsica for alleged indecent exposure and sexual assault in a bar. He spent two days in custody. However, the case was later dropped due to lack of sufficient evidence.
McGregor was also sued in 2021 by the woman who accused him of raping her in Dublin. The woman filed the civil suit after prosecutors declined to pursue criminal charges against McGregor.
Despite the shadow of another sexual assault allegation, the UFC and ESPN remain reluctant to distance themselves from their controversial cash cow. Instead, the entities have opted to continue profiting from the 34-year-old’s presence by proceeding with Season 31 of The Ultimate Fighter, where McGregor is featured as a coach opposite another veteran mixed martial artist, Michael Chandler. The fourth episode of the season aired on Tuesday.
“The organization is aware of the recent allegations regarding Conor McGregor and will continue to gather additional details regarding the incident,” the UFC said in a statement last week. “UFC will allow the legal process to play out before making any additional statements.”
ESPN declined to respond to the Guardian’s request for comment.
For the UFC, a McGregor fight – which could take place later this year – will fatten its bottom line. The former UFC featherweight and lightweight champion has not fought in nearly two years due to a broken leg suffered during his bout against Dustin Poirier but he has headlined five of the six most profitable pay-per-view events in UFC history. And despite a lengthy layoff, McGregor remains the organization’s most recognizable star, for better or worse.
It is also worth noting that the UFC continues to generate record revenues. According to its parent company Endeavor’s SEC filings, the organization generated $1.4bn in revenue in 2022, nearly 40% more than the $890 million it reported in 2020, which was also the last time McGregor won a professional fight. The UFC is also expected to merge with the WWE into a new sports entertainment entity called TKO Group Holdings, which is expected to be valued at more than $20bn – a significant increase from the $4bn valuation the UFC achieved when it was purchased by Endeavor in 2016.
In light of the UFC’s continued success and profitability, the organization may no longer be in desperate need of McGregor’s services, which makes its continued links with him notable.
MMA is also a sport that has long been plagued by incidents of violence against women. In 2015, HBO’s Real Sports revealed that MMA fighters are arrested for domestic violence at more than double the average national rate. Since then, the sport has continued to serve up high-profile domestic assault cases. In 2021, UFC heavyweight champion Jon Jones was arrested following an alleged incident involving his wife while their children were present just hours after he was inducted into the UFC Hall of Fame. He was initially charged with domestic violence but the charge was dropped following a plea deal with prosecutors. Months later, former UFC champion Chuck Liddell was arrested following an alleged domestic violence incident involving his wife. No charges were filed due to a “lack of sufficient evidence.”
Most recently, UFC President Dana White was caught on camera in a physical altercation with his wife, Anne, at a New Year’s Eve party in Cabo San Lucas, Mexico. Footage showed Anne slapping White at a nightclub, which White returned before attempting to strike her again as others intervened. White later apologized for his actions but did not face any professional consequences.
While McGregor has not been accused of domestic violence, he has had his fair share of violent encounters away from the Octagon. In 2018, McGregor and his entourage attacked a bus carrying UFC fighters at the Barclays Center in Brooklyn. McGregor shattered the vehicle’s window with a hand dolly, injuring multiple fighters onboard. The former UFC champion later turned himself into the NYPD but reached a plea deal that saw his assault and felony criminal mischief charges dropped. The following year, McGregor pleaded guilty to assault after punching a pub customer who refused to drink a shot of his whiskey brand. McGregor was also accused of assaulting a woman on his yacht in Ibiza, Spain, in January 2022. McGregor denies the accusation and has not been charged.
The fact that the UFC, which clearly has an image problem when it comes to violence away from the fight area, is still happy to associate itself with McGregor raises questions about its priorities.
Besides, beyond his string of controversies, McGregor is no longer the fighter he once was. The Irishman has lost three of his last four bouts and has not won a fight in more than three years. The last time McGregor was able to string together consecutive victories was in 2016. The UFC’s fanbase appears to have caught on, as McGregor’s return to The Ultimate Fighter has not been the ratings success the organization anticipated.
Nevertheless, a potential McGregor fight in the foreseeable future will still garner more attention than anything else the UFC could offer in its place. The UFC would also never risk parting ways with McGregor when countless other organizations would jump at the opportunity to sign him. Given the UFC’s penchant for profit, it seems like wishful thinking to believe that the UFC would part ways with McGregor unless it absolutely had to.
As long as McGregor can continue to fight, you can expect the UFC to be there to promote it.