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Conor McGregor's identity crisis is his next problem

Kevin Iole
Combat columnist
Conor McGregor reached a plea deal on assault charges stemming from an April incident in which he threw objects at a charter bus full of UFC fighters and employees. (Getty Images)

In 1988, not long after his marriage with Robin Givens had crumbled and he’d signed a deal with promoter Don King, Mike Tyson showed up at a fight in Las Vegas and declared himself a promoter.

He was, ahem, co-promoting a Julio Cesar Chavez fight with King and didn’t want to do interviews about his career.

“I don’t want to talk about me,” Tyson said. “I’m a promoter. I want to talk about my fight. Hopefully, I’m going to make a few dollars. Not that making money is a problem. My problem is in having money.”

That line – “My problem is in having money.” – came to mind Thursday as Conor McGregor left a Brooklyn courthouse a free man. McGregor entered into a plea agreement with prosecutors over his actions on April 5 a few days before UFC 223.

McGregor went berserk and threw a hand truck into a bus that was filled with UFC fighters who were returning to their hotel. McGregor faced felony charges, but according to the deal, the felony charges were dropped in exchange for a guilty plea to a misdemeanor disorderly conduct charge.

McGregor was ordered to pay restitution for the damage to the bus, perform community service and attend anger management classes. He was also prevented from coming within 500 feet of UFC fighters Michael Chiesa and Ray Borg, who were injured by shards of flying glass that occurred when the hand truck broke the bus window.

McGregor is the biggest name in combat sports now, and his return later this year against lightweight champion Khabib Nurmagomedov will essentially be a license to print money. It figures to become the first fight in UFC history to hit 2 million pay-per-view sales and will deliver a payday not all that unlike the one McGregor made last year for getting beaten up by Floyd Mayweather in a boxing match.

McGregor has shown up on Forbes’ list of the highest paid athletes in the last two years. He was fourth in the most recent poll, with earnings of $99 million, trailing only Mayweather ($285 million) and soccer stars Lionel Messi ($111 million) and Cristiano Ronaldo ($108 million). It’s pretty heady company.

But the year before, McGregor was tied for 24th on the list with earnings at $34 million.

He appears financially set for life, and his family as well. That’s how one loves to see the fight game work out. The fighters literally put their lives on the line and they deserve to take out much more than they give, even though it’s plainly obvious they give a lot.

McGregor remains one of the richest athletes on the planet, but he’s still got plenty of fight left in his MMA career — if he gets back in the Octagon. (REUTERS/Darren Staples)

McGregor is a brilliant talent, but he became rich beyond anyone’s wildest dreams because of his understanding of how to exploit the system. He entered the UFC in 2013 all but penniless and in less than three years was the biggest name in his sport.

As reporters, we don’t really know the fighters we cover as people. We see how they act in public and how they treat people, and it’s a small insight into who they really are, but it’s nothing more than that.

McGregor seemed like a good guy who did nice things for people and was affable to those he came into contact with and charitable to those in need.

Even after winning what then was the biggest fight of his life, stopping Eddie Alvarez to win the lightweight title at Madison Square Garden in 2016, McGregor was charming as he spoke about his son’s impending birth.

He didn’t seem at all like a hoodlum but like a thrilled expectant parent.

But he’s been accused of being involved with gangsters in Ireland and when he was late for a court hearing on speeding charges in Dublin, he mocked the judge by posting a photo on Instagram with the hashtag #relaxjudge.

Now, there is no proof he’s consorting with mobsters and being late for court is hardly the act of a hardened criminal, but flying across the Atlantic Ocean to attack a bus was in a different realm.

He cost several fighters bouts, fights that they desperately needed. Chiesa believes that if he hadn’t been injured, he’d have fought Nurmagomedov for the title that night when Max Holloway was yanked from the bout because of problems with his weight cut.

Chiesa was the highest-ranked lightweight on the card and believes he, not Al Iaquinta, would have gotten the bout had he not been injured by the spray of broken glass.

Borg had a piece of glass go into his eye. McGregor may yet face civil lawsuits from those injuries.

He was out of control, acting like a soccer hooligan, apparently intending to avenge a slight he felt Nurmagomedov committed against his friend and teammate, Artem Lobov.

At the time, UFC president Dana White was irate. When asked if he wanted to be in business with McGregor, White replied with a question of his own.

“Right now, no,” White said. “Do you want to be in business with Conor McGregor right now?”

Earlier, White said, “I think after this disgusting, despicable move, I think everybody’s relationship with Conor is not going to be great. … You want to grab 30 [expletive] friends, come down here and do what you did today? It’s disgusting. I don’t think anyone is going to be a huge Conor McGregor fan after this.”

He called McGregor and his associates “goons” and said they “didn’t care who they hit or who they hurt.”

McGregor didn’t act like this when he first joined the UFC. It’s only a recent phenomenon that only McGregor can explain. It sure does seem like more than a coincidence that his behavior has changed so dramatically as his income has risen.

His manager, Audie Attar, said Thursday that he’s been in talks with the UFC about a Nurmagomedov match, and said he expected those will intensify now that McGregor is a free man with no criminal record.

No doubt, if McGregor wants to fight, the UFC will have him and he’ll fight. The video of McGregor throwing the dolly through the bus window will be replayed over and over, adding pay-per-view sales each time it’s aired.

That’s how this works.

From a competitive standpoint, a Nurmagomedov-McGregor match figures to be extraordinary and will create huge interest. Who knows how McGregor will be able to deal with Nurmagomedov’s grappling, or if Nurmagomedov will be able to handle McGregor’s strikes enough to be able to get the fight to the ground. It has great intrigue because of all the variables, the primary of which was the attack on the bus.

I just hope that when he’s alone, McGregor does some soul-searching and that the man we see at his future public appearances is more like the charismatic, playful guy he once portrayed himself to be.

The Tony Soprano act doesn’t suit him and can only lead to bigger issues down the road.

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