Is Conor McGregor ‘Bigger Than the Sport of MMA?’

Conor McGregor pushed his weight around in Dublin at last nights Bellator 187 card, charging towards a referee and slapping a commissioner in the face

If this was any other fighter, observers would be confident of seeing a harsh punishment passed down.

Conor McGregor is no ordinary fighter, however.

The UFC lightweight champion is as close to a household name as any mixed martial artist will ever get and can boast a legion of fans across the globe. As a multi-millionaire and celebrity of epic proportions, “The Notorious” wields a power unprecedented in the sport. One might say that he is MMA’s biggest star, given the decline of Ronda Rousey and Jon Jones. Rousey, arguably, was the only fighter to ever reach similar heights in the public eye.

McGregor, however, showed a side which crossed over to the reckless last night as he jumped the cage following SBG Ireland teammate Charlie Ward’s victory at the 3 Arena in Dublin on Friday night. Referee Marc Goodard pushed the UFC lightweight champion away in order to assert his authority but was met by a backlash from the 29-year-old which culminated in McGregor chasing him around the cage.

While the scenes did little to enhance McGregor’s image as a role model, many found it entertaining. It is this form of ‘entertainment’ which initially drew eyes to the young Irishman in the UFC and paved the way for a series of lucrative pay-per-view events which made him a star.

Mike Mazzulli recently commented that Conor McGregor “is not bigger than the sport of MMA” which seemed to spell trouble for the Dublin native. The Mohegan Tribe Department of Athletic Regulation(MTDAR) (where Mazzulli holds the office of director) is not planning to take action against McGregor for the incident last night, however:

“While the Mohegan Tribe Department of Athletic Regulation (MTDAR) was regulating Bellator 187 in Dublin, Ireland, on November 10, 2017, the following events took place during the Ward vs Redmond bout,” read the statement.

“Mr. Conor McGregor who was a spectator at the time, disrupted the event by scaling the cage prior to the conclusion of the bout. Mr. McGregor’s conduct jeopardized the health and safety of the bout participants by delaying necessary medical attention to the fighters that were injured during the round.

“In addition, Mr. McGregor assaulted Referee Mark Goddard and a Bellator staff (via MMAJunkie).”

Goddard released a statement following the fracas which appeared to show him in a very respectable light. Despite being appointed to a position of authority and one which carries a duty of care, McGregor certainly challenged it without question. Goddard did not attack the UFC megastar or indicate that he would be seeking to see McGregor punished for his actions:

“I operate with integrity, belief, and values. I hold MMA in a deep-rooted place in my life and have considered myself most fortunate to have done so for so long. Family first. Everything else second. Respect,” Goodard wrote on Twitter.

As for the consequences of McGregor hopping the cage? They are yet to be decided. Other fighters who have had similar experiences with referees have been punished in the past. Jason High was hit with a one-year suspension and fine by the New Mexico State Athletic Commission following his altercation with referee Kevin Mulhall following a loss to Rafael dos Anjos in 2014. High was then released by the promotion by Dana White:

“I don’t care how mad you are, how upset you are,” White said during a scrum with reporters following a media day for UFC 174 in Vancouver. “You don’t touch a referee ever. Unforgivable. Don’t come back, ever.

“I heard – I didn’t even see it – that he put his hands on a referee. Done,” White said. “You touched a referee. Done. Over. That’s worse than what (Paul) Daley did to (Josh) Koscheck.”

Ok, granted McGregor was not involved in a fight when he pushed Goddard but the sentiment is still the same. A referee is there to protect fighters and ensure a level playing field. Did McGregor interrupt in the referee’s duty here?

Former UFC heavyweight Roy Nelson bagged himself a nine-month suspension by the Brazilian Superior Justice Court of MMA for kicking referee “Big” John McCarthy following his win over Antonio “Bigfoot” Silva at UFC Fight Night 95 in Brasilia. That suspension was reduced to six months following an apology by Nelson but it left a stain on his name.

There is little confidence that a fighter of McGregor’s stature will receive anything remotely close to significant punishment. Afterall, the Irishman is no ordinary mixed martial artist and just might be bigger than the sport of MMA right now…