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McGregor’s Fight is Beyond the Ring

Among the headlines on my news feed today: “Should Conor McGregor be banned from UFC for life?” Which begs the question: For what? For being Conor McGregor? For doing more or less exactly what we would expect from Conor McGregor, the type of behavior that Dana White and UFC used to promote their brand for years?

Let’s be accurate, lest we be called fake news. McGregor doesn’t do this sort of thing every day. But hearing that McGregor and friends ambushed a bus as it arrived at Barclay’s Center in Brooklyn for a UFC promotional event, breaking windows and causing several injuries, didn’t exactly elicit surprise from anyone who has been paying attention. Human behavior tends to occur along a bell curve that forms around our basic character. Most of us spend the bulk of our time within a range of activities that conform loosely to the bounds of common sense or basic decency. On a bad day, when we drink too much, or decide the world has screwed us one time too many, we show the worst of ourselves, but even that means saying something we instantly regret or grinding our teeth and pounding the table. For most of us, those types of responses lie at the far-left side of our bell curve; the worst behavior that can be expected from us unless we are pushed beyond some sort of breaking point that, in normal circumstances, lies beyond the scope of our imagination.

Compare that to Conor McGregor. He makes his living at a sport in which the basic objective is to beat another person into submission as quickly as possible. Even within that realm, McGregor has gained a reputation as a bad boy, one time jumping into the ring during a fight that did not involve him and assaulting the referee. There’s also his racist taunts during the buildup to the Floyd Mayweather fight and numerous other statements that reek of racism and misogynism. That may all be part of cultivating an image, but if a man is comfortable with that image, that says a lot. Like the rest of us, McGregor can only be judged by what he says and does, and his history has shown him to be a thug and a dick.

When the center of your bell curve is where McGregor’s is, trashing a bus and assaulting people isn’t as far to the left as it is for the rest of us. We know that violence comes naturally to him because we’ve seen him fight. We also know that it doesn’t take much to set him off. So, whether he was drunk, pissed at Dana White for stripping him of the title he had never bothered to defend, or pushed over the edge by some other contrived grievance, this incident seems blandly predictable.

What happens now? There’s a legal process still to play out. Then, inevitably, the marketing begins, unless you actually believe that McGregor’s career will end as a result of this. A more likely outcome would be that he continues to find ways to market himself without actually fighting anyone, at least in UFC. But let’s assume that at some point McGregor no longer has any legal encumbrances and that he and Dana White are both interested in McGregor resuming his career. Will he come back as the prodigal son, seeking redemption? Or will he double down on the badass persona, daring us to be repulsed but knowing that enough of us will be seduced to assure him of another huge payday?

This matters as much for UFC as it does for McGregor. Probably more, in fact. For all its warts, UFC has threaded the needle between boxing and WWE by maintaining one thing that neither of those has: credibility. When you tune in to watch a UFC fight, you know it’s legit, and that the man or woman who won did so because he or she was the better fighter on that night. Violence doesn’t bother us, but bullshit does. Most of us can’t name a boxing champion because bullshit took that sport over, and Conor McGregor’s career, even before this fiasco, was beginning to be more about bullshit than fighting. If that doesn’t change, and if Dana White can’t stop McGregor from being the face of UFC, it could be the first step for UFC down the same road that ruined boxing.

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