Conor McGregor responded to UFC President Dana White’s decision to strip him of his lightweight belt in typically understated fashion: by tweeting an unprintable insult, crashing a pre-fight media event, chucking a barricade and prompting a scene of general mayhem that left a fighter from Spokane injured and organizers stunned.
Citing “law enforcement sources,” News 4 in New York reports McGregor was arrested and is expected to be charged with assault after his role in Thursday’s fracas. According to several outlets, McGregor turned himself in to authorities.
White said that Shadle Park graduate Michael Chiesa, who was scheduled to fight in Saturday’s card, had been cut in the face and was in the hospital, and that Artem Lobov, a McGregor ally who was apparently part of the incident, would be pulled from the card. One of Chiesa’s coaches told ESPN’s Brett Okamoto that it was “50/50” whether Chiesa would be able to fight on Saturday, but later in the evening Chiesa tweeted that the New York State Athletic Commission had pulled him from the event.
“I’m devastated to say the least,” he tweeted.
Chiesa (14-3), who lives in Colbert and trains in Chicago, made his way into the UFC circuit after winning the first live season of Fox Sports’ “The Ultimate Fighter” reality show in 2012.
The 6-foot-1, 155-pound Chiesa hasn’t fought since June 25, losing to Kevin Lee in UFC Fight Night 112 in Oklahoma City. Chiesa lost via a controversial technical submission at the end of the first round. He appealed the decision, but was denied.
“I was in top form that night. I don’t want to let that go away,” Chiesa told The Spokesman-Review in July. “Once wedding season is over, it’s time to get back on the horse. I have a chip on my shoulder.”
Chiesa, 30, signed a four-fight deal with the UFC in August.
McGregor and his entourage approached a large vehicle full of fighters that was leaving Barclays Center in Brooklyn after the media event, according to MMA Fighting’s Ariel Helwani. “Chairs were thrown through the van window and one passenger on the van was injured,” Helwani reported, in an apparent reference to Chiesa.
Videos posted to social media show a chaotic scene, with at least one guardrail being flung and general disorder.
“Conor went bananas and put a beating on the van that we were in,” Chiesa’s coach Rick Little told MMAjunkie. “A million security guards had to restrain him. Mike’s cut up now. He’s got marks on him, for sure. I don’t think too serious. Everything happened so fast, it was just like we got jumped.”
Little told the site that his fighter had been cut by shattered glass.
White, meanwhile, called the incident the most despicable thing in UFC history, according to ESPN’s Okamoto.
“You want to grab 30 (expletive) friends and come down here and do what you did today?” White said in a video posted by Okamoto. “It’s disgusting. And I don’t think anybody is going to be huge Conor McGregor fans after this. I don’t know if he’s on drugs or what his deal is, but to come and do this and act like this?”
The drama started earlier this week, after White announced there would be “no interim champ” following Saturday’s scheduled lightweight main event between Max Holloway and Khabib Nurmagomedov.
“When this fight is over, champion,” White said at a news conference, gesturing to Nurmagomedov and Holloway. “One of these guys will be the champion.”
This news was not taken well by McGregor, the previous permanent holder of that title.
“You’s’ll (sic) strip me of nothing,” he tweeted very early Thursday morning, before calling UFC officials an unprintable word.
McGregor won the lightweight title by defeating Eddie Alvarez at UFC 205 in a November 2016 bout but stepped away from the octagon to train for last year’s lucrative boxing match against Floyd Mayweather. Ferguson stepped in to win an interim lightweight belt in McGregor’s absence, but White said Saturday’s bout between Nurmagomedov and Holloway will decide a new official champion.
“Tony Ferguson isn’t being stripped. The only person here who is losing a belt is Conor. Conor’s losing the belt, these two are fighting for the belt,” White said at the news conference.
“The interim belt that he had, those two (Nurmagomedov and Ferguson) were supposed to fight – doesn’t happen. One of these guys will be the champion. Tony is still the No. 1 contender.”
White insisted that McGregor “is coming back this year, 100 percent,” adding, “We’ll see how this thing plays out (with the lightweight title), and we’ll go from there.”
White later reiterated that stance on Fox Sports’ “UFC Tonight,” saying: “Conor does want to fight. Conor and I have been talking a lot. Conor does want to come back, he does want to fight, so he will fight this year.”
White wasn’t done with his somewhat surprising announcements Wednesday, asserting on “UFC Tonight” that former UFC heavyweight champion Brock Lesnar also will return to the octagon despite his past issues with failed drug tests.
“Brock Lesnar’s coming back,” White said. “I don’t know when, but yes, he is.”
Lesnar has not fought for White’s company since the infamous UFC 200 in July 2016, when he defeated Mark Hunt but later failed a pair of drug tests, leading to a lawsuit from Hunt. McGregor was supposed to have headlined that card, in a rematch with Nate Diaz, but White pulled the fight after the Irishman refused to break training for some promotional appearances.
A former UFC heavyweight champion and a major box-office draw, Lesnar had retired from MMA in 2011 and has been a pro-wrestling star with the WWE. Having retired again from MMA in February 2017, just weeks after receiving one-year bans from both the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency and the Nevada State Athletic Commission, Lesnar presumably would have to serve the remainder of his suspensions before being cleared to compete again for the UFC.
The contract between the 40-year-old Lesnar and the WWE is set to expire shortly after Sunday’s WrestleMania 34, at which he will take on Roman Reigns, and his recent flirtations with White have been viewed by some as simply attempts to gain leverage with the pro wrestling company. According to noted MMA reporter Helwani, though, a “deal is in place” with the UFC and both sides just need to “finalize” it.
With the departure of Ronda Rousey, the inability of Jon Jones to stay clean and McGregor’s lengthy absence, the UFC has lacked major star power over the past year and a half or so, although Georges St-Pierre’s long-awaited comeback has helped. The possible returns of McGregor – especially if he can be matched up with St-Pierre – and Lesnar could be just what the doctor ordered for White and Co., but MMA fans will be forgiven for preferring to believe it when they see it.
The Spokesman-Review staff writer Ryan Collingwood contributed to this report.
Local journalism is essential.
Give directly to The Spokesman-Review's Northwest Passages community forums series -- which helps to offset the costs of several reporter and editor positions at the newspaper -- by using the easy options below. Gifts processed in this system are not tax deductible, but are predominately used to help meet the local financial requirements needed to receive national matching-grant funds.
Subscribe to the sports newsletter
Get the day’s top sports headlines and breaking news delivered to your inbox by subscribing here.