They had a chance to do the right thing, but they're taking the money instead.
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On Thursday afternoon, MMA fans got the kind of news we live for.
Breaking news stories about very big fights are one of the few rewards bestowed upon those who—for reasons I can rarely explain—have decided the pain and suffering of being a mixed martial arts fan is worth it. We endure countless disappointments because, every once in a blue moon, something happens that is genuinely exciting.
These moments, sparse as they are, serve as a kind of lode star on the horizon that gets us through endless UFC Fight Night: No Shit, This Is a Real Fucking City events as we anticipate the coming of a big fight we aren’t embarrassed to tell our friends about.
Yesterday’s news of the finalization of a January 18 fight between Conor McGregor and Donald Cerrone is that kind of story.
Everyone seems mighty excited about it. I’d love to join in, to break down the fight, to debate who will win, to argue about the choice in weight class. But I just can’t do it. McGregor is still under investigation for multiple sexual assault incidents in Ireland, and instead of doing the right thing and letting those investigations play out to their conclusion, the UFC—desperate and greedy and arrogant as the day is long—are opting to promote a man who might be guilty of sexually assaulting women. Not one woman. Women.
I wish I could say I’m surprised. But we all know that when the UFC is given the choice between doing the right thing or the thing that will make them a fuckload of cash, they will always reach for that money. Always.
I wrote this in October:
Conor McGregor needs some help. He might need to spend some time in a different sort of cage. He is out of control, and not in the fun sort of way, but in the sort of way that leads to a morgue. And I’m not sure he can regain control on his own.
The problem with being rich and famous is that it attracts people who either want to exist in the orbit of such power or want to benefit from it. McGregor is surrounded by enablers because enablers are the only people he permits in his circle. Those who defy him quickly find themselves excluded and cast aside. Even his family abides by his rules.
The UFC has been awfully quick to gloss over McGregor’s incidents in the past. But they can’t do it this time. I get how desperate they are for stars—and McGregor’s drawing power dwarves the rest of the UFC roster, perhaps even combined—but continuing in the McGregor business isn’t just a blight on their corporate reputation.
It is also a public affirmation that they have zero regard for how his story might end, so long as they can milk it dry before its conclusion.
McGregor may be an innocent man. Sure, there are plenty of famous people who don’t find themselves wrapped up in rape allegations, but maybe he’s just a real unlucky celebrity? His innocence or guilt is hardly the point right now, anyway. The point is that we don’t know. When he steps in the Octagon on January 18, we will not know.
If this were any run of the mill fighter with no drawing power, the UFC would not have booked them in a fight; they likely would have terminated their contract.
And ESPN shares the blame. Because they are the UFC’s sole pay per view and broadcasting partner, they possess an enormous level of power and say over what happens on these broadcasts. If ESPN had any sort of conflicting feelings about promoting McGregor, the fight would not happen. Full stop.
But if the network’s gleeful embrace of domestic abuser Greg Hardy weren’t enough to show their true colors, all you need to do is make one visit to ESPN.com’s MMA section today—where you will find no less than eight feature stories focusing on the fight—for reality to sink in.
Prizefighting is a business, and yes, it is sometimes a sport. The end goal is to make money. But it’s how you make your money that defines who you are as a company and what your legacy will be. This story, like so many others, shows that the UFC and the people they are in bed with don’t give a single solitary fuck how they make their money. They only care that they make it at all.
That is a legacy. But it’s a legacy usually reserved for the greedy, the unethical, the arrogant and the depraved.