UFC star Conor McGregor faces 12 criminal charges as a consequence of his bizarre and violent behavior during UFC 223 Media Day on Thursday at Barclays Center. McGregor and as many as two dozen of his associates—described as “hoodlums” by UFC president Dana White—unexpectedly gained access to the media event. While there, McGregor is shown on video hurling a hand dolly through the window of a bus containing other UFC fighters. Other objects, including chairs and rails, were also thrown during the ruckus.
At least two UFC fighters, Michael Chiesa and Ray Borg, apparently suffered significant injuries as a result of the attack. Chiesa’s face was lacerated and Borg suffered an eye injury. Both Chiesa and Borg will now miss their scheduled fights in UFC 223 on Saturday night. In an interview with MMAjunkie, White says McGregor also broke a UFC employee’s knuckles.
McGregor, a native of Ireland, turned himself into the New York City Police Department and has been processed at the 78th Precinct in Brooklyn. Bail has been set at $50,000 and McGregor has been ordered to avoid other persons involved in the incident. McGregor was not the only person charged. According to ESPN, McGregor’s Straight Blast Gym (SBG) teammate, Cian Cowley, also faces assault and felony charges.
There remains uncertainty as to why the 29-year-old McGregor—who has reportedly earned more than $100 million in fights as well as millions more from lucrative endorsement deals with blue chip companies like Burger King and Anheuser-Busch—would launch an assault on the bus. This attack not only jeopardizes McGregor’s mixed martial arts and boxing careers but, more worrisomely for McGregor, could also land him behind bars.
One possible explanation for the assault relates to McGregor’s possible anger about White’s recent decision to take away McGregor’s UFC lightweight champion belt. Then again, White’s decision was neither surprising nor objectively unreasonable: McGregor hasn’t fought for UFC since November 2016—his most recent fight wasn’t even a UFC fight, it was a boxing match with Floyd Mayweather Jr., last August. It’s also not clear why McGregor would attack a bus full of fellow fighters in response to a decision by management.
For his part, White told media that McGregor’s conduct had nothing to do with the title stripping. Instead, White links the assault to some sort of grievance between rival groups connected to McGregor and UFC fighter Khabib Nurmagomedov, who will fight Al Iaquinta as the main event in Saturday’s UFC 223.
Assessing the criminal charges and evidence against McGregor
Regardless of McGregor’s motivations for launching an assault, he now faces criminal charges for the incursion. Most immediately concerning for McGregor and his attorneys are two felony charges for criminal mischief.
At its core, criminal mischief refers to intentionally damaging or defacing other persons’ property. The classification of criminal mischief as a felony depends on the degree of damaged caused. In New York, causing $250 of damages can lead to a felony charge that carries a potential sentence of up to four years in prison. Damages in excess of $1,500 can lead to a maximum prison sentence of seven years. McGregor faces one felony charge for causing more than $1,500 in damage and a lower-level felony charge for causing more than $250 in damage. If convicted of the higher-level felony, McGregor could face up to seven years in prison. As a first-time offender, however, McGregor would almost certainly not be sentenced to such a lengthy prison term.
Unfortunately for McGregor, video evidence alone could make the criminal mischief prosecution against him fairly simple. As New York City criminal defense attorney and former Manhattan prosecutor Jeremy Saland tells SI.com, “The video appears to reflect McGregor wantonly smashing a vehicle window. Assuming the damages exceeds $250 and he had no right to shatter it, the district attorney has an easy path to pursue should the full weight of the criminal law come to bear.”
McGregor also faces 10 misdemeanor charges. These mainly relate to assault, attempted assault, menacing and reckless endangerment. Taken together, these charges refer to intentionally or recklessly causing, or attempting to cause, injury to another person or placing them in fear of death or imminent serious harm. While misdemeanor convictions can lead to jail sentences of months or even a year, first-time offenders often avoid jail time. Instead, they might receive some combination of probation, community service, fines and restitution to the victims.
As with the felony charges, video evidence of McGregor throwing objects would be used against him as proof of assault, reckless endangerment and the other misdemeanors. Assuming the facial, optical and knuckle injuries suffered by Chiesa, Borg and the unnamed UFC employee, respectively, are proven to have occurred as a result of the melee (and are not pre-existing), McGregor’s actions would be directly connected to those injuries.
Assessing McGregor’s possible defenses
By choosing the Barclays Center to launch an attack, McGregor and his associates selected a professional sports and entertainment venue that was bound to contain surveillance cameras in many rooms and around every corner. They either wanted the world to see the attack or they inexplicably neglected to consider the presence of cameras. This is unfortunate for McGregor and his legal team: video evidence makes it impossible for him to argue that the incident did not occur.
Video evidence alone, however, may not be enough for prosecutors to prove McGregor’s guilt beyond a reasonable doubt. For one, the videos that are available online may not be the only videos available. It’s possible that additional footage not only exists, but also complicates the narrative of McGregor as the culprit.
To that point, McGregor could claim that he acted in self-defense. Indeed, depending on the contents and credibility of witness statements, as well as the duration and quality of available video, Saland believes self-defense would be possible for McGregor. “What evidence,” the defense attorney asks, “reflects McGregor was the initial aggressor or didn’t act in a manner to protect himself? The video reflects a skirmish, but what did it fail to record?” On the other hand, an additional video released by the UFC on Saturday shows McGregor as the clear aggressor. Self-defense only works if it is shown to be reasonable under the circumstances. While other videos could surface, none of the currently available videos indicates McGregor was under threat or feared for his safety.
In addition, other fighters—including the injured ones—may be unwilling to testify as witnesses against McGregor. “Will the athletes McGregor is alleged to have assaulted,” Saland wonders, “want to look like tomato cans and acknowledge they suffered physical injuries and substantial pain when they likely dole out—and are the recipients of—much greater combat in the Octagon?” Saland’s point reflects a theme often detected in sports-injury cases. Athletes victimized by other athletes sometimes feel uncomfortable cooperating with the criminal justice system to hold the wrongful athletes accountable.
It’s also worth noting that McGregor and prosecutors could eventually work out a plea deal where McGregor pleads guilty to lesser charges. In exchange, prosecutors would drop the more severe charges. As a result of such a deal, McGregor might avoid jail time. However, he would still face lesser punishments, such as probation, fines or community service.
Potential immigration consequences for McGregor
While it’s possible that McGregor could avoid incarceration, any criminal conviction or guilty plea would nonetheless complicate his ability to remain in the United States as well as his ability to later return to the United States.
By all accounts, McGregor is a citizen of Ireland. Assuming that is the case, McGregor’s ability to spend time in the U.S. is predicated upon his adherence to our legal system.
McGregor is likely in the U.S. on a nonimmigrant visa or a green card. A nonimmigrant visa is for temporary travel within the country. McGregor likely qualifies for the O-1 or P-1 nonimmigrant visas. Such visas are reserved for international athletes and entertainers who are deemed of extraordinary or internationally recognized abilities and who seek to enter the U.S. to perform specific professional services or partake in leading competitions. Pro athletes from other countries often work in the U.S. through such visas.
Alternatively, McGregor could be in the U.S. on a green card, which would make him a permanent resident of the U.S. and—absent legal troubles—allow him to stay indefinitely. McGregor has clear ties to the U.S. and spends considerable time here. While he reportedly owns a home in Dublin, he also owns a mansion in Henderson, Nevada.
Whether McGregor is in the U.S. on a visa or green card, he is vulnerable to adverse action by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security. To that end, if McGregor is convicted or pleads out, he could become deportable or inadmissible under U.S. immigration laws. Certain kinds of assault convictions have led to removals, and new immigration policies under President Donald Trump have expanded the scope of deportable crimes.
Even if McGregor avoids deportation, any conviction or plea deal would be relevant if McGregor leaves the U.S. and then seeks to be readmitted. At that time, he could be considered inadmissible by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security and thus be denied a visa. In other words, McGregor could leave the U.S on his volition but then become unable to return for some time.
Potential lawsuits against McGregor and endorsement deals’ fallout
McGregor also faces the possibility of being sued over the assault. Chiesa, Borg and the unnamed UFC employee could file lawsuits against him for a variety of claims, including assault, battery and intentional infliction of emotional distress. They could assert they were innocent bystanders on a bus attacked by McGregor and his associates, and wrongly injured in that attack. The fighters could also contend that the injuries have irreparably damaged their careers and potential earnings. Such an argument would seem especially plausible for Borg, whose eye injury (depending on its severity) could impede his ability to fight.
Unlike in a criminal prosecution, which requires prosecutors to prove a defendant is guilty beyond a reasonable doubt, a civil lawsuit would only demand a showing that McGregor’s liability by a preponderance of evidence. McGregor, of course, could reach an out-of-court settlement with Chiesa, Borg and other persons who have potential claims against him.
It’s also possible that the UFC could sue McGregor for interference or fraud. Chiesa and Borg’s injuries have led to fight cancellations for UFC 223. These developments could make consumers less likely to pay at least several hundred dollars for remaining tickets to attend. It’s also worth noting that UFC 223 is a pay-per-view event. This means that the number of people who subscribe for UFC 223 impacts UFC’s revenue. UFC fans may already be on the fence about paying $64.99 to watch—especially with the late cancellation of fighter Max Holloway for reasons unrelated to the McGregor incident. They may now be even less inclined to watch due to the McGregor-related canceled fights.
For its part, the UFC could also sue McGregor. The UFC could assert that his conduct has unlawfully interfered with the UFC’s ability to either meet its contractual obligations to fans who have already bought UFC 223 tickets or paid to watch it on TV, and denies the UFC of the chance to attract other potential consumers.
One word of caution for such a potential lawsuit by the UFC: courts usually find that so long as a sports event is held as promised, the contractual obligation is satisfied—the fact that the UFC may need to use replacement fighters is unlikely to lead to liability for UFC. In turn, this means the UFC could struggle to prove that McGregor has caused them the kind of harm the law protects.
Lastly, McGregor could stand to lose millions of dollars if the companies with whom he has reached endorsement deals invoke morals clause language to terminate or suspend the contracts. These clauses can be invoked if an athlete causes controversy and damages his or her brand and, by extension, damages the image of companies endorsed by the athlete. McGregor, however, could remind those companies that his reputation is hardly one of an angel—he reportedly has tussled with the Irish mafia. Those companies presumably knew what they were getting into when they contracted with McGregor.
Michael McCann is SI's legal analyst. He is also the Associate Dean for Academic Affairs at the University of New Hampshire School of Law and co-author with Ed O'Bannon of the new book Court Justice: The Inside Story of My Battle Against the NCAA.