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McGregor’s Miami mascot madness could jeopardise UFC future

Conor McGregor smiling
Will Conor McGregor ever return to the UFC?

Conor McGregor, UFC 189 World Tour London (2)” by Andrius Petrucenia on Flickr (Original version) UCinternational (Crop) is licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0 .

In truly bizarre fashion, what started out as a publicity stunt for a brand launch went too far when Conor McGregor’s overly zealous approach to a staged ‘fight’ with the Miami Heat mascot resulted in hospitalisation for the controversial former UFC fighter’s outmatched opponent. Could the ugly incident ultimately hinder McGregor’s planned return to UFC competition late in 2023?

McGregor was already being jeered by the crowd as he promoted the launch of a pain relief spray as part of an interval display at Game 4 of the NBA Finals. The jeers got louder as spectators were shocked by the sight of McGregor knocking the Heat’s mascot Burnie to the ground, then punching him again on the floor.

The man who plays Burnie – a Miami Heat employee whose identity has not been revealed – was reportedly hospitalised. Heat confirmed the employee was subsequently sent home from the hospital to rest after being given pain medication.

It’s unclear whether the entire sequence of events was all part of the originally planned and rehearsed publicity stunt. However, there may be unintended consequences for Dublin born McGregor who has not fought professionally since July 2021.

UFC president Dana White appeared to take the incident seriously when asked about it after UFC 289 in Vancouver. Questioning the logic and prudency of McGregor’s NBA stunt gone wrong White said, “I wouldn’t have professional fighters punch me in the face if I was a mascot. It doesn’t seem like the brightest thing in the world.”

Apparently also referencing a 2018 incident which saw boxer Deontay Wilder invited to punch an ESPN mascot on live TV, resulting in reported injuries for that mascot too, White added, “What’s up with mascots wanting to get punched in the face by professional fighters? What do you expect?”

White’s comments certainly don’t reflect too well on McGregor and may lead to questions around the likelihood of the 34 year-old Irishman ever returning to the UFC. The latest incident in the roller coaster career of McGregor is reminiscent of Mike Tyson’s fall from grace and his somewhat surreal forays into professional wrestling as a ‘Special Enforcer’ in WWE.

Whilst McGregor’s name already transcends the fight game and he is reportedly amongst the richest athletes on the planet, but his ability to compete at the very highest level again is still the subject of debate.

He has not fought professionally since suffering a broken tibia in his last bout with Dustin Poirier in July of 2021. Poirier was the winner of that fight by technical knockout, when McGregor’s leg buckled underneath him and he was unable to continue the contest. It was a second defeat to Poirier in three showdowns between the two men.

In fact McGregor lost four of his last seven UFC fights between 2016 and 2021, having previously been on a winning run of 15 consecutive professional mixed martial arts victories from 2011 to 2015 in various pro fight series.

McGregor’s long wait to return UFC could end later this year if a proposed fight can be confirmed with Michael Chandler, who McGregor coached against on the latest season of The Ultimate Fighter.

UFC boss White has said of McGregor vs Chandler, “There’s a fight. He (McGregor) has to get into the USADA pool first. He’s filling out the paperwork. I don’t know how soon that will be done or what’s going on, but that’s his business.”

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