#UFC 218 #UFC Fight Night 123 #Brian Ortega #Cub Swanson #Conor McGregor #Lomachenko vs Rigondeaux #UFC 217 #Francis Ngannou #Alistair Overeem #Max Holloway

Conor McGregor made himself the story by jumping into the cage and shoving a referee at Bellator 187, but will he suffer any consequences whatsoever? And if it means delaying his return to the UFC, would we really want him to?

Retired UFC and WEC fighter Danny Downes joins MMAjunkie columnist Ben Fowlkes to discuss in this week’s Trading Shots.

* * * *

Downes: A couple weeks ago you talked about how you’re a Bellator believer, Ben. I guess that means you were glued to your set this past Friday for Bellator 187 from 3Arena in Dublin, where A.J. McKee improved his undefeated record to 10-0 and “Baby Slice” Kevin Ferguson Jr. picked up his second Bellator win via first-round submission.

But you know that’s not what we’re here to talk about. It’s all about Conor McGregor.

After his teammate Charlie Ward finished John Redmond with a first-round TKO, McGregor decided to inject a little bit of pandemonium to the proceedings. He jumped into the cage (despite not being a licensed cornerman), tackled his friend with some type of jumping guard pull, and then got into an altercation with referee Marc Goddard.

After he was escorted from the cage, he tried to climb back in. When he was rebuffed, he decided to slap a Bellator employee in the face.

We all know nothing will happen to McGregor, right? Maybe some tsk-tsking and a nominal fine, but nothing of substance. Should there be a stricter punishment, though? He brought that McGregor flair for the dramatic and probably increased the ratings. Even Bellator was promoting his actions on Twitter so people could catch the tape delay. So what’s the real story here?

Fowlkes: The real story is McGregor being completely out of control, acting like he can do anything he wants, maybe in part because that’s the message the MMA world has sent him. Before it’s all said and done, it will also end up being a referendum on what we truly value in this sport, which is where it’s going to get tricky.

First, let’s be very clear about what happened here. What McGregor did wasn’t just some minor breach of etiquette – it was dangerous. The fight was not even officially over yet, and Redmond was down on the mat, clearly still hurt from the blows he absorbed.

McGregor started out celebrating with his teammate, but when Goddard rightly tried to get him out of there, McGregor actually followed him across the cage to shove him as he was trying to check on the downed fighter. The ensuing fracas knocked Redmond down again as he was trying to get up, all so McGregor could continue haranguing a referee who was doing his job (via Twitter):

It was selfish. It was stupid. It was unsafe.

What we saw on display here was McGregor’s overwhelming sense of entitlement. He had about as much business in that cage as a random fan does in running onto the field during a football game, yet when an official tried to get him out of there, he flipped out. That not only created a dangerous environment, it also wound up stealing the spotlight from his teammate.

Think about it: You get your big win in Bellator in front of your home crowd, but once again your team’s most famous member ends up being the focal point. Somehow, you become a footnote to your own victory. And why? Because his ego was slightly bruised by someone telling him he couldn’t do absolutely anything he wanted.

But then, that’s the part we get stuck on, because unless there’s some fitting punishment here, the message we’re going to send is that McGregor really can do anything he wants.

He doesn’t work for Bellator, so it’s not like Scott Coker can do anything to him. He wasn’t licensed for the event, so the Mohegan Tribe commission that regulated it probably can’t punish him. That leaves it up to the UFC, which, as we’ve already established, is currently stuck in “how high” mode whenever McGregor asks it to jump.

So what do we actually want to see happen here? Should the UFC fine him? Suspend him? Should it stay consistent with its prior stance on Jason High and go right ahead and cut him? (Hahahahahaha … sorry, just couldn’t get through that one with a straight face.)

McGregor’s been allowed to play by his own rules to an unprecedented extent so far. Does our eagerness to see him fight again mean we’re willing to see that stretched even further?

Downes: First you get the money, then you get the power, then you get to jump on any cage you want. Rich, powerful people have thought they were above the rules for millennia. McGregor is no different in that respect.

I suppose we won’t know the line until he crosses it, but I think we should be on the lookout, because it’s probably going to going to come soon. When he decided not to attend a UFC press conference, most people were happy. He was sticking it to the man! Promoters have long had a disproportionate share of the power and here was a fighter who knew his worth.

When he decided to put multiple divisions on hold and change weight classes to become a two-time champ, most of us didn’t mind either. They were intriguing fights and brought a level of interest to the sport we hadn’t had in a while. Even the Floyd Mayweather boxing fight, while farcical on its surface, was fun. We enjoyed the circus and couldn’t blame a fella for making that boxing payday.

Recently though, he’s been acting with a level of impunity which has nothing to do with how he promotes his career. He inserts himself into the Artem Lobov vs. Andre Fili fight, freely uses homophobic slurs and then issues a non-apology apology. Even if he makes some pro forma statement about what happened Friday night, you know he won’t really mean it.

He doesn’t have remorse because he feels entitled to do whatever he wants. And he feels that way because he’s been given that power.

In any professional sport, your talent or ability to make the league/promotion/owner money grants you a longer and longer leash for misbehavior. High gets cut from the UFC while Roy Nelson and McGregor earn no such condemnation. Until you find leagues/promotions/owners who value character over dollars, this attitude will persist.

What I wonder, though, is how much fans and media have contributed to this problem. We wouldn’t be covering this event unless McGregor acted the way he did. Do a quick search for Bellator 187, and you’ll find that the top results are all in reference to McGregor.

“Mystic Mac” made himself a star, but he didn’t do it alone. The next time we have to discuss this Irishman’s impropriety (and there will be a next time), are we better off ignoring it completely?

Fowlkes: So you’re saying that the way to really set McGregor straight is to say and do absolutely nothing in response to his misbehavior? Bold strategy, Cotton. Let’s see if it pays off.

It’s one thing to say we in the media should stop the constant coverage of every little thing McGregor says or does or wears. There’s a legitimate argument to be made there.

But if Tyron Woodley had jumped in the cage at someone else’s fight and then shoved a ref and smacked a Bellator official, you know damn well we’d talk about it. You also know the entire MMA community and the UFC itself would come down on him like a cartoon safe, which is the part that won’t happen here solely because it’s McGregor.

And does anyone really want it to happen? Obviously, the UFC is not going to cut the goose that laid the golden pay-per-view just for the sake of consistency, which is an idea that’s never been that important to the UFC anyway.

Even the fans who agree that McGregor was completely out of line probably don’t want to see him suspended for any length of time just because he put his hands on an official and thereby crossed one of the few supposedly uncrossable lines left in this sport.

So what recourse does that leave? You can fine him, but he’s so rich he’ll barely notice. You can make him apologize to Goddard, but that’s a long way from an actual punishment. You can do nothing at all, which might be the most honest possible response from the UFC, but then you can’t be surprised when this escalating pattern of behavior continues.

One way or another, we’re going to find out whether McGregor’s star power is more important to the sport, the fans and the UFC than any of these silly little concepts like safety or decorum or the barest hint of good sense. I guess what I’m worried about is I feel like I already know the answer to that one.

For more on Bellator 187, check out the MMA Events section of the site.

Ben Fowlkes is MMAjunkie and USA TODAY’s MMA columnist. Danny Downes, a retired UFC and WEC fighter, is an MMAjunkie contributor who has also written for and UFC 360. Follow them on twitter at @benfowlkesMMA and @dannyboydownes.

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