The UFC's official position on Conor McGregor's bus attack has pivoted 180 degrees since April.
It has gone from "disgusting" to potentially deeply lucrative.
By the time McGregor challenges Khabib Nurmagomedov for the lightweight title at UFC 229 on Oct. 6, it'll be roughly six months to the day since he stormed into a media event at Brooklyn's Barclays Center and tossed a metal hand truck through the window of a bus full of UFC athletes.
The incident sent two fighters to the hospital and scrapped three bouts scheduled for April 7's UFC 223. Among charges initially brought against McGregor were two felonies, according to USA Today's A.J. Perez, and a visibly furious UFC President Dana White hinted he might be done doing business with the former two-division champion.
"This is the most disgusting thing that has ever happened in the history of the company," White told a group of reporters. "... This was a real bad career move for him."
Fast-forward to fall and it's actually shaping up as a very good career move for McGregor.
The UFC is making liberal use of bus attack footage in its pre-fight video packages for UFC 229. White, who has forecasted the fight with Nurmagomedov will become the company's all-time best-seller, said it was not a hard decision.
"It's part of the storyline," White said, during last week's pre-fight press conference. "There have been other situations where things have happened leading up to a fight. You play the story the way the story played out."
When asked if he thought the footage should have been used, the usually outspoken McGregor was a bit more tight-lipped.
"No comment," he said.
But is using an incident it once decried a seedy move by the UFC? Or is it just a plain savvy way to sell a fight? Here, Bleacher Report lead MMA writers Chad Dundas and Jonathan Snowden break it down.
Chad: No one is surprised the UFC is deploying footage of the bus attack in its efforts to turn a buck on UFC 229. Given it was Nurmagomedov that McGregor was trying to confront when he hurled that hand truck, it would be—to steal a term from our colleague Luke Thomas—borderline promotional malpractice not to use it. By the organization's low creative standards, the promo itself is even fairly artful.
But that doesn't necessarily make it right.
Obviously, if anybody not named Conor McGregor had chucked that dolly, they would've been looking for a new job before the glass hit the floor of the Barclays Center. In the UFC, however, it's economics over everything. At this point, even the law.
Again, that cold, hard pragmatism is understandable, but not commendable.
Perhaps the thing that gives me the most pause is White's immediate and totally predictable about-face. Here is a guy who goes from looking like he never wants to be in the same room as McGregor ever again to giddily rubbing his hands together and predicting 2 million-plus buys on pay-per-view.
If we can't appreciate the irony at work there, I fear for us as a species.
What we have conclusively proved here is that so long as McGregor keeps himself physically free, he can do no real wrong in the eyes of the UFC. I don't think that road leads to a good place. In fact, I'm on record saying it is bad.
Jonathan, what say you?
Jonathan: It was like a scene out of a bad movie, McGregor almost cartoonishly manic, leading a small gang in pursuit of Nurmagomedov in the bowels of the Barclays Center. Despite the very real human consequences, I still can't help smile when I see it. The oddball energy is almost tangible, McGregor so absurdly charismatic, that's it's easy to forget three fighters were injured badly enough that they couldn't compete in an athletic contest just a few days later.
Does it make me a bad person that I still kind of love the whole scene even knowing the outcome?
This is what I signed up for as a fight fan. I don't want or expect to see concerned citizens step into a steel cage for the sole purpose of bludgeoning another human being. I anticipate the unhinged, the immoral, the angry. You don't become a Mike Tyson (or Conor McGregor), a man who removes other men from their senses with his bare hands, without possessing the kind of edge that sometimes requires a few stitches.
In some ways, McGregor has transcended being a mere cage fighter. He's a high-powered modern athlete, more partner than employee. He doesn't work for the UFC. He works with them. His economic power has placed him above the mere whims of White and the UFC brass.
Isn't that what we want? What, in a perfect world, would UFC have done in response to these shenanigans Chad?
Chad: Admittedly, probably nothing that would've made an impression on McGregor. From a pure optics perspective, however, the organization could have fined or suspended the guy—anything besides declaring there would be hell to pay before ultimately doing nothing. It would have been an empty gesture in McGregor's eyes, but it might have meant something to the people who were injured that day.
As it stands, if I were Michael Chiesa, Ray Borg, Rose Namajunas or even Artem Lobov—the McGregor teammate who got punished while Conor skated—the UFC using the bus attack as the central focus of its UFC 229 hype would be a valuable lesson to me: I am completely expendable here.
Because even if it looked like a scene out of a bad movie, this was real life. People got hurt. Even in a sport that traffics in physical violence and cartoonish mania, there have to be some limits.
Out of sheer luck, the fallout from the bus attack was fairly minimal. But if this isn't the point where we stop laughing off McGregor's increasingly weird public behavior, what is?
And if the UFC is willing to use something White himself deems "disgusting" to prop up its flagging PPV numbers, is there any bottom to this well?
Is any behavior acceptable so long as it earns money for the UFC?
Because that's our money they're planning on taking.
Jonathan: How far would the UFC be willing to sink in an effort to promote a profitable pay-per-view extravaganza? If I had to guess, that's a hole so deep we can't even see the bottom from here.
As our boy Bill Shakespeare once wrote, "What's past is prologue," and combat sports history is filled with a multitude of grimy characters and unfortunate incidents, enough to fill a library of books.
I probably own half of them.
Sister industries have been more than happy to cover up all sorts of egregious behavior, from "Stone Cold" Steve Austin's alleged domestic violence to Mike Tyson's litany of crimes and misdemeanors. They were the McGregors of their time and place—and like the UFC superstar, the rules were different for them.
Ultimately, UFC is in the fight promotion business. The game is driving interest, selling tickets and creating a spectacle so compelling that the mainstream fan is willing to spend a Saturday night watching cage fighting.
No one has ever played that game better than McGregor, who has rewritten box office records so often they don't even bother using permanent ink anymore. So long as that's the case, he's beyond the reach of White and other so-called authority figures.
If justice is to be meted out, it will be at the hands of Nurmagomedov inside the unforgiving Octagon. It will be a reckoning of fists, feet and contained fury, the wronged smiting the villain in the most old-fashioned way possible, with a punch right in the nose.
Out in the real world, we discourage that kind of behavior. But, luckily for McGregor, that kind of blood feud is exactly what UFC is selling—at least as long as we're buying.