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McGregor Madness: The ‘celebrity’ and the Irish gangsters

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Karim Zidan delves into the interesting relationship between UFC champion Conor McGregor and the infamous Irish drug gang known as the Kinahan Cartel. 

McGregor and slain gangster David Byrne

On Monday November 27, British and Irish tabloid media began to speculate about UFC lightweight champion Conor McGregor’s potential involvement in a Dublin pub brawl. According to various reports, the Irishman allegedly punched several men who were affiliated to the Irish mafia and drug cartels.

Shortly thereafter, MailOnline reported the Irish police were made “aware” of claims that McGregor had been involved in the brawl. Other reports claimed the incident took place at a pub in Crumlin, the Dublin suburb that McGregor hails from. Several publications, including Ireland’s Independent.ie, ran stories referencing a ”celebrity” and “well-known Irish sports star” without directly naming McGregor. Those reports claim the unnamed celebrity assaulted a young man and later punched a man in his 50s, who is believed to have ties to Graham ‘The Wig’ Whelan of the Kinahan cartel. In the aftermath of the assault, the unnamed celebrity was taken out of the pub and driven away.

It should be noted that, according to Irish and British media, there was no official complaint filed after the alleged brawl and no statements were taken from any of the pub’s patrons.

McGregor has since taken to social media, where he posted a video with the caption “The celebrity.”

The celebrity

A post shared by Conor McGregor Official (@thenotoriousmma) on

Given the current relevance of the Kinahan cartel in combat sports, it is important to understand the gang’s significance in Ireland, their influence over certain athletes, and the ongoing crisis facing the cartel.

Kinahan Cartel in Combat Sports

In February 2016, five gunmen dressed as police officers stormed a boxing weigh-in at the Regency Hotel in Dublin, Ireland, with AK47s and fired shots at those present during the ceremony. The shooting, which resulted in the death of Kinahan enforcer David Byrne, was believed to have been a revenge attack by the rival Hutch gang after one of their members was killed in Spain.

As a result, a bloody gangland feud between the the Hutch mob and the Kinahan cartel continues to this day. It began when Gary Hutch was murdered in 2015 by the Kinahans for his alleged role as a police informant. Gary’s uncle, the ‘Monk’ retaliated by attacking the boxing weigh-in. Following Byrne’s death, the Kinahans responded swiftly, committing a string of assassinations – nine to date – that seemingly dismantled the Monk’s stronghold in Dublin. All told, ten people have been killed so far in the Hutch-Kinahan gangland feud.

However, it was the incident at the boxing weigh-in at the Regency Hotel that garnered international attention, and indirectly revealed some of the associations between combat sports in Ireland and the drug-dealing gangsters surrounding it. Several athletes were singled out for their ties to the mob. And, while some are merely friendly, others have stronger ties, including family members incorporated into the underworld.

Boxer Jamie Kavanagh – who was scheduled to headline the fight card against Antonio Joao Bento for the WBO European Lightweight Title until the weigh-in incident forced the cancelation of the event – is the son of Gerald ‘Hatchet’ Kavanagh, a notorious gangster who is believed to have been slain by the Kinahan cartel. Prior to his murder, Gerald was one of the Kinahan mob’s primary debt-collectors and enforcers. His younger brother Paul was also killed in a suspected attack by the same mob.

Interestingly, McGregor was in attendance at Paul Kavanagh’s funeral, where he posed for photographs. The Irishman was also on friendly terms with slain gangster David Byrne, and even shared a selfie at a boxing event. Both trained at the Crumlin Boxing Club. While some would consider this a concerning relationship, club coach Philip Sutcliffe suggested their relationship was strictly sports-related.

McGregor at Paul Kavanagh’s funeral
MMA Today

“They were in the boxing club together and they would have had a club relationship and then they went different ways and David would have went supporting Conor and watching him do his stuff,” Sutcliffe said.

Both McGregor and Jamie Kavanagh were part of the Crumlin Boxing Club, which produced a host of Irish talent over the years. Kavanagh considers McGregor an inspiration and admitted that he looks up to the UFC champion.

“Of course, you'd look up to that guy,” Kavanagh told balls.ie. “The UFC is one organisation and boxing is another organisation. He is the most talked about fighter on the planet as we speak. I would say [in both sports]. I know you have the likes of Manny Pacquiao, guys like Amir Khan going around, but they're only really spoken about when a fight comes around. Conor is always in the media attention, not just when he's fighting.”

Daniel Kinahan

The Kinahan cartel’s involvement with combat sports goes beyond a handful notable fighters with questionable associations. Cartel boss Daniel Kinahan, the son of notorious criminal Christy ‘the Dapper Don’ Kinahan, is also a boxing promoter despite allegedly running the day-to-day aspects of his father’s gang. He is the owner of MGM Marbella, which he set up with his partner, former British-Irish boxer Matthew Macklin. The gym is located in Spain, which is one of the Kinahan cartel’s strongholds. In early 2017, however, Macklin revealed that Kinahan would take a backseat role in the organization following ‘bad publicity.’ The gym underwent re-branding and was renamed MTK – Mack the Knife – Gym.

Recent reports suggested that Daniel Kinahan could end up being “murdered” by his own men, due to the cartel being in the midst of a serious crisis. It is believed that detectives will inform Daniel about the threat on his life if he plans to return to Ireland. This comes on the heels of 18 months worth of Garda (Ireland’s national police) operations that seized “€4m in cash, €55m in drugs and almost 40 firearms.” Daniel is allegedly being blamed for the mob’s troubling times.

McGregor Madness

Despite some claiming the mob is turning against itself, reports have since emerged that the assaulted gangsters demanded a €900,000 ($1.4 million) ‘ransom’ from the “famous Irish sports star” involved in the incident at the Crumlin pub. While the reports remain unconfirmed, it is difficult to assess the degree of danger that McGregor now finds himself in.

During a UFC 218 media lunch and press scrum, UFC President Dana White downplayed the speculation that McGregor was potentially involved in an incident with Irish gangsters.

“I don’t think it’s true. If it was true it’d be big. Conor can walk down the streets and it is big news. If this was true, I’d just have to believe it would be off-the-charts crazy. If it is true, we’ll end up finding out. I can’t chase all these things around. If it’s true, we’ll get it figured out and we’ll go from there.”

Asked whether the news concerns him, White appeared to be under the impression that, if true, McGregor will resolve it eventually.

“It can’t be a good thing for Conor but you never know. I don’t know how that stuff works. I didn’t know any of those guys or any of that stuff. But I’m sure it can be worked out too. Jake LaMotta’s brother beat the s*** out of a wise guy and they figured it out.”

Paul Williams, one of Ireland’s most renowned crime reporters, painted a far more alarming picture of McGregor’s position during his show Newstalk Breakfast. According to his sources, the Irishman could be in serious danger following his melee with the mafia.

“Conor McGregor is potentially in very, very serious danger, I hear that from my sources and from looking at the lay of the land. He has ended up crossing swords- accidentally or however - with some very, very heavy people, or some people who are related to some very, very heavy people who could pose a very serious threat to his safety, and potentially his life. And I don't say that lightly.

“And these people, you have to remember – as I keep saying – they don’t care, they don’t have parameters, they don’t have boundaries, they don’t discriminate between whether you’re an international sporting icon or just a man on the street. They shoot you, they injure you, they do whatever they want to do.

“I think it’s extraordinary. And I think in the next 24-48 hours, I believe that An Garda Síochána will be approaching Conor McGregor and saying to him, ‘By the way, we just want to officially inform you that potentially your safety is at risk'.

“I think it’s an extraordinary state of affairs. And watch this space. (h/t balls.ie)”

McGregor is certainly not the first MMA fighter to find himself involved in gang-related drama. Former UFC fighter Amar Suloev became an alleged hitman in Russia, though he died of stomach cancer before being confirmed as guilty of any potential connected crimes. Enson Inoue had Yakuza ties during his time with PRIDE FC. And, other UFC fighters like Khabib Nurmagomedov, Fabricio Werdum, and Frankie Edgar are affiliated with tyrannical despots like Ramzan Kadyrov.

Yet, while others have been guilty of association, McGregor is by far the biggest celebrity among them. And the recent reports that have emerged about him – from confronting a referee at a Bellator event to allegedly punching a gangster – are extremely troubling for arguably the biggest star in UFC history.