On Saturday night, Conor McGregor suffered a gruesome leg injury during his fight with Dustin Poirier. Toward the end of the first round, McGregor tried to plant on his left foot when his ankle and lower leg gave out and turned a direction that a leg is not supposed to turn. McGregor underwent a three-hour surgery to insert a titanium rod and repair a fractured tibia and fibula. After the fight, Poirier said he thought McGregor injured the leg when he landed a kick, even pointing to the leg right after it happened. McGregor, however, dropped a bit of a bomb on Thursday, with the following quote from a video posted on his Instagram:
“I was injured going into the fight. People are asking me, ‘when was the leg broke? At what point did the leg break?’ Ask Dana White. Ask the UFC. Ask Dr. Davidson, the head doctor of the UFC. They knew I had stress fractures in my leg going into that cage. It was debated about pulling the thing out.”
Before each fight in Nevada, all fighters are required to fill out a medical questionnaire. This process is followed by other states, including Connecticut, who just two months ago suspended Bellator fighter Derek Anderson for six months because he failed to disclose a kidney issue prior to his fight. Assuming McGregor failed to disclose his injuries to the Nevada State Athletic Commission, a suspension should certainly be on the horizon.
The bigger issue, of course, is that McGregor claims the UFC and its Chief Doctor Jeff Davidson were aware of the injuries before the fight. If the UFC and Davidson were complicit in failing to disclose those injuries and allowed McGregor to fight, not only could we see fines and penalties from the Nevada State Athletic Commission, but they may be exposed to unthinkable civil liability. As the Chief Physician of the UFC, Davidson owes a duty of care to his fighters. When he breaches that duty by ignoring known stress fractures before a fight, and when a major injury occurs just minutes into the fight, the duty-breach-causation-harm circle is complete. Moreover, if UFC President Dana White was aware and let the fight happen, both he and the UFC are exposed to liability.
Importantly, MMA fighters do not have a collective bargaining agreement, which means McGregor would not have to exhaust any potential remedies under a CBA before filing a lawsuit. Given his star power and ability to draw eyeballs every time he fights, the amount of damages in such a case could be astronomical if the injury severely impacts McGregor’s career. After the Kevin Durant achilles’ injury, Dan Lust pointed out that a potential malpractice lawsuit against Warriors team doctors could top $1 billion given Durant’s earning ability.
McGregor’s earning power, however, dwarfs that of Kevin Durant. He is not just well-paid, he is the highest paid athlete in the world, earning over $180 million in 2020 alone. The UFC and Dana White have a history of pressuring fighters to perform through injury. Nevertheless, they would very likely assert the defense that McGregor had knowledge of the injury going into the fight and assumed the risk by not canceling the bout. While a viable lawsuit would inflict serious damage to the UFC’s finances and alter its operations, the international behemoth is likely capable of absorbing that big of a legal haymaker.
John Nucci is a 3L at Penn State Law and a Summer Associate at Woods Oviatt Gilman LLP in Rochester, NY. He can be contacted at email@example.com.