On Friday night, the bizarre career of Charlie Ward took another turn. After being ejected from the UFC following his last loss by TKO (Canvas), Ward was snatched up by Bellator. At Bellator 187, fighting in Ireland for the first time since June of 2016, the man with MMA’s worst sleeve tattoo got back in the win column. Ward winning a fight isn’t an everyday occurrence, but it’s not remarkable in itself. The immediate aftermath of this fight , however, was remarkable—so remarkable it overshadowed everything else on the show. Ward’s teammate, Conor McGregor had been seated next to the cage and upon seeing Ward getting the stoppage, he vaulted the fence, sprinted to Ward and jumped a closed guard that would have made Shinya Aoki proud.
As McGregor made a scene in the Bellagon, getting between officials and the knocked out fighter and in no way meaning to take attention away from his teammate’s win, he found himself locking horns with old rival, referee Marc Goddard. Most will recall Goddard putting McGregor in his place from inside the cage during Artem Lobov’s bout with Andre Fili a few weeks back. McGregor made a nuisance of himself from the VIP seating throughout that fight, but if you only follow the UFC that’s about all you will know. The truth of the matter, however, is that Conor McGregor played a major role in the origin story of one of MMA’s best refs.
Birth of a Hero
June, 2012 was a simpler time. Marc Goddard was a bright eyed young cornerman for Dave Hill. Hill was about to fight Conor McGregor for the latter’s second Cage Warriors world title. In recent years it has become fashionable to slate McGregor for never defending either of these belts, but in fact it is funnier to point out that he won neither of them from men who had actually held the belts in the first place. In what has become a key UFC play, Cage Warriors was experimenting with slapping random belts on matches. As Hill and McGregor set-to, Conor looked sharper than at any point in his career. He was blasting Hill on the feet and Hill could not take him down.
Finally a groggy Hill seemed to fall into a decent shot and had McGregor losing his balance. The Dubliner reached out, took a hold of the fence directly in front of the referee, and dragged himself into the mount. The referee acknowledged the fence grab but did nothing to punish the foul or remove the position.
This is purely conjecture, but perhaps it was on that rainy night that Marc Goddard swore a blood oath to become a force for good in mixed martial arts and the only referee that does jack shit about fence grabs. Flash forward five years to when habitual line-stepper Yoel Romero took a fistful of fence as Jacare Souza tried to drag him to the mat, then wound up mounting the Brazilian, there was Goddard—standing them up. “You got top position because of the fence, I’ve taken it away, do it again and I’ll take a point.”
The Basics of Siege Craft
Returning to Friday night, after some argy-bargy and the antics that McGregor usually saves for weigh-ins (any erection mercifully hidden by his trousers this time), the absentee UFC champ was ejected from the cage. While he hasn’t been able to give us a lesson in ringcraft inside the cage in over a year, the Irishman was about to deliver a televised lesson in siege craft as he paced outside the cage, unable to re-enter. Goddard is a big lad, but with four more fights on the card starving him out was off the table. Perhaps McGregor could use a dry ice machine to smoke him out? After a brief semi-lap of the cage, McGregor charged up to mount it. In the aftermath naysayers have painted this to look like attention whoring, but you will recall that McGregor was only attempting to steal the spotlight in the first place to thrust Charlie Ward further into it.
One of the most basic principles of warfare is to take the high ground. It gives a better view of surrounding terrain, and it forces the enemy to strike upwards while the man on the high ground is striking down. This is, of course, old hat to a savvy vet like McGregor but the basics are the basics for a reason. The flipside of the high ground is that while the opponent might not be able to reach your head, he can get to your base.
When McGregor stormed the cage, some dastardly egg-head bean-counter from the commission tried to push the one-time Moneybelt challenger out by his leg. Had McGregor been thrown off the top of the cage he could well have plummeted sixteen feet through an announcer’s table. Seeing red, McGregor smote this clown with the left hand. That paradoxical left, the Celtic Cross, Schrodinger’s Punch: the one that no man can take, but the one that fans simultaneously brag about McGregor landing more on Floyd Mayweather than anyone else.
The commissioner wobbled, questioning his life’s purpose, but McGregor was still forced to dismount the cage. This wasn’t about the fence though, this was about Charlie Ward. Seeing his friend in trouble, Ward climbed the cage wall and McGregor pulled him over the top of the cage to the outside like he was boarding the last chopper out of Saigon. The crowd were riotous at the local lads getting one over the on pencil pushers from the commission, right up until everyone realized that Charlie Ward needed to be in the cage for the official decision.
All of the silliness aside, Bellator 187 confirmed the Machiavellian genius of promoter, Scott Coker. Most fight fans would look at the card ahead of time and call it “so-so.” You would think that no one outside Dublin is revved up to watch Charlie Ward or Sinead Kavanagh fight. And slapping Kimbo Slice’s name on his son hasn’t made him a draw yet. But by placing Conor McGregor in a lawn chair, in front of the rest of the audience and with no obstructions between him and the cage, Coker basically assured that McGregor would get in the cage. It is unlikely that he could have relied on such a scene, but this was the first fight on the televised card. With an SBGi fighter in all but one of the fights after this, a good few viewers would have stuck around on the off chance that McGregor did do or say something. The fact that such a hullabaloo took place right at the start of the main card must have been a dream come true for Coker. Immediately the clips were up online and Bellator itself was keen to push them. The clip at the top of this article is from Bellator’s official Youtube channel, where this has already become the most viewed video they have posted in the last year in just a number of days.
And what happens to Conor McGregor after all of this? Someone extremely charming must have turned up to make excuses for him because the man expected to throw the book at McGregor, Mike Mazzulli went on the MMA Hour to tell Ariel Helwani that McGregor’s punishment was to be withdrawn from the UFC’s December 30th card. “He’s not gonna be making any more money this year and I commend UFC for that. I really do,” said Mazzulli, apparently appeased by McGregor not appearing in a fight which had not even been announced yet. McGregor gets column inches, Bellator gets views, the UFC can still get McGregor in to make up the pay-per-view numbers before the end of the fiscal year. One major MMA website has already squeezed ten stories out of the brief scuffle. Everyone’s a winner and we have all been played for marks.
Except McGregor’s agent just came out to undermine that story, making Mazzulli look even worse and inviting him to actually take some action for what amounted to assault. But don’t let any of that distract you from the real story here: at Bellator 187 Charlie Ward came home, and announced himself as a force in Bellator’s middleweight division.