Conor McGregor facing second lawsuit after calling Artem Lobov ‘a rat’ in whiskey dispute

Court told Artem Lobov claims MMA star said 5pc of multi-million dollar whiskey deal ‘is yours, no matter what’. But McGregor claims Lobov said: ‘I swear on my child’s life I will not take a cent’

McGregor and Artem Lobov


Conor McGregor is set to be sued for a second time by former close friend Artem Lobov after the mixed martial arts star branded him “a rat” for issuing proceedings seeking millions of euro in connection with the development of McGregor’s hugely successful Irish whiskey brand.

Retired Russian-born fighter Lobov (36) claims McGregor (34) embarked on “a concerted social media barrage” with the intent of harassing, intimidating and defaming him after he filed the legal claim in relation to Proper No. Twelve whiskey last month.

He also alleged McGregor’s father Tony sought to harass him directly via Instagram.

The allegations were outlined in an affidavit filed with the Commercial Court, in which Lobov said their alleged actions would be the subject of further proceedings, “not least for defamation”.

Last month, McGregor shared a ten second voice note on Twitter in which he repeatedly chanted: “Artem is a rat, na na na na hey!”

Artem Lobov celebrates a UFC win with Conor McGregor in 2016. (Photo: Brandon Magnus — © Zuffa LLC via Getty Images)

Mr McGregor denies having an agreement to pay Lobov in connection with the whiskey deal, which helped make him the highest earning sports star in the world last year.

An affidavit filed by McGregor’s solicitor claims Lobov said in 2019: “I swear on my child’s life I will not take a cent out of the whiskey deal”.

The Commercial Court, which fast tracks the hearing of big money disputes, today declined to enter the whiskey dispute onto its list, meaning the case will now progress at a slower pace in another court.

Mr Justice Denis McDonald said that, while he had sympathy for Lobov, he could not enter the case on his list having regard to “the court’s scarce resources” and the fact there was “a significant lapse of time” between the whiskey deal and the issuing of the proceedings.

After the hearing, Lobov’s solicitor Dermot McNamara said: “Mr Lobov notes the judge’s ruling and thanks him for his consideration of the application. He is now looking forward to his case progressing in the High Court chancery list instead and hopes the proceedings can be determined as soon as possible.”

Lobov attended in court for the application, accompanied by McNamara and counsel Andrew Walker SC.

Retired UFC fighter and former sparring partner of Conor McGregor, Artem Lobov. Photo: Getty Images© Zuffa LLC via Getty Images

The application was opposed by McGregor, who was not present, but represented by solicitor Michael Staines SC and counsel Remy Farrell SC, on the grounds of “considerable delay”.

An affidavit filed by Staines alleged it was apparent from a radio interview Lobov gave in August that he had been seeking to “leverage” the controversy between him and McGregor to seek publicity for a forthcoming book.

A long-time training partner and friend of McGregor, Lobov is suing for the specific performance of an agreement he alleges entitled him to a 5pc stake in the whiskey venture.

He claims he came up with the idea for the former UFC champion’s whiskey brand and that McGregor, in the presence of three other witnesses, assured him: “Remember, 5pc is yours, no matter what.”

However, it is alleged McGregor, having at one point offered to pay him €1m, subsequently reneged on the deal, telling Lobov last August that no such agreement existed.

McGregor is reputed to have made $130m (€123m) after he and two other shareholders, Audie Attar and Ken Austin, sold their stake in the whiskey business for a combined $600m (€569m) to Proximo Spirits.

But Lobov claims he received nothing even though the entire concept was created by him.

He claims Attar only became involved when the concept was substantially completed and Austin when it was fully developed.

McGregor and Lobov were previously very close. They have known each other since 2008 and Lobov became McGregor’s main sparring partner in 2011. He attended the christening of McGregor’s daughter Croía in 2019.

A confrontation between Lobov and McGregor’s rival Khabib Nurmagomedov in New York in 2018 is said to have been the catalyst for an incident in which the Irish fighter threw a trolley at a bus. McGregor ended up in court but avoided jail after admitting to a charge of disorderly conduct.

The background to their dispute was set out in considerable detail in Lobov’s affidavit.

Lobov, who has a master’s degree from DCU in Finance and Capital Markets, said that he suggested in 2016 that McGregor should launch a whiskey brand. McGregor had initially been considering launching a vodka.

Lobov said he had an interest and knowledge of the area and extensive contacts in the drinks industry and that McGregor tasked him “with finding and developing a new Irish whiskey brand”.

He claimed that it was commonplace for McGregor to explore deals with various brands and products, such as Match TV, a Russian sports channel, and that if an acquaintance or associate brought a product to his attention and it proceeded, a 20pc commission would apply.

Lobov said he soon determined that the most suitable whiskey product would be at the entry level of the market, to rival the Irish Distillers/Pernod Ricard brand Jameson.

He claims that after extensive research he negotiated a deal with West Cork Distillers, under which McGregor would retain 100pc ownership of the brand and the company incorporated to sell the whiskey, with profits split on a 50/50 basis with the distiller. No investment capital was required.

Lobov said that after the potential deal was negotiated, McGregor got his management company, Paradigm Sports, and its main shareholder, Attar, involved and that he continued to work with them to progress the project.

However, after they became involved, Lobov said he began to express reservations as the nature of the proposals changed, as did the benefits of the deal to McGregor and himself.

It was decided McGregor’s fight with Floyd Mayweather in August 2017 would be “the ideal opportunity” to publicise the bringing to market of a new whiskey brand.

A bottle and whiskey supplied by West Cork Distillers, bearing the label ‘Notorious Irish Whiskey’ featured at press conferences in advance of the fight.

According to Lobov, after seeing the product launch Austin, an American businessman with a background in the spirits industry, became involved “almost overnight”.

He claims that at this point he was excluded from any email correspondence in relation to the development of the product and what the project team had begun calling “the billion dollar deal”.

According to the affidavit, the corporate structure of the company formed to own the brand was altered to give Attar and Austin significant shareholdings, while the supplier of the whiskey was changed to Bushmills instead of West Cork Distillers.

Lobov says that in September 2018 at the SBG gym in Dublin, he challenged McGregor as to why he had been excluded from the project and the commission payment he was entitled to.

McGregor promised to restore him to all communications and offered him 5pc of the proceeds of the whiskey deal, Lobov claims.

According to his affidavit, the promise was made in the presence of three other men, Lee Dunphy, Derek Dunphy and Keith Joyce.

Lobov said the agreement was confirmed with a handshake.

In his affidavit, he said that while he was included back into correspondence about the project, by that stage called Proper No. Twelve, after the postcode of McGregor’s childhood home, he now believes he was excluded from some emails and discussions.

Lobov said he continued to take part in the marketing of the whiskey ahead of its launch in September 2018. This included the presentation of a bottle to Russian president Vladimir Putin at the World Cup final that July.

Around this time, he and McGregor were in a “fight camp” preparing for UFC bouts. Lobov said after the launch, he worked to arrange the appointment of a distribution company in Russia.

In January 2019, he left the UFC to join a new fight organisation Bare Knuckle FC.

The following month, he says he and McGregor discussed his payment for the whiskey project. He said McGregor made it clear to him he had not been paid anything yet and was down money having invested €250,000 but assured Lobov he was still “in” the project.

Lobov claims that in May or June of 2020 he received a call from McGregor offering him payment of €1m.

He claims he declined the offer as it was “wholly inadequate in light of the 5pc agreement”.

Soon afterwards an accountant working for McGregor texted him offering to make a payment, Lobov claims, but he again declined.

In his affidavit, Lobov said he subsequently retired from fighting and didn’t see McGregor as much as before, although they remained on good terms and he was confident McGregor would honour the agreement.

Last August he gave an interview to Talksport radio in which he spoke about his involvement in developing the whiskey brand.

Lobov claims that after the interview he received a voice message from McGregor denying the existence of the 5pc agreement.

He said that as a consequence of the message he sought legal advice.

In an affidavit, McGregor’s solicitor Michael Staines SC quoted Lobov as saying in the interview: “With the whiskey, there was a bit more to the story about how that went about and what happened, but I don’t want to share that yet.

“I’m hoping my book does well and I will tell the story in the book.

“I turned down €1m and I didn’t accept the deal.”

Staines said it appeared Lobov “sought and obtained publicity for his forthcoming book whilst at the same time trailing or hinting at the idea that there was substantially more to the story that would be revealed in due course”.

He alleged it was clear Lobov was “seeking to leverage what he considered to be a newsworthy controversy between him and [McGregor] in order to seek publicity for a forthcoming book”.

The solicitor also claimed that in a series of Instagram messages in February 2019, Lobov told McGregor he was not seeking money in connection with the deal.

“Let me start by saying that I swear on my child’s life I will NOT take a cent out of the whiskey deal!!! That is something I enjoyed doing and the thought of knowing that I helped you with something keeps me warm on the coldest of nights,” Lobov was quoted as saying.

Another message from Lobov to McGregor allegedly said: “Now that I told you all this and like I said I swear on my child I will not take a cent, this is something I cannot go back on.”

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