A former close friend of Conor McGregor is suing him for millions of euro, claiming he came up with the idea for the mixed martial arts star’s hugely successful Irish whiskey brand.
Retired Russian-born fighter Artem Lobov (36), a long-time training partner of McGregor (34), alleges he was instrumental in developing the brand that became Proper No. Twelve but ended up squeezed out as the spirit took off.
McGregor was named the highest-earning sports star in the world last year, with a total income of $180m (€175m) between May 2020 and May 2021, after he and two other shareholders sold their stakes in the whiskey business for a combined $600m (€584m).
Lobov initiated his High Court action yesterday, and it is understood he will claim an agreement existed entitling him to 5pc of the proceeds McGregor got from the sale.
Lobov previously claimed he was offered $1m (€970,000) by McGregor but turned it down.
Contacted by the Irish Independent, Lobov’s solicitor, Dermot McNamara, said: “My client is a retired professional fighter with a master’s degree from DCU in Finance and Capital Markets. We have issued High Court proceedings on his behalf to enforce an agreement with Mr McGregor regarding the Proper No. Twelve whiskey brand.
“My client was the initial creator and co-founder of the concept to launch an Irish whiskey brand associated with Mr McGregor.
“As these matters are now before the court, we will not be making any further comment.”
The suit, which will be contested by McGregor, is likely to end up in the High Court’s big-money commercial wing because its value is set to amount to several million euro.
In an interview in August, Lobov said he came up with the whiskey brand idea after studying the whiskey market in university.
He told Talksport radio he and McGregor first discussed the idea during a gym session.
According to Lobov, McGregor originally toyed with developing a vodka brand in Iceland. But Lobov said he dissuaded him from doing so, believing an Irish whiskey brand to be a better bet because there was a gap in the market.
He said that, on McGregor’s instruction, he held talks with distilleries and “put a beautiful deal together”.
According to Lobov, at this point, McGregor got his US sports management company Paradigm involved. The whiskey was launched in 2018, with McGregor later revealing he presented the first bottle to Russian president Vladimir Putin at the World Cup final.
McGregor was accompanied at the game by Lobov.
He initially planned to call it “Notorious” but after a trademark row changed the name to Proper No. Twelve in a nod to his Dublin 12 home.
More than six million bottles were sold in the first two and a half years of business.
Last year, McGregor, Paradigm CEO Audie Attar and businessman Ken Austin sold their majority stakes to Proximo Sports, owners of tequila brand Jose Cuervo, for $600m.
McGregor’s spokesperson Karen J Kessler said any suggestion Lobov had a claim to the whiskey brand was “incorrect”.
“Proper No. Twelve Irish whiskey was created, developed, branded and tirelessly promoted by Conor McGregor,” she said.
McGregor and Lobov previously enjoyed a close bond.
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 avoided jail after admitting to a charge of disorderly conduct.