Court hears claim Conor McGregor promised former associate 5 per cent of whiskey business

Artem Lobov failed to get his case admitted to the fast-track Commercial Court list due to delay in bringing the case, which will now go through the normal High Court list

Conor McGregor told a former sparring partner and business associate “remember 5 per cent is yours no matter what” when the pair discussed the future of a new brand of Irish whiskey backed by the millionaire MMA fighter, it has been claimed in High Court proceedings.

Artem Lobov says he was also a close friend of Mr McGregor who, along with two other shareholders, sold the Proper Twelve Irish whiskey brand for $600 million (€584m) to Proximo Spirits in 2021. The deal reportedly netted Mr McGregor $130 million making him the highest earning sportsman in the world last year.

Mr Lobov (36), who was born in Russia and lives in Mulhuddart, Dublin, is suing Mr McGregor (34), of Straffan, Co Kildare, seeking specific performance of an oral agreement he says the two men made when they met in the SBG gym, Naas Road, Dublin, in September 2017.

On Monday, Mr Lobov failed to get his case admitted to the fast-track Commercial Court list due to delay in bringing the case, which will now go through the normal High Court list.


In an affidavit, Mr Lobov said it was at the Naas Road gym that he challenged Mr McGregor about being excluded from communications about the future of the whiskey brand. He said it was he who first approached Mr McGregor with the idea that he lend his name to a new whiskey brand and that he did all the research and negotiations to get West Cork Distillers to agree to produce the spirit.

After that deal was negotiated, Audie Attar, the main shareholder in Mr McGregor’s management company, Paradigm Sports, became involved in the project, he said.

While the brand name at this point was “Notorious Irish whiskey”, it was changed to Proper Twelve when American businessman, Ken Austin, who has a background in the spirits industry, got involved as a shareholder, he said.

Mr Lobov said it was after Mr Austin got involved that he was “totally excluded” from any emails in relation to the development of the product. He challenged Mr McGregor at the gym meeting about his exclusion and was told he would be restored to the communications.

Mr McGregor also made the “5 per cent is yours no matter what” remark, in the presence of a number of others, and it was “confirmed by a handshake”, Mr Lobov said.

Subsequently, he was not included in all the correspondence and discussions about the project, he said. However, he continued to take part in the marketing process, including the presentation by Mr McGregor of Proper Twelve to Russian president Vladimir Putin during the World Cup in Moscow in 2018.

In May 2020, he said, he got a phone call from Mr McGregor offering him €1 million for his part in the project. This was around the same time, Mr Lobov said, that the media reported the sale of the brand to Proximo by Mr McGregor, Mr Austin and Mr Attar. He said he refused the €1 million offer as wholly inadequate in view of the 5 per cent deal. Mr Lobov, who is now retired from UFC fighting and has a master’s degree in business and capital financing from Dublin City University, said that while he was no longer in contact with Mr McGregor he still believed the 5 per cent promise would be honoured.

He said he received a message from Mr McGregor, following a radio interview Mr Lobov gave last August, in which Mr McGregor denied the 5 per cent agreement for the first time. He brought High Court proceedings last month.

In a replying affidavit, Mr McGregor’s solicitor Michael Staines said his client was denying Mr Lobov’s allegations. He also said that while Mr Lobov had provided the texts of certain messages to the court, he had not included one from February 2019 in which Mr Lobov stated: “I swear on my child’s life I will NOT take a cent from the whiskey deal.”

Mr Staines also said there was a considerable delay between when the brand was sold and when he brought proceedings.

Mr Justice Denis McDonald said the delay ran from April 2021, when the brand was sold, to November of this year. There was not sufficient explanation for this and he must refuse the application to admit the case to the Commercial Court.