UFC president, Dana White, could hardly contain his excitement for the return of Conor McGregor at last Thursday's UFC 229 press conference.
It had been less than six months since the Irishman and a group of accomplices attacked a bus full of UFC fighters, including his next opponent, Khabib Nurmagomedov. Minutes after the incident, White labeled it "the most disgusting thing" in the history of the promotion.
Now, the outspoken Bostonian suggests that the Brooklyn bus attack is "part of the storyline" leading up to UFC 229, making it perfectly acceptable to re-run clips of the ordeal during the event's promotional stings at any given opportunity. Hours before the press conference even began, White conceded that putting up with controversial situations was "worth it" when it came to the Dubliner.
"Conor works very well with us. We've worked very well with him. There are obviously certain things you have to deal with, with a Conor McGregor," White told ESPN's Get Up. "He's worth it."
White's comments are not all that surprising when you consider the UFC's pay-per-view numbers since McGregor's last outing.
In the same spiel that White labeled the Brooklyn bus attack as 'the most disgusting' act in the company's history, he also suggested that the McGregor's actions were 'a real bad career move' for him
"The Notorious" currently occupies four of the top five slots in the list of the promotion's top-selling events, the highest grossing being his rubber match with Nate Diaz from UFC 202 which reportedly registered 1.65 million buys. Indeed, McGregor is, without a doubt, the biggest star in the promotion's history.
To give you an idea of how business is going without him: this July's UFC on FOX 30 card, which was headlined by a top-tier lightweight clash between Eddie Alvarez and Dustin Poirier, resulted in the lowest viewing figures in the history of the series. Even a super fight between light-heavyweight champion, Daniel Cormier, and heavyweight champion, Stipe Miocic, couldn't break 400,000 buys, which was among the highest selling cards of 2018 thus far.
In the same spiel that White labeled the Brooklyn bus attack as "the most disgusting" act in the company's history, he also suggested that the McGregor's actions were "a real bad career move" for him.
Despite the civil suits that are still outstanding with various fighters that were on the bus, since McGregor's return, the UFC's boss's prediction has certainly not come to pass.
The UFC 229 press conference coincided with the announcement of a new six-fight contract for the Crumlin native; more or less a gesture of togetherness given that he still had four fights left on his last deal. Along with that, the UFC has also agreed to allow McGregor's Proper 12 Irish whiskey — his latest business venture — to feature on the canvas of the Octagon each time he fights.
While it is unprecedented stuff, it's hard to argue with the UFC's decision when you consider what McGregor brings to the table. Ahead of the press conference, the talk was that McGregor vs. Nurmagomedov would break 2 million pay-per-view buys. Before they even took to the stage last week, White excitedly claimed that UFC 229 was now trending to sell 2.5 million pay-per-views — nearly a million more than the previous record. Then again, it's not like White hasn't been guilty of hyperbole in the past.
While the new deal and the Proper 12 marketing partnership grabbed many headlines, it's not the first time that we've seen the promotion pander to McGregor.
Without even defending his featherweight title, McGregor was immediately slated for a champion versus champion bout against the lightweight titleholder, Rafael Dos Anjos, in early 2016. When the Brazilian dropped out, he faced Nate Diaz at a category that required him to weigh in 25-pounds heavier than he had for his last outing.
When that went pear-shaped — Diaz won the fight by submission in the second round — the UFC let him have another bite at the apple at welterweight. Why? Well, because McGregor wanted to. Despite the mass calls for McGregor to return to defend his featherweight title after a duo of welterweight bouts with Diaz, the UFC again allowed the SBG fighter to enter a champion versus champion clash against Eddie Alvarez.
When he flattened Alvarez in the second round, McGregor became the first person in UFC history to hold two titles in different weight classes simultaneously
When he flattened Alvarez in the second round, McGregor became the first person in UFC history to hold two titles in different weight classes simultaneously.
It was almost as if the UFC realised how much power they had given McGregor by allowing him to hold two divisional belts at the same time when they stripped him of his featherweight title about two weeks later—putting it back in the hands of Jose Aldo, the man McGregor defeated for the title 11 months before. Lightweight contenders like Nurmagomedov were forced to wait 15 months for McGregor to give up his lightweight title in March 2018.
It's generous to say it was about 40 minutes into his first official appearance as a UFC fighter in two years when White showed us how he really felt about stripping McGregor of his titles. With Nurmagomedov, supposedly the undisputed champion of the division, within arm's reach, White became quite animated when he saw that McGregor was not sporting his null and void championship titles as he was about to face off with The Russian.
"Face forward, guys. Grab your belts. Where are Conor's belts? They're coming…they're right here."
Let's hope Max Holloway, the featherweight champion, took the scurrilous slight as well as Nurmagomedov.
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The ambiguity of McGregor's next move is always a central theme in the build-up to all of his fights. For the majority of his UFC tenure, he would explore options within the sport: testing himself at different weight divisions, attempting to align himself with as many divisional titles as possible.
When he eventually claimed two titles the options became a lot more lucrative—boxing bouts with Floyd Mayweather, potential crossover paydays with the WWE and blockbuster movie roles.
At this given moment, McGregor is a bigger global commodity than ever before. With his new whiskey venture only beginning to take off, it seems he has as many alternative avenues leading him away from the Octagon. This, in turn, constantly forces the UFC to make his fights more interesting for him, be that financially or in terms of legacy.
While the UFC has a lot of growing talents on the roster, the two years McGregor had away from the promotion underlined how valuable he is to it. Last year, it was the UFC's involvement in the Floyd Mayweather promotion that made it a very lucrative year for the company coming off it's $4 billion sale.
Without that heist-like contest, the company's financial year would have been nothing to write home about at all. As cited earlier, 2018 has been pretty horrific too in terms of pay-per-view sales, but it only takes one McGregor fight to completely change the trajectory.
A McGregor win is more valuable to the UFC than it is to McGregor because the Irishman becomes even more marketable to the fight world with a belt around his waist
A McGregor win is more valuable to the UFC than it is to McGregor because the Irishman becomes even more marketable to the fight world with a belt around his waist. Although Dustin Poirier and Nate Diaz are having trouble establishing a title for a newly floated weight class at 165 pounds, McGregor has the kind of power that can make that notion a reality.
It feels like consensus pound-for-pound great, Georges St-Pierre is also making noises with regard to taking on the winner of the UFC 229 main event. It goes without saying that McGregor's name would make that marquee a lot more valuable than Nurmagomedov's.
Let's be honest, the last time the vast majority of Irish people watched a live UFC event was when McGregor made history with a second-round knockout win over Eddie Alvarez at Madison Square Garden.
It's often forgotten about due to his actions outside of the Octagon, but that night McGregor's performance was one of the most memorable in the history of the sport as he completed a spectacular two-division feat. If that same kind of guy can show up next Saturday night, Nurmagomedov is in for a short night's work.
But can we really expect that version of McGregor to show up?
Since his boxing bout with Floyd Mayweather, he has been involved in three controversial incidents that suggested his mind was far from the gym. A video of him uttering a homophobic slur to team-mate Artem Lobov surfaced last October following an outlandish appearance at UFC Gdansk.
Three weeks later, he scaled the fence of Bellator's cage as a spectator and slapped an official. Of course, it all came to a head in Brooklyn in April when he threw a hand truck through a window of a bus. A crime for which he pleaded guilty and was sentenced to five days community service.
Khabib Nurmagomedov is a stylistic nightmare for McGregor as much as the Dubliner is a stylistic nightmare for Nurmagomedov. However, he is the last person in the world that you want to be locked in a caged enclosure with if you are not fit. For those of you who don't know: this fight is far from being a formality for McGregor.
With that said, what's the worst that can happen? The last time he lost it led to the biggest pay-per-view in the promotion's history.
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