If you ask ‘The Notorious’ Conor McGregor he is a few days away from achieving his ultimate goal in the UFC, capturing a title. Even before he signed with the UFC Conor predicted he’d be in this position. He knew he’d be headlining a major UFC PPV with a chance to walk away with the belt. What no one could foresee is Conor’s transition into pop culture and mainstream sports.
McGregor already knows what it took boxing champ Floyd Mayweather half his career to figure out, if you’re in a lower weight class you have to be controversial.
UFC President Dana White made it UFC’s standard to place the higher weight class’ title fight as the main event (ex. Light Heavy trumps Welterweight). That is until Conor took over. His UFC 189 fight is against a last second opponent and for the featherweight title, yet his fight still trumps the welterweight title fight between Robbie Lawler and Rory MacDonald.
Last week Conor was on every major sports network promoting UFC 189. These are the same networks that didn’t support MMA 5 years ago and to this day rarely give MMA it’s just due attention. Conor is proving to be the exception.
Sure, Ronda Rousey has been in magazines and on countless television shows and movies but her early notoriety was due to her physical appearance. Her stunning looks opened the door and her fighting skills kicked it open (pun intended). McGregor’s mainstream success built differently. His in-ring style and ability to talk between fights captivated fans.
There’s been other UFC fighters with the gift of gab, Chael Sonnen & Rampage Jackson come to mind, but neither spoke the way Conor does. Conor is a throwback to boxers like Ali & Ray Robinson or even Mayweather in the late 2000’s. His ability to sell fights to the masses is comparable to great promoters such as Don King & Bob Arum. McGregor is the only fighter in sports today playing that dual role. His confidence and persona allows him to talk up his skills in such a way that the general public believes that he is the best fighter on the planet, even though he’s still relatively unproven against top talent. Yet, he is sitting 3 days away from a title opportunity and the biggest pay-day of his life.
While on the subject of finances, Conor is ahead of other UFC athletes in terms of understanding what he brings to the promotion. In just two years he’s gone from relative unknown to One of the top paid athletes in the UFC. It’ll be quite sometime until we know the numbers behind Conor’s UFC 189 deal and we may never know how much he’s been able to negotiate in terms of PPV shares but it’s safe to assume that he is on the cusp of changing the structure of how MMA athletes are paid.
McGregor sees himself as more of a Floyd Mayweather than a GSP. If he is able to maintain a substantial championship run casual fans will tune into watch the loud mouth champ lose or to watch the self-proclaimed best in the world dominate. It’ll be hard for Dana White to justify him not getting a $200M payday if he eclipses 3 million PPV buys (A lofty number but records are made to be broken). If Conor is as good of a fighter as he proclaims it’s almost inevitable that he will outgrow the UFC because they haven’t seemed willing to expand their financial structure to allow for a star of that magnitude.
There’s only been a handful of champions that have held a title for 3+ years and at this moment Dana White and UFC execs would love for him to be the next dominant athlete but their short-term happiness would lead to long-term complications.
It all begins this Saturday when Conor McGregor takes on Chad Mendes for the UFC featherweight championship at UFC189.