MEDIA & BUSINESS: McGregor letting down the UFC under the bright lights, but is the setback for MMA’s image the big story

By Robert Vallejos, MMATorch contributorb

Floyd Mayweather and Conor McGregor (photo credit Gary A. Vasquez @ USA Today)

Mercifully, Conor McGregor and Floyd Mayweather are done touring the world to promote their upcoming boxing bout. Unfortunately, the talking points from the tour are focused on the racist, misogynistic, and homophobic comments made by both fighters during the final days of the tour.

From a societal perspective, these comments are troubling, (and deserving of extended scrutiny in a wider scope), but from an MMA-centric perspective, the lowest common denominator trash talk is a reinforcement of the negative connotations ascribed to the MMA world.

Sure, McGregor and other notable fighters have engaged in questionable banter in the past; but none of them have ever had the reach that McGregor has during his foray into boxing.

Fair or not, the UFC and all of MMA are under an extra level of scrutiny in the summer of 2017.

Theoretically, the fight is a moment for the UFC to seize. McGregor is the UFC’s undisputed master of the microphone, with a unique opportunity to verbally and physically take on an enigma from another universe. While the public is mostly in the dark regarding the UFC’s official role in the spectacle, they are undoubtedly involved in the proceedings to boost their profile in the mainstream.

Indirectly, McGregor has become the unofficial UFC ambassador, a role he may be better suited for than UFC president Dana White.

Speaking of White, he has an even bigger stake in the image of the UFC as result of the Mayweather-McGregor hype. No matter the outcome of the fight, White will still have to promote his sport to the mainstream masses on August 27.

Yes, it is true that White has no control over the words that McGregor spews, but when he declares that the fighters have not gone too far in their verbiage, he is essentially co-signing on McGregor telling Mayweather to “Dance for me, boy!”

White himself has a proclivity to act impulsively in the public eye, and in certain moments White will engage in his own putrid verbal attacks. Recall that before White’s recent about-face regarding Cris “Cyborg” Justino, he happily compared her appearance to that of Wanderlei Silva.

White is a great promoter, but not exactly the ideal poster boy for any company.

Given these parameters, it seems that McGregor did very little to boost the viability of the UFC.

The promotion for the fight is far from finished, but this was the stage that McGregor was supposed to dominate. The likely lopsided in-ring action between Mayweather and McGregor was to be theoretically neutralized by the barbs thrown out by McGregor during the buildup.

However, after that week-long spectacle McGregor has done himself no favors. It is understandable that the verbal jousting degenerated; after all, most prolonged arguments often deteriorate into low-hanging fruit.

This is unfortunate. Despite McGregor’s occasional dabbling lowbrow trash talk, he is generally artistic and creative in his vocal takedowns. The Mayweather-McGregor world tour was clearly not McGregor’s best stuff.

Now, before a column like this is dismissed as being another politically correct evaluation of a harmless situation, it should be pointed out how this could negatively impact the UFC’s bottom line.

The merging of boxing and the UFC has revealed that, despite the progress that MMA has made over the last 15 years, the sport is still a sideshow in the eyes of many in the boxing world.

After spending 15 years legitimizing the sport, the UFC is now looking to penetrate the entertainment space that a sport like boxing has occupied for several years, despite being declared “dead” for nearly two decades.

Long-ago boxing made the decision to embrace a seedy underbelly of promoting underwhelming pay-per-view cards, carefully constructing undefeated fighters, dubious fight outcomes, and unsavory characters. In its rise, the UFC noticed the shortcomings of boxing, and patterned the sport in a seemingly different direction.

The strategy has worked for the UFC, but public perception has not fully legitimized the sport. A maligned uniform policy and an invasive drug testing program may have made the UFC an attractive commodity to WME-IMG, but those ancillary changes do nothing to enhance the public perception of the company.

Those who dismiss MMA as unrefined brawling between fringe personalities are validated in their beliefs when McGregor justifies his words by proclaiming that he is, “half-black from the bellybutton down.”

McGregor is better than this, but he is giving critics of himself and the sport ammunition.

The UFC’s goal in this endeavor should be to convert the “old-school” boxing audience into regular UFC customers. But after one press tour, it is the UFC that comes across as the organization that embraces the negative ethos of being “old-school.”


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