Conor McGregor’s return to the UFC is the gargantuan sized elephant in the room that resides front and center inside Dana White’s office. The large elephant also shows at various UFC events, press conferences, and anywhere else the UFC goes. Until the McGregor return is finalized and announced, it will inevitably remain as a looming shadow within the company.
In a perfect world, Dana White would relish at the chance to book the return fight sooner than later. It rids the company of the McGregor shadow and also generates a massive amount of revenue for the UFC. McGregor’s return to the octagon will undoubtedly be the biggest and most lucrative fight of the year. So, what’s taking McGregor so long? He has discussed regularly and openly about wanting to fight again, Dana White says big money is there for him to take, and there is an abundance or premiere opponents that he can match up with. What gives?
McGregor’s quote at the UFC 205 press conference prior to winning his second UFC championship in the lightweight division went something like this. “I’m going to put one belt on one shoulder, the other belt on the other shoulder, and you’re gonna have to bring a f***ing army to come take them belts off me.” That’s a great quote, but it’s 180 degrees different than what we’ve seen. McGregor’s been stripped of his UFC featherweight championship, hasn’t defended his lightweight championship since winning it, and has competed in a boxing match against Floyd Mayweather instead. Still, everything Conor McGregor tells the world is that he wants to fight again. He’s even gone so far as to say that his next fight will take place in the octagon. In a quote to TMZ, McGregor outright said, “We’ll see what happens. I think a true fight is what I want to do next. A real fight. What’s a real fight? MMA next.” So there you have it. It’s abundantly clear that Conor McGregor wants to and is planning to fight again in the UFC. His yearning to do so isn’t his holdup. It must be money then?
Wrong. Only a fool would assume and believe that Conor McGregor would return to the UFC and accept making 3-4 million dollars to fight. Even though that’s far more than other top fighters get, he’s out of that league due to the nine figure check he received when he boxed Floyd Mayweather. He knows it and the UFC knows it. McGregor is not waiting on the money. Per Dana White, loads of cash has been thrown his way in the negotiation for his UFC return. This week, in an interview with Yahoo Sports, Dana White said “I’ve never been afraid to pay Conor McGregor money.” “Conor McGregor brings the money in, and we’ve laid out a really nice offer for him, and he’s a smart kid. I think we’ll figure it out. I’ve always figured it out with him. I’ve always ended up getting a deal done with Conor McGregor. The question is, and you’re right, does he have so much money that he doesn’t care anymore and he doesn’t really want to fight? That’s up to him, but in no way, shape, or form am I asking him to come back and not make money, because he’s going to make money.” So, there you have that. Conor McGregor will still be cashing heavy checks with the UFC. His earning potential isn’t the holdup either. It must be the lack of a quality opponent?
Wrong again. The lightweight division is stocked full of tremendous opponents for Conor McGregor. First and foremost, Tony Ferguson is there holding the interim championship. That fight sells itself as it would be a unification bout. Further, Ferguson and McGregor have already traded jabs via social media. Next is the Nate Diaz trilogy fight. Diaz and McGregor are one and one against each other so a third fight between the two is obvious. They are PR gold together and will be able to build this third fight to epic heights due to their personalities. Khabib Nurmagomedov is another marquee option. Nurmagomedov defeated Edson Barboza in extremely convincing fashion at UFC 219 and solidified himself as a major player in the division. He also traded social media jabs with McGregor in the aftermath of that win that further fanned the fires of an eventual showdown. Those are the obvious opponents. By looking slightly outside the box, a fighter by the name of Georges St. Pierre could be a viable McGregor opponent as well. That’s four potentially massive fights that are on the docket and ready to be served up the moment McGregor signs a contract.
So what is it then? McGregor’s boxes are all checked for a UFC return, yet his return fight isn’t signed. What’s the holdup? The holdup is Conor McGregor. Conor McGregor knew how to climb the mountain to get to the top. He appears uneasy and not confident while attempting to stay on top. He’s smart enough to know that the fall is infinitely more painful than climb. McGregor understands that by defending a championship, it could mean that he’s no longer a champion. That hurts the McGregor brand. McGregor understands that while those fights against the likes of Ferguson and Nurmagomedov are top match-ups, he could lose. That hurts the McGregor brand too. McGregor understands that by not fighting and only saying that he wants to fight, he remains the biggest star in the game without having to risk anything.
What Conor McGregor doesn’t understand is that if he waits to long to make a definitive decision with his return, everything could pass him by. Talking only works if the talk is eventually backed up. Fans and people tire of hearing things. They want to see actions. If Conor McGregor waits too long on this, people will move on. In his interview with Yahoo Sports, Dana White confirmed that by saying, “I love that matchup (against Nurmagomedov), but Tony Ferguson is the interim champion, and Conor and I haven’t really figured out when he’s coming back and what’s going on.” “So Conor has some big decisions to make here, really quick. If he waits — I don’t think Conor wants to fight until August, but if he waits until August or September, that’s around two years since the belt has been defended, and that can’t happen.”
Just like Cinderella at midnight, the clock is ticking for Conor McGregor. He needs to decide how he’s going to move forward. If its retirement? Fine. Nobody can force someone to fight. What isn’t fine is holding up the entire company. McGregor has been given a lot of leeway throughout the years because he’s such an important star. As time goes by without a decision, that star will begin to fade.
NOW CHECK OUT HEYDORN’S PREVIOUS TAKE: HEYDORN’S TAKE: A gaze into UFC’s 2018 crystal ball