The current deal the UFC just finalized with the biggest sports network in history ESPN has got the UFC what it has always wanted. UFC president Dana White claims his company is now one of the “big four” sports. Through its association with ESPN, the UFC is now legitimate, and the UFC is getting paid. Crazy paid. Gone are the days when fights have to be moved across the country to save pay-per-view buy rates and gone are the days where the UFC has to rely on a massive star to come through each month.
Guaranteed money TV deals now rule the combat sports world. Ask WWE fans about that. WWE has not had to produce a product worth watching in a long time. By the way, WWE had a huge revenue year last year and the product is arguably as bad as it has ever been.
This brings us to Conor McGregor. There is no way to marginalize the effect that McGregor has had on mixed martial arts. Just look in your own neighborhood. I cannot tell you how many martial arts gyms have opened in the past six years in my neighborhood. How about small-time MMA promotions? I count four that do very well just in my area alone. None and I mean none of that would be possible without McGregor. The trash talk, the bravado, and his unique fighting style brought the masses to watch McGregor. Women love him, and men want to be like him. He is one of two major crossover stars in UFC history. Ronda Rousey aside, who took her ball and went home after a few losses to end her career is now stained and her star has diminished some since leaving UFC for WWE.
If Rousey gave UFC mainstream appeal, McGregor brought it to the next level. He brought it to Broadway, Madison Square Garden, and even CNN. That cannot and will never as long as I am writing and have access to a laptop will be understated. The Irish former two weight class champion retired this week via Twitter. I am not gonna argue the merits of this announcement, there is plenty of talks that it is simply a ploy. For this article, let’s put that aside and assume McGregor will never grace the octagon again. Let’s be brutally honest about the current state of McGregor inside and outside the octagon. His last two fights were a thrashing by lightweight Khabib Nurmagomedov and a stoppage loss to boxer Floyd Mayweather. His last win was August of 2016 in a razor-thin decision over arch-nemesis Nate Diaz that many believe he lost.
Outside the cage, things are a mess. There was an arrest in Miami for breaking a fan’s cell phone. There are reports out of Ireland that McGregor is being accused of sexual assault (Irish law does not name accusers or the accused right now). The UFC may be better distancing themselves from their biggest star and focus on the good young stars the company has right now.
There are a ton of fighters, with good stories and personality that the UFC could push. Just look right in McGregor’s old weight class. Who does not love Al Iaquinta? or Justin Gaethje? How about straight out of the video game Mortal Kombat character Israel Adesanya? Or light heavyweight Jonny Walker? The UFC is fine on stars. Nobody will ever be Conor McGregor. He is a comet, a once in a generation personality. The UFC does not need the baggage he brings.
They have their TV deal and their up and coming stars. Even if the promotion loses a ton of casual fans, really is it going to affect the bottom line? I would argue absolutely not.
The UFC will probably have a record revenue year with the deal and will do it without McGregor. Dana White played it perfectly when asked by Brett Okamoto of ESPN about McGregor’s retirement basically saying he is happy for him and he was great to watch. Perfect play by White. The president of the UFC and the Irish lad from Dublin really did a lot for each other. White got McGregor his stardom, and his name and McGregor gave White’s promotion the shot in the arm that got them the deal that essentially made McGregor expendable.
McGregor is 30, and barring any legal issues he will make money forever. Whether it be with whiskey, movies fighting or elsewhere, McGregor will always be appointment viewing. White and the UFC too, will be fine. They are with the biggest sports broadcaster in North America, ESPN, for the next 7 years. They have the game totally under control and a roster that is heavy on young talent and already established veterans. The UFC and McGregor were perfect dance partners and everybody won on the deal. All is well that ends well.