While rumors surrounding a potential mega-fight with retired boxer Floyd Mayweather have been hogging the Conor McGregor-related headlines for the past few weeks, serious concerns regarding his future as the UFC’s featherweight champion and the promotion’s biggest cash cow have been gaining momentum since his unexpected loss to Nate Diaz at UFC 196 in March.
But unlike any news involving a McGregor-Mayweather extravaganza, the concerns surrounding McGregor’s UFC career actually matter, and over the past few months, it’s become clear that his unparalleled success has negatively influenced his ability to make sound decisions regarding his life in the octagon.
Only hours after suffering his deflating loss to Diaz, a humbled McGregor seemed content to accept the fact that he was obligated to defend his 145-pound crown the next time he set foot in the octagon. UFC President Dana White wanted McGregor to fulfill his featherweight duties, the division needed him to put his belt on the line in order to move forward, and there was obvious interest in both a rematch with Jose Aldo as well as a title fight against Frankie Edgar.
In fact, at the UFC 196 post-fight press conference, the only thing that McGregor seemed unsure of was which of the two featherweight contenders he’d be facing next.
“It’s hard not to give [Jose] Aldo another go,” said McGregor. “He was 10 years undefeated. But again, he pulls out a lot, he doesn’t show up. Frankie [Edgar] at least gets in there and competes. I don’t know.”
However, for the first time in his UFC career, McGregor had failed to live up to his own highly-publicized expectations, and in spite of Diaz’ status as an irrelevant lightweight contender who’d basically been forgotten until UFC 196, the reigning 145-pound king simply couldn’t move on without a shot at redemption.
So, even with members of McGregor’s own camp, such as SBG coach John Kavanagh, against an immediate Diaz rematch and the UFC big-shots banking on the featherweight title fight they were promised, McGregor asked White for a second shot at Diaz on the year’s biggest card, and the controversial champion’s wish was granted.
With eight previous fights on his UFC resume, McGregor knew that participating in various promotional events ahead of his rematch with Diaz was part of the deal. Yet, instead of choosing to leave his training camp in Iceland to meet those promotional obligations when the time came, McGregor inexplicably chose to tell his employers that he wasn’t going to break training camp for any reason.
At an April press conference to promote UFC 200, White briefly spoke about the obvious issues with McGregor’s decision to remain in Iceland and abandon his promotional duties.
“People came from Poland and Brazil. Is that fair? It sets a bad precedent,” said White. “These guys [UFC fighters competing at UFC 200] came in from all over the world and they’re here.”
For some reason, McGregor was suddenly acting as though he was above any promotional duties, something he’d excelled at and even seemed to enjoy in the past. But engaging the sport’s most powerful promotion in a proverbial stare-down is never a good idea, and no amount of McGregor-related revenue would make the UFC blink first.
While the UFC’s decision to pull its featherweight champ from UFC 200 apparently cost McGregor a $10 million payday, the move was actually a blessing in disguise for all concerned.
To begin with, a growing number of fight fans weren’t interested in another Diaz-McGregor showdown, especially at 170 pounds. On top of that, the UFC’s decision to pull McGregor from UFC 200 is likely to act as a future deterrent to any fighters contemplating a move similar to McGregor’s — including the Irishman himself.
Unfortunately, McGregor’s actions since haven’t exactly proven that he’s learned much of anything from the experience.
Initially, one of the reasons that McGregor rose to unprecedented popularity was due to his ability to remain genuinely humble and gracious despite his early success, while still acting confident enough to take on the world. That’s an extremely rare talent in this business, and the fact that it was authentic made McGregor even more likable.
My first World Title. July 2012.
Nothing in my pocket but holes. pic.twitter.com/RnenUcOEVm
— Conor McGregor (@TheNotoriousMMA) April 18, 2016
But whether it was his now-infamous retirement announcement during the early stages of his dust-up with the UFC or his decision to relentlessly pursue and personally promote a ridiculous match-up with Mayweather on social media, McGregor just hasn’t been the same man.
MMA Vs Boxing. pic.twitter.com/qgl8tKvT5s
— Conor McGregor (@TheNotoriousMMA) May 8, 2016
On Wednesday, McGregor met with White and Lorenzo Fertitta in Los Angeles to discuss the featherweight champ’s future in the UFC, and although we’ve yet to learn the details surrounding that future, McGregor seemed to believe that everything was fine between the two parties during an interview conducted by
“I met with Dana and Mr. Fertitta, good conversation like it always is,” said McGregor. “We have a good relationship. It is what it is. It happens. This is the fight game. Sometimes emotions get into it but it’s important to recognize that emotions have no place in business.”
Would people pay to watch a boxing match between McGregor and Mayweather? Of course. But only because it would be the equivalent of a combat sports circus act. And in all honesty, McGregor is better than that.
But even if McGregor’s relationship with the UFC has returned to solid ground following Wednesday’s meeting, he’ll never again be seen as the grateful yet confident fighter who octagon addicts first fell in love with.
And while it may not be fair, fight fans won’t ever forget the self-destructive behavior that led to McGregor’s ill-advised standoff with the UFC.
[Photo By Kevork Djansezian/Getty Images]