Conor McGregor is more brilliant outside the cage than in it

Image for Conor McGregor is more brilliant outside the cage than in it

In the middle of landscape-changing news, the most prudent thing a quasi-member of the media can do is point out his prior work and gloat. To wit, an excerpt from my article looking ahead at 2016:

If 2015 was the Year of Rousey, 2016 is shaping up to be the Year of McGregor. Fresh off a 13-second knockout of long-time featherweight king Jose Aldo, McGregor seems to have the mixed martial arts world in the palm of his hand.

 MMA Sucka TV logo

Conor McGregor is more brilliant outside the cage than in it

What makes McGregor so interesting from a newsmaking perspective is how aware he is of and how willing to act on the leverage he possesses as arguably the UFC’s hottest star. We’ve seen reports that he refused to wear the standard Reebok Fight Kit because he’s not like anyone else. He wore special green trunks at UFC 194, suggesting again that what Conor wants Conor gets. He’s insinuated co-promoting with the UFC. McGregor’s aspirations may wind up too lofty to reach – and it’s all predicated on him continuing to win – but his rhetoric is refreshing when compared to Ronda Rousey stating her content with her fight income.

Around 1 p.m. ET today, Conor McGregor tweeted the following:

I have decided to retire young. Thanks for the cheese. Catch ya’s later.

The tweet, and speculation, took off like wildfire (at time of writing, it’s been retweeted 120,000 times and liked by 85,000 Twitter users). Was this real or a troll job? Was it a negotiating tactic or did he need to get out of the sport due to injury or seeing someone die in the Octagon or losing his smile? Reports gradually trickled in, and then around 8 p.m. ET the UFC officially announced that they had pulled McGregor from UFC 200, citing the fighter’s refusal to do press conferences.

It’s a transparent attempt at PR chicanery from a promotion known for PR chicanery. Charly Arnolt’s report is likely closer to the truth: McGregor asked for $10 million to show at UFC 200, the UFC refused, so McGregor retired (or “retired,” since it’s hard to imagine he’ll never fight again). Depending on how the next few days/weeks/months play out, we might be staring at the beginning of the biggest story in MMA history.

For now, let’s marvel at McGregor’s business acumen. I noted above that McGregor would need to keep winning in order to maintain the leverage he had been accumulating in his dealings with the UFC. It turns out that wasn’t the case. His loss to Nate Diaz damaged his mystique of inevitability, but it did little damage to his overall brand, and the fallout over the last eight hours of so is proof of that.

The real brilliance is his willingness to put the UFC in an uncomfortable spot and then hit the nuclear button. McGregor has not only positioned himself as the company’s biggest draw, but he got the UFC to insert him as the headliner on a arbitrarily monumental show (and amid the intermittent rumors that the UFC is looking to sell). Then he pulled a play from Fedor Emelianenko’s Strikeforce playbook and attempted to renegotiate. And negotiating threats are credible only if you’re willing to follow through on said threat. He was, and now we live in a world where he’s off UFC 200 and the promotion is scrambling to find a new main event.

Other fighters should take note of McGregor’s tactics. Namely, your main source of leverage is your willingness to show up. Because the UFC has flooded their roster and are willing to cut bait on even top-ten talents, the vast majority of the roster wouldn’t be able to pull off something similar without the very real risk of being cut loose. But a Jon Jones or a Ronda Rousey? It might be time for them to understand that if you aren’t maximizing your value, there’s money being left on the table (that the UFC is depositing in their bank accounts).

What makes this story so exciting is the number of possibilities that it opens up. Perhaps the most likely is that the UFC and McGregor make up, McGregor gets a slightly bigger paycheck, and it winds up being, like Randy Couture’s retirement ploy, an interesting footnote in history. Perhaps McGregor sticks to his guns, and like CM Punk leaving WWE, the UFC is hounded by fans (and media?) wondering why Conor McGregor isn’t fighting in the Octagon anymore. Perhaps this motivates other fighters – like Jones and Rousey – to pull similar stunts. Perhaps McGregor never fights again. And if that’s the case, thanks for the cheese.

Share this article

Leave a comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *