MMA fans were left with a sense of déjà vu when Conor McGregor announced that he was retiring from UFC last week. The Irish fighter made his first retirement announcement back in April 2016 but returned to action just four months later. He then retired for the second time in March 2019 but came out of retirement to fight Donald Cerrone in early 2020. Fans will, therefore, take his latest announcement with a pinch of salt.
The Notorious insists he is finished for good this time. “I’m a bit bored of the game,” he told ESPN in a follow-up interview. “I don’t know if it’s no crowd. I don’t know what it is. There’s just no buzz for me. All this waiting around. There’s nothing happening. I’m going through opponent options, and there’s nothing really there at the minute. There’s nothing that’s exciting me.”
McGregor complained that UFC bosses have encouraged him to “move up and down weights” and offered him “stupid fights”. It seems like posturing from the former UFC featherweight and lightweight champion, a calculated ploy designed to force UFC boss Dana White to offer him more generous terms to return to the octagon. He is not actually in the middle of contract negotiation – UFC wants him to wait until the end of the year to fight the winner of a planned bout between Khabib Nurmagomedov and interim lightweight champion Justin Gaethje – but he appears to be demanding better treatment, and using his latest retirement to force the issue.
No Pressure to Fight
Yet White is in a position of strength right now, after staging an impressive schedule of events throughout the global coronavirus lockdown, and he called McGregor’s bluff. “Nobody is pressuring anybody to fight,” White said. “And if Conor McGregor feels he wants to retire, you know my feelings about retirement: you should absolutely do it. And I love Conor… There’s a handful of people that have made this really fun for me. And he’s one of them.”
However, McGregor remains the biggest star on the MMA scene and there is a clear incentive for White to bring him back into the fold. The headline bout between the Notorious and Nurmagomedov at UFC 229 drew 2.4 million pay-per-view buys, the most ever for an MMA event. More than 1 million people stumped up the PPV cost to see McGregor knock out Cerrone in January, and no other fighter can pull in as many casual fans.
McGregor also has other options. He pivoted to boxing in 2017, when he earned a cool $30 million for his match against the undefeated Floyd Mayweather Jr. Many expected him to suffer a comprehensive defeat at the hands of arguably the greatest pound-for-pound boxer of all time, but McGregor went 10 rounds before he was knocked out. The fight drew 4.3 million PPV buys in North America, the second-most in history.
Mayweather has already responded to McGregor’s latest retirement by offering him a lucrative rematch. The five-division world champion tweeted: “If I’m not mistaken, didn’t you tell Mike Tyson you could beat me if we fought a second time?” Now you’re quitting! I thought you wanted to beat the best? Well, if you decide to come back, I will be waiting to punish you again.”
Money Mayweather is no stranger to coming out of retirement in order to top up his bank balance. He hung up his gloves after beating Ricky Hatton in 2007 and came out of retirement to face Juan Manuel Marquez 21 months later. He has since retired twice more, but he fought again in a slightly ludicrous exhibition match against Japanese kickboxer Tenshin Nasukawa on December 31, 2018. He has since teased a rematch with Manny Pacquiao, but he knows that fighting McGregor would earn a similar level of attention.
A Genuine Conor McGregor Retirement Spells Bad News
Some might argue that McGregor’s retirement would be good for UFC, as he has been embroiled in a number of scandals that could be viewed as bringing MMA into disrepute. However, there are no saints in MMA, and White knows just how popular the Irishman is. He is by no means the second greatest fighter in UFC history, as he claims – Nurmagomedov comprehensively beat him, and Nate Diaz has also exposed his vulnerability – but he is certainly the biggest star the MMA scene has ever produced.
No MMA fighter has ever managed to generate headlines like McGregor. No fighter has ever singlehandedly generated as much revenue for UFC. The level of attention his fights receive is unmatched. Wagering on the fights goes through the roof. People have even learned spread betting basics just to grab a slice of the action.
White is riding the crest of a wave right now after managing to host spectacular events while all the major sports leagues were shut down. He has just revealed details of four big fight nights on Yas Island in Abu Dhabi, and UFC is going from strength to strength. However, MMA will move down the pecking order again once the NFL, NBA and so on return. There are also some huge heavyweight boxing fights on the horizon, so White will need to lure his biggest star back into the fold, rather than risk him returning to boxing, in order to secure the medium-term health of his organization.
Gaethje has implored McGregor to return, but then revealed how he would knock the Irishman out. Nurmagomedov’s manager, Ali Abdelaziz, has taunted him. It is unlikely that McGregor will stay quiet in the face of such provocation. He remains in peak condition, as he proved when annihilating Cerrone earlier this year, and we should expect to see him offered a lucrative deal to return to the octagon in the not too distant future.