With Ronda Rousey’s loss to Holly Holm, UFC needed a new dominant fighter and it did not take long to find one. Conor McGregor beat Jose Aldo in 13 seconds to change his title from interim to unified featherweight champion. After his last fight in July, there were questions whether McGregor would be the new face of UFC, but now there is no doubt that he is one of, if not the, biggest draw in mixed martial arts. McGregor’s combination of skill, brash personality, and knockout power means his next PPV right will most likely set records.
UFC 194 set gate records at the MGM Grand Garden Arena, and there are some estimates that have this weekends fights around 1.5 million PPV buys. That would be the most watched and most purchased fight of 2015. Some of that was because of the overall strong card, but most of the focus and hype was around Aldo v. McGregor. It would not be surprising if McGregor ended up headlining UFC 200 next year, and a rematch with Aldo is probably in the cards.
The struggle that UFC might face is that MMA seems to be more susceptible to any fighter winning on any night. McGregor recently mentioned he wanted to do ‘Mayweather numbers’ which is a pretty lofty goal. The reason Mayweather generates those types of numbers is because he has been unbeatable for years. Mayweather has built a brand and following through his success. For McGregor to do that, he would have to make sure he doesn’t lose for years, not just a few fights. As the world saw with Ronda Rousey, that is very difficult. The lack of predictability is a blessing a curse for UFC. Rousey’s next fight will probably do great numbers, but her aura of invincibility is gone which can also limit her marketability. McGregor will face the same challenge if he loses.
For now UFC and McGregor can bask in the glory of his success. McGregor not only talks a big game, but he backs it up. His fighting style will draw more fans to UFC, and his international marketability only helps spread the popularity of the sport.
Michael Colangelo is Managing Editor of The Fields of Green and Assistant Director at the USC Sports Business Institute.