Conor McGregor retired, then unretired. He used Twitter to say he was done,
and Facebook to say he was back. There has been a lot of hand wringing about whether McGregor was truly done. Many casual fans came out in support of the Irish fighter simply because he was the reason those fans were drawn in. McGregor implied — outright said — that he wanted to prepare for a fight, and promoting the fight took too much away from his pre-fight work. McGregor’s last fight with Nate Diaz was one of the top selling PPVs for UFC, so it makes sense that UFC would want to mend fences as quick as possible. The problem with that mindset is UFC still has all the leverage.
Let’s get this out of the way first: UFC is not boxing. And, honestly that’s a good thing. Without a centralized league and instead multiple governing bodies, boxing has become a sport fewer people watch. Whether it is the perception of corruption or lack of known big-name fighters boxing doesn’t have the same popularity it used to. Pacquiao v. Bradley lost money.
UFC hasn’t run into those issues and is growing. It is cleaning up the sport through more intense drug testing, and the league helps promote its fighters, often times giving what seems like easier opponents to build up those chosen fighters cache. Some said McGregor benefited from that. UFC has churned through stars due to retirement — Georges St-Pierre — legal trouble — Jon Bones Jones — and stunning upsets — Ronda Rousey. It came up against the question of whether it could build a fan-base with rotating stars, and it has continued its trajectory upward.
Remember UFC helps out the fighters a lot. It chooses and pays for the venue. It creates and shoulders the responsibilities of production. The league, led by Dana White, does a tremendous job of promoting its fighters. That’s a lot of responsibility and a lot of cost to UFC. McGregor’s only option outside of retirement would be to go to Bellator — which isn’t an option if fans saw Kimbo Slice v. Dada 5000 — or promote himself as a fighter in a match in which he pays for everything. It’s doubtful McGregor has the capital or institutional knowledge to stage a fight himself.
That means that UFC still has the leverage here. McGregor retires? That’s fine Jon Jones can fill in for UFC 200. McGregor wants to play hardball and now say he wants to fight at UFC 200? Dana White and UFC can say no thanks. McGregor has already brought fans in, and if UFC wanted they could theoretically move on to the next brash-talking, big-name fighter who will fight for less than McGregor demands. Even McGregor’s retirement has benefited UFC by just being in the news.
McGregor has some leverage, but not enough to change the status quo. Mcgregor is playing the short game, while UFC has more than enough time to wait this out. Sure, Conor could cause some slight changes in how UFC handles its talent, but UFC still has the leverage.