The Coronavirus pandemic devastated the world of sport in 2020, but the UFC was one of the first organisations to battle back into action, putting on a packed schedule of bouts over the course of the year. Yet despite the cream of the crop stepping into the ring over 46 events, no fight managed to outdo the Pay Per View numbers of that between Conor McGregor and ‘the Cowboy’ Donald Cerrone. Just another demonstration of the enduring popularity of the Irish fighter, who will return to the ring in 2021 hoping to generate even bigger viewing figures.
Calling it Quits? Not Yet…
They say that it is the fate of many a fighter to never know when to call it quits. This accusation could hardly be levelled at McGregor, given that he has announced his retirement no fewer than three times (to date). The first time he called it a day was in April of 2016, informing the Twitter-sphere that he had “decided to retire young”. This retirement proved short-lived, and the Irishman returned to winning action against old foe Nate Diaz in August of the same year. In March 2019 he was at it again, telling his followers that “I’ve decided to retire from the sport formally known as ‘Mixed Martial Arts’ today”. That lasted until his KO victory over Cerrone in January of this year. After a period of contemplation, The Notorious decided in June that enough was enough (again).
Of course as we now know, McGregor has signed a contract to fight Dustin Poirier on the 24th of January 2021, meaning that his latest period of retirement has been as short-lived as the previous ones.
McGregor and Poirier met in the octagon back in late 2014, when Conor made short work of his opponent, ending the contest with a first-round TKO. The Irishman is the odds-on favourite to repeat that victory against his American rival. Assuming that he disposes of his next opponent without too much difficulty, can we predict what the future holds for ‘Mystic Mac’?
By far the most lucrative evening of Conor McGregor’s life was spent in the company of one Floyd ‘Money’ Mayweather. The massively hyped bout between the two is believed to have earned a cool $130 million for the Irishman. Not bad for half-an-hours work. While it is safe to say that Floyd coasted for much of the contest, never truly looking in danger of losing, McGregor put up a better show than many had expected, leaving the door open for a return to the boxing ring.
Certainly Conor would have no shortage of potential opponents should he decide to go down that road. There were rumours of a second bout versus Mayweather, while former world champion Paulie Malignaggi has done his best to talk his way into the picture, following some controversial sparring sessions with the Dubliner leading up to the first Mayweather fight. Bafflingly popular Youtube star Jake Paul never saw a limelight he didn’t want to step into, and got in on the act when he recently offered McGregor $50 million to take him on in the squared circle. But the closest thing to a return to boxing came with the proposed bout against legendary champion Manny Pacquiao, which was variously supposed to take place in Las Vegas or an undisclosed venue in the Middle East. However, this one came to nought as well, resulting in McGregor going back to the UFC in January to face Poirier.
The Supreme Salesman
Whatever doubts there may be about McGregor’s abilities in the UFC or boxing rings, nobody can argue that he is one of the great sporting salesmen of all time. He may not have the social conscience of Ali or the dark menace of a prime Tyson, but the Irishman sure can drum up interest in even the most lopsided of contests. In recent times, Conor has used those talents to try and flog his own brand of Irish whiskey. ‘Proper No. Twelve’ has variously been described as “just as bad as you’d expect” (Business Insider), “unremarkable and ordinary” (whiskeyreviewer.com) and “an accessible whiskey…at an affordable price point” (Irish Times). Mixed reviews have not prevented his brew from becoming one of the biggest whiskey brands in the world by mid-2020, showcasing once again the fact that the man knows how to make a sales pitch.
McGregor has also investsed 3 million euros in a swanky gastropub in his native Dublin – ‘The Black Forge’ – although it is difficult to believe that he will be satisfied with the life of either a pub landlord or a whiskey marketeer. Given some of the – what we might generously refer to as ‘scrapes’ – he has gotten himself into in recent years, it seems like he is a man who needs to keep busy.
What Does the Future Hold for Mystic Mac?
Assuming that McGregor makes short work of Poirier in UFC 257, where does he go from there? Other contenders for the Lightweight crown like Justin Gaethje and the Brazilian Charles Oliveira would certainly be interested in taking a shot at the returning Mac. Khabib Nurmagomedov retired as Lightweight champ, having previously disposed of McGregor, and has stated that nothing short of a fight with Muhammad Ali would tempt him out of that retirement. As we have seen, retirements in UFC are hardly fixed in stone, which is probably why Khabib is still listed as the Lightweight champ. However, it is unclear as to whether McGregor would fancy a rematch with The Eagle from Dagestan; a second defeat could prove damaging for the brand.
Looks like we will have to wait for the Poirier bout to play out on January 24th, before the speculation goes into overdrive. Still, love him or loathe him, you have to admit that the Return of the Mac is good news for the UFC in 2021.