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, whose return to the ring in January 2021 topped 1.6 million PPV buys.
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 came back to fight Dustin Poirier on the 24th of January 2021, meaning that his latest period of retirement was as short-lived as the previous ones.
However, the fact that Poirier stunned the Irishman with a concussive knock out in the second round has changed the landscape for McGregor. Will he make a return to the UFC ring for a trilogy fight against Poirier? That certainly seemed to be McGregor’s preference after the loss at UFC 257.
Of course UFC is not the only path Conor can go down in future. We look at some of his options.
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, at least for now, but don’t rule it out as a future option.
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 invested 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?
Since McGregor’s upset defeat to his American rival, his options within the UFC are potentially more limited than if he had scored an expected victory. 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, but he may now have to wait in line. 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 devalue his brand even further, especially given that McGregor has lost 3 of his last 4 UFC bouts.
Despite the damage to his record, one card that McGregor has up his sleeve is his continued popularity with the public at large. Those reported PPV buys for the Poirier fight made that event one of the largest UFC promotions of all time. Future opponents would doubtless be happy to get into the ring against the Irishman for a slice of that pie.
As with most things in life: Money Talks.