By all rightful expectations, last month’s (Sat., August 26, 2017) massive Floyd Mayweather vs. Conor McGregor boxing match from the T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas, Nev., was a fight so big, so grandiose, so “once-in-a-lifetime” that there was bound to be an inevitable hangover for the UFC, who took the risk of having their biggest star face a legend in his own combat sport.
And it’s been a big one, an overarching cloud that has made it feel as if a massive shoulder shrug was emanating from the collective populous of all but the most hardcore and enthusiastic MMA fans.
True, Jon Jones failing for an anabolic steroid after his feel-good comeback win over Daniel Cormier at UFC 214 certainly hasn’t helped the sport maintain any of the precious momentum that was regained during a late-summer push following an atrocious start to 2017. But the sheer lack of buzz and hype for this weekend’s (Sat., September 9, 2017) UFC 215 from Rogers Place in Edmonton, Alberta, Canada, proves just how dependent the UFC currently is on one man – McGregor – and that’s a truly dangerous place to be.
There are many reasons UFC 215 was bound to fail as many expect it to, and the last-minute withdrawal of title challenger Ray Borg was the last straw. But even before Borg pulled out of his main event match-up with longtime flyweight champ Demetrious Johnson, a bout where “Mighty Mouse” was attempting to break his tie with Anderson Silva for the most consecutive title defenses ever, there just wasn’t any anticipation for the event.
Sure, you could come up with a ton of reasons for that, like Dana White’s recent public thrashings of both Johnson and Amanda Nunes, who rematches surging contender Valentina Shevchenko in the new UFC 215 main event, after Johnson refused to fight former bantamweight champ TJ Dillashaw and Nunes pulled out of her scheduled UFC 213 headliner with Shevchenko due to illness.
It’s never good to bash the fighters that are supposed to be making you millions of dollars – it’s counterproductive and the UFC needs new stars now more than they ever have, so calling out your own athletes in the news only loses the promoter money, and potentially lots of it.
The main reason for this rain cloud hanging over the UFC and MMA as a whole, however, is the mere absence of McGregor. The UFC has grown too dependent on their biggest star, especially with former women’s champ Ronda Rousey inactive and most likely never to return. “The Notorious” was the clear catalyst during the UFC’s surge to a record-breaking $4.2 billion sale in July 2016, a number that new owners WME-IMG are probably wishing they could rescind after a disastrous 2017.
They put all their eggs into the Rousey and McGregor baskets, and when Rousey got knocked out at UFC 207 and McGregor spent the entire year chasing and eventually getting his boxing ‘super fight’ with Floyd Mayweather, the world’s MMA leader just looked like they didn’t know what to do.
It still seems that way, and even though the last quarter of 2017 will feature one of the biggest fights of the year when longtime former welterweight champion Georges St-Pierre returns to fight middleweight champion Michael Bisping for the belt at UFC 217, it’s going to be an extremely down year for the UFC without a McGregor-headlined card. With McGregor’s coach recently stating he’d probably be out for the rest of 2017, they could still book a trilogy match with longtime rival Nate Diaz for the year-end card that could legitimately save the year.
The fact that the UFC has to do that to save the year proves that they are putting too much emphasis on one fighter, one star, who, despite being perhaps the most electric personality in the history of MMA, may or may not even defend one of the two titles he’s won in the octagon. The hangover of his gamble of a boxing match with Mayweather makes that apparent, and even though they made a ton of money in the process, it was incredibly short-sighted in that the cupboard is bare in their own octagon without McGregor, who says he’s a free agent.
UFC 215 was a card with two title fights on it, title fights featuring two of the most talented and recently dominant champions in MMA who literally represented the evolution of the sport. It was never billed or built as such, and with McGregor’s boxing match having sucked the wind out of anything else combat sports-related for the time being, the UFC is looking like they need “The Notorious” a lot more than he needs them.
They’re going to have to pay him whatever he wants when he does return if they ever want to recoup their initial investment, but they’re also going to need to depend on some of their other fighters, too. A starting point would be to not trash them online, because they can use every champion they can get right now.