Double-Sided: The Good & Bad Of Conor McGregor’s ‘Retirement’

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Following a week of back-and-forth drama, it’s safe to say that the ongoing feud between the UFC and recently ‘un-retired’ UFC featherweight champion Conor McGregor has reached a fever pitch, although that doesn’t necessarily mean that it won’t somehow be taken to an all-new level tomorrow.

The drawn-out saga has many twists, turns, and details, but in an effort to save you, our faithful readers, some time, let’s break it down in a (short as possible) nutshell: McGregor retired online last Tuesday, Dana White responded that McGregor was pulled off of UFC 200 and his rematch with Nate Diaz after he had refused to fly to Las Vegas for last Friday’s press conference, ‘The Notorious’ then tweeted he had worked it out with his employers yesterday, to which White responded that no such thing had been worked out, and McGregor ultimately remains off the card as it now stands.

He could most certainly end up on the card, as it’s been reported that having McGregor on the massive card would provide an economic boom totaling as much as $45 million according to ESPN’s Darren Rovell, but it looks like the UFC is standing their ground on this one in an effort to no longer let ‘The Notorious’ call the shots. He’s certainly done plenty of that to this point, and it could also be argued that his desire and ability to do so is what got him in this sticky situation in the first place, as his move up a weight class to face lightweight champion Rafael dos Anjos ultimately resulted in him facing and losing to late replacement Nate Diaz at UFC 196.

We’ll apparently find out if the UFC is truly booting him off of UFC 200 tonight, as MMA Fighting’s Ariel Helwani tweeted that fans looking to buy tickets for UFC 200 tomorrow (Wed., April 27, 2016) wouldn’t be forced to do so without knowing the main event:

It could be McGregor vs. Diaz back on the card, yet it could just as easily or even more easily be Daniel Cormier vs. Jon Jones II for the light heavyweight gold. But regardless of what UFC 200’s main event actually ends up being, at the core of the issue, it would seem that both sides have their faults in this bordering-on pointless and contrite rivalry between the world’s biggest MMA promotion and its biggest star. Let’s take a look at both points of view. USATSI_8159420

From McGregor’s Point Of View:

At the center of McGregor’s argument that he should be given some leeway here is his supposed return to the roots of his training with good friend Gunnar Nelson in Iceland, something that he and his head coach John Kavanagh said should come above all else when preparing to face a bigger, taller, and heavier opponent who just manhandled you en route to a second-round submission only months prior.

‘The Notorious’ is arguing that the absolutely massive financial gains he’s produced for the company should have earned him at least some form of an exception, but he didn’t exactly go about in the best way in his long-winded and at times, offensive, statement posted to Facebook last Thursday. His choice to come out of a ‘retirement’ that no one legitimately thought he would stick to with the words “I AM NOT RETIRED” at the end may not have been the best choice, either, as it was McGregor who imposed this drama on himself.

The massive promotion of the huge cards he headlines is also part of the job, and McGregor had no problem with it when he was knocking out every featherweight he faced during a five-fight stoppage streak on his way to the title.

However, there’s a much larger issue at play in this power struggle, and that’s the oft-discussed issue of fighter pay and overall fighter treatment by the UFC. Many believe that the promotion does not pay even its highest-ranking fighters enough, and while McGregor certainly earns multiple millions for his electric and anticipated performances, the overall attitude that the UFC can and will bully fighters around has definitely appeared in its battle with ‘The Notorious.’

They’ve shown they won’t be pushed around, and for better or worse, they aren’t budging. Regardless of if you think McGregor or the UFC is throwing a tantrum here (and perhaps they both are), the fact is leaving McGregor off the card is going to cost the UFC what they appear to be seeking the most, and that’s millions of dollars. Multiple tens of millions.

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So the question has to be begged whether it’s worth it or not to exert your power over McGregor with an essential downgrading of what is supposedly their biggest-ever card. Perhaps it was worth just letting him continue a crucial training camp for the biggest fight of his career, but then it just wouldn’t have been “fair,” as White said at the presser.

Which brings us to the UFC’s point of view……

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From The UFC’s Point Of View:

Analyzing the situation from the UFC’s point of view, some do find it easy to understand why they would want to pull McGregor off of UFC 200 and keep him off. It appears to be for the sake of showing that the UFC is always bigger than one fighter, and indeed they definitely are.

Fighting White and the Fertitta brothers is not going to be a winning one for McGregor long-term, and the powerful businessmen have made it more than clear that their foot has been put down here. It’s easy to see why, too, as they did something very comparable when they pulled Nick Diaz out of a similar situation when he skipped a press conference for his scheduled meeting with then-champ Georges St. Pierre at UFc 137 in 2011.

Showing up and taking part in the media and promotional obligations is simply a requirement for being a high-profile UFC athlete, and again, McGregor had no problem with doing each and every presser, interview, and appearance under the sun when he was winning. Now that he’s suffered his first Octagon loss, he understandably wants to get back to training, but the rigors of being a superstar athlete always in the public eye remain.

Helwani asked White at the presser last Friday if concessions would be made for McGregor, as exceptions are made for people in important positions everyday in this world. There’ve no doubt been some of those already made for McGregor by the UFC, but White replied with a strong stance that drew the line:

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“But it’s not right. It sets a bad precedent. It’s not the deal. It’s not the deal, man. These guys came in from all over the world and they’re here, and it’s been this way for 16 years. People have been doing their P.R. And they just said, we’ve had our moments. You asked me, so we’re spending $10 million dollars, we put up all the money, we’re spending $10 million dollars in promotion on this fight, and we can’t even film a commercial with the main event?”

Put in that context, the UFC’s position may be understandable as well, just as McGregor’s is to a certain degree. Yes, the UFC’s media demands of its most high-profile stars like McGregor and Ronda Rousey can be demanding and ultimately could have played a big part in why both suffered devastating stoppage losses recently.

But the UFC’s promotion is a non-negotiable part of them being a face of the world’s biggest MMA stage, and that isn’t going to change anytime soon. They do have to put their foot down at some point, because they appear weak if they give into fighters’ demands when held hostage by a star like McGregor. It could have a trickle down effect on the whole sport. The argument if the fighters deserve much more say, pay, and an overall insight into how they make their living is a valid one, and will be debated, I assume, until some sort of fighter’s union is formed and effectively put into motion.

For now, though, the UFC has the last say, and they obviously don’t take kindly to any one man proclaiming to be bigger than the game that brought him his fame. We may find out differently tonight, but make no mistake, this is a battle that will undoubtedly resonate throughout MMA for years to come, be it behind the scenes or in all-out media blitz like we’ve seen play out the past week.

Both sides are at fault here, but both sides also have good points to argue.