In many ways, the UFC has created a monster it can no longer control in current lightweight and former featherweight champion Conor McGregor.
As their biggest draw and their only superstar following Jon Jones’ third failed drug test and Ronda Rousey’s departure from the sport, the newly-bought promotion is at the mercy of the one and only name who can truly drive a top-selling pay-per-view (PPV) card.
Now in the wake of his blockbuster boxing match with Floyd Mayweather, it’s fair to say that McGregor is calling his own shots. If the UFC wants any shot at delivering the numbers they absolutely need, they’re going to have to bend the knee to McGregor and pay him what he wants or risk driving the UFC further into the depths of the slog that their absolutely atrocious 2017 has wrought.
We broke down why that is and how McGregor came to be his own boss in the UFC. Check out our five reasons the UFC simply has no choice but to pay the Irishman.
5. Sinking PPV Sales
There is a common argument that the quality of UFC pay-per-views has gone down considerably since Zuffa sold the promotion to WME-IMG in 2016.
Whether due to constant injuries, weight-cutting issues, failed drug tests and the like, fans have voiced their displeasure with the UFC’s product as of late.
For whatever reason, PPV sales have been in a slump for some time now with the exception of July’s UFC 214, which is likely the last time we see Jon Jones in the octagon for years to come.
The only fighter that consistently draws PPV buys is McGregor, and with that distinction comes great power, power which “Notorious” uses wisely to his advantage.
4. They Backed Themselves Into This Corner
The Reebok deal, fighter pay disparity, and a myriad of other issues have caused quite the rift between fighters and UFC brass.
In fact, the general atmosphere amongst fighters appears to be an “us vs. them” type situation, with talks of a fighters union gaining traction but never seeming to quite materialize. We’ll have to wait and see what transpires for that.
But frankly, in terms of promotion, the UFC isn’t helping the situation by paying a select few (mainly McGregor) a massive amount of money while the other 99 percent wallow in relative poverty and obscurity.
Most fighters not named Conor McGregor have to fight three to four times a year just to make ends meet, and even then it may not work out.
That kind of disparity has only further distanced McGregor from his peers, and it’s obvious that the rest of the UFC roster is keenly aware of this. It’s also put the UFC, and therefore WME-IMG, in a spot where they have no choice but to pay McGregor his asking price or risk not being able to pay back the monstrous loans outstanding on the record-setting $4.2 billion purchase.
3. They Let Him Fight Floyd Mayweather
Remember when Anderson Silva wanted to box against Roy Jones Jr.? Maybe you don’t remember because it never ended up happening. This was the greatest middleweight fighter of all-time, and the UFC denied him of that opportunity.
So why did they allow McGregor to box Mayweather? One word, and it’s obvious: money.
It may have earned them a massive payday in the short term, but his kind of blatant favoritism clearly demonstrates that McGregor is in a different class altogether.
And after receiving his upwards of $100 million payday, the UFC will surely have to up the ante if they want to keep McGregor in the octagon, which only means more power and more money for the UFC’s most powerful name.
2. He’ll Need To Defend A Title At Some Point
McGregor may be the promotion’s first “double champ” at featherweight and lightweight, but has failed to defend either belt, which resulted in him being stripped of the 145-pound title.
And the UFC granted McGregor a shot at the lightweight belt without having fought once at 155 pounds in the UFC.
As the saying goes, it’s easier to win a belt than defend it. McGregor has essentially held up both divisions to the point where a new champion has been crowned at featherweight and an interim lightweight title fight is only weeks away.
McGregor may be the only champion who isn’t pressured to defend his belt(s), further proving that he is peerless when it comes to his fellow UFC fighters.
It also proves that he is invaluable to the company, as that’s just a luxury no other fighter is afforded, and it again puts the UFC at McGregor’s mercy.
1. They Literally Have No Other Stars
If you would have said that in late 2017, both Ronda Rousey and Jon Jones would no longer be the UFC superstars they were last year, you may have sounded damn near crazy.
But McGregor is the last star standing after two devastating knockout losses for Rousey and two failed PED tests for Jones.
As their last remaining superstar, no one can tell McGregor what he can and cannot do. The UFC needs Conor McGregor more than Conor McGregor needs the UFC.
That coveted position puts the Irishman in a unique place, one where he calls the shots and the UFC is forced to follow. Whether that means a massive raise on his next contract or even a percentage of ownership in the company, it’s clear the UFC has to give in to his demands if they want to have any semblance of success going forward.
McGregor doesn’t seem to be in much of a rush to defend his title, so after a weak 2017, they could be in for an even worse 2018 if they don’t come to some sort of agreement with “The Notorious.” Something tells me they will, because they have no other choice.