It’s been a year since Conor McGregor first revealed that his long-awaited return to the Octagon would be against former Bellator MMA champion Michael Chandler.
After watching the two trade barbs on social media and competing against one another on the 31st season of The Ultimate Fighter, we are still no closer to seeing McGregor vs. Chandler happen than we were during the initial announcement in 2023. Who’s to blame varies depending on who you’re talking to, but it’s become increasingly apparent that the UFC are the ones dragging their feet when it comes to booking the Irishman’s quote-unquote “greatest comeback in combat sports history.”
Former UFC heavyweight standout Brendan Schaub offered his take on the situation, suggesting that Dana White and Co. are keeping Conor McGregor out of the cage until they can lock down a new deal with the megastar.
“We thought Dana was going to announce the UFC 300 main event and co-main event today, but he didn’t do any of that,” Schaub began. “He announced that McGregor vs. Chandler is not happening in June. This is what my skeptical hippo eyes think; McGregor has one or two fights left on his contract. The UFC never lets you fight your contract out. Especially if you’re a megastar like Conor.
“Manny Pacquiao is coming out of retirement. His number one opponent he wants to fight is McGregor. I think Conor’s like, ‘Yeah, I just need to fight Chandler and then I’m gonna fight Manny Pacquiao‘ and the UFC’s like, ‘No you’re not. You only have one or two fights left. We need to figure out a new deal with you.’ He’s like, ‘I don’t want to do that. I want to fight Chandler and then I’m gonna go fight Manny Pacquiao and probably Jake Paul. Maybe Nate Diaz in boxing. That’s what I want to do.'”
“The UFC’s going, ‘No way. We can’t let you go,’ because remember that the UFC is also in negotiations because their rights are up at ESPN,” Schaub continued. “So that’s going on. I’m sure Conor brings a lot to the table for the negotiation rights to TV whether it’s Netflix or wherever they’re going to end up. So they can’t let him leave. They’re just prolonging it. I think it would be a flex on Dana’s part too to do it because remember, he wouldn’t let Francis [Ngannou] do it. What do you think sells more? Francis/Fury — which didn’t do great — or Conor/Manny Pacquiao?
“So I think there’s a lot going on behind the scenes that we’re not privy to.
Conor McGregor’s Value to the UFC could be working against him
Currently, ESPN is the exclusive broadcast partner of the UFC after signing a seven-year deal worth roughly $300 million per year. As part of a two-year extension that runs until 2025, ESPN also maintains exclusive rights to all UFC pay-per-view broadcasts, which is another lucrative profit machine for the Las Vegas-based promotion.
McGregor is an undeniably massive asset for the promotion, not just when it comes to selling events, but advertising dollars, ticket sales, and broadcast rights — McGregor plays a role in all of it.
Is it possible that the UFC is intentionally keeping its top draw on lockdown during a pivotal renegotiating year for the promotion?