Lost in the clamorous rush toward last weekend’s megafight between Floyd Mayweather Jr. and Conor McGregor was a potential blockbuster development in the relationship between McGregor and the UFC.
“It’s never been done, but anything is possible,” White said during a news conference Tuesday when asked about taking McGregor on as a partner (via MMAjunkie). “… We know what this kid is worth.”
For fans wondering if the UFC and its notoriously money-conscious lightweight champion can remain on the same page moving forward, this provided a glimmer of hope.Vaughn Ridley/Getty Images
After McGregor’s better-than-expected showing against Mayweather, the task now is to figure out how to capitalize on it—and how to monetize it beyond anybody’s wildest dreams.
Make no mistake, this could be a tricky proposition. Though McGregor has always maintained he would return to the Octagon after his first foray into professional boxing, he declared himself a free agent during the post-fight news conference following his 10th-round TKO loss to Mayweather.
“I have many options in MMA,” McGregor said, via MMAjunkie’s Steven Marrocco and John Morgan. “I’m sure there’s options that will present themselves in the boxing game. Right now, I’m a free agent. My name is on the ring.”
That declaration only gave more ammunition to skeptics, who questioned if he’ll be satisfied falling back into the UFC’s rank and file.
The marriage has not always been an easy one, after all.
As recently as late January, McGregor hinted he might try to make the Mayweather fight without the UFC’s blessing. White publicly fired back that the fighter would have an “epic fall” if he tried it.
Prior to that, the UFC and McGregor had clashed over his media obligations leading up to UFC 200 in July 2016. That tiff culminated with the fight company pulling him from the lineup and remanding him to the bench.
Things seemed to warm considerably between the two parties leading up to the Mayweather scrap, however. Possibly the fuzzy glow of all the money they were about to make had everybody feeling chummy.
In the final days before the bout, McGregor and White were frequently seen laughing and joking together in public. The executive even did some of his fight-week media spots in a “McGregor Sports and Entertainment” T-shirt.
“The relationship has only gotten stronger through this,” McGregor told Bleacher Report. “It has gone to a different level now. We are partners now, true partners.”
Still, the looming question is: What happens next?
As McGregor noted, he’ll have no shortage of options, though none seems like a sure-fire follow-up to the Mayweather fight.
McGregor performed just well enough in his boxing debut to make a second punching-only match seem intriguing. Certainly, former sparring partner Paulie Malignaggi is trying to keep their feud going, in the hope he can catch a ride on the McGregor hype train.
But the truth is, continuing to push his luck in boxing would be the quickest way for McGregor to squander his promotional momentum.
He would almost certainly lose to Malignaggi or any other competent pro. It’s one thing to look better than anticipated in a one-off loss to the greatest fighter of your generation. It’s another thing entirely if those losses start to pile up.Isaac Brekken/Associated Press
Most likely, McGregor will re-sign and return to the UFC, with any number of the organization’s top stars waiting to get a piece of him.
For starters, he’ll have a trilogy fight against Nate Diaz on tap. That pair’s first two meetings became the Nos. 1 and 2 best-selling pay-per-view events in UFC history, per Tapology. If McGregor managed to get even a sliver of the audience that watched him fight Mayweather to follow him back to the Octagon for a third bout with Diaz, the numbers could be stellar.
There is also the small matter of McGregor’s 155-pound title to sort out. Currently, Tony Ferguson and Kevin Lee are set to fight for an interim lightweight championship at UFC 216 in October. If McGregor is going to go on being the UFC champion, he’ll have to fight the winner of that bout.
For his part, Lee is preemptively trying to drum up a feud with McGregor.
“I’m going to f–k him up, you feel me?” Lee told TMZ Sports. “… He knows if the folks wouldn’t break it up, I’ll kill the man. I’ll murder him.”
Other potential names on McGregor’s dance card include top lightweight contender Khabib Nurmagomedov and returning former welterweight champion Georges St-Pierre.
McGregor has talked about trying to fight Nurmagomedov at a big-money event in Russia. If St-Pierre manages to wrest the 185-pound title away from Michael Bisping at UFC 217, a bout against McGregor would make sense—at least financially, if not so much athletically.Isaac Brekken/Associated Press
Still, all the above fights feel at best like lateral career moves for “Mystic Mac.” That’s not something he’s accustomed to experiencing. To date, each milestone McGregor has reached since he arrived on the big stage in 2013 has been larger than the last.
That climb to mainstream status culminated Saturday with the Mayweather fight, for which McGregor was expected to earn as much as $150 million. Now that he’s pulled it off, the one thing standing between McGregor and a UFC comeback is the organization adding enough zeros to his next paycheck to make it worth his while.
How could the UFC do that?
The answer, of course, might be that ownership stake.
It’s something McGregor has been demanding since after he defeated Eddie Alvarez to win the lightweight title at UFC 205 in November. It never seemed like a realistic possibility—until last week, when White seemed to tiptoe to the edge of saying he’d be willing to talk about it.
Now, the idea of “Conor McGregor, UFC co-owner” appears within reach.
And you know what? It’s probably a good idea.
With McGregor’s already considerable value to the UFC potentially skyrocketing after the Mayweather bout, cutting him a bigger slice of the organization’s action might be the only way to keep him under the UFC banner for life.
If McGregor and the fight company are intent on making things work long-term, it’s certainly going to take some grand gestures to keep everybody happy.