For the first time in his career, Conor McGregor heads into battle as the underdog. Only on this occasion, the divisive Irishman is not up against a fellow fighter, he’s taking on the behemoth that created him – the UFC.
The 27-year-old sensationally announced on Twitter yesterday that he had retired from mixed martial arts. He wrote: “I have decided to retire young. Thanks for the cheese. Catch ya’s later.”
Initially, it was considered a hoax, just a prank fighters often pull (see Alexander Gustafsson earlier this month). But as the tweet remained without further comment, the conspiracy theories and hypothesis gathered pace before hitting warp speed as UFC president Dana White weighed in.
“Well, what’s happened is, we’ve pulled Conor McGregor from UFC 200,” he told ESPN. “And we’re working on other fights right now.”
Cue chaos. White’s version of the tale, if you take it at face value, is this: McGregor refused to fly from his training camp in Iceland for a press conference in Las Vegas tomorrow. When the promotion threatened to remove him from the landmark card if he didn’t show, and then didn’t, they did.
Now, from McGregor’s point of view, the rematch with Nate Diaz, which was supposed to be the main event of the summer’s blockbuster card on July 9 at the new T-Mobile Arena, is the biggest of his career.
His use of rhetoric is as powerful as his fists – in social media currency his retirement statement was retweeted 150,000 times – and clearly that would be required for a big promotional push.
But whatever the motive is, whether it’s financial or that he simply wants to do away with distractions – you have to appreciate White’s demand that he attend the elaborate conference. So what’s ensued is a clear power struggle and it’s one that has bubbled under the surface for months and has now exploded onto the world stage. Everyone is watching and everyone is waiting to see who blinks first.
As of now, neither player has, but someone has to, and it’s likely to be the man draped in green, not the man named White who will succumb. While the UFC brass has been willing to pacify their star
employee up until this point, it’s clear that his latest insubordination is a step too far. It was one thing when McGregor kept showing up late to press conferences but it’s another not to appear at all.
It seems McGregor is challenging the UFC to put on July’s show without him. But White has played the game perfectly and what the featherweight champion must
realise is that the promotion hold all the cards, even if he’s one of a few to make it to the table.
They’ve proven in the past that they can overcome the loss of individual stars, even one who satisfies their insatiable appetite for mainstream status. From Chuck Liddell through to Georges St-Pierre, the UFC has always survived and then eventually thrived.
Of course, that’s not to say they will hurt from the potential loss of McGregor but the pain would only be temporary. There is always someone to fill the void – it’s just the nature of the game.
Right now, it’s the UFC who are winning. Without McGregor UFC 200 is still stacked and it will still be a success by every metric. Be careful with your next move Mr McGregor, it could well be your last.
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