When expectation is met with reality, the result is ordinarily a feeling akin to the air escaping a balloon – flat. Sometimes what is hoped for just doesn’t play out the way it was anticipated and so often this has been a narrative which has manifested itself in the UFC.
Indeed, you only have to look back to last month when the promotion celebrated their bicentennial pay-per-view card with, what on paper at least, appeared to be the most stacked event in its history.
But all the fervent build-up and hyperbolic hype was washed away by a series of doping violations – initial headliner Jon Jones failed a test just days before the event began and superstar draw Brock Lesnar left behind a dark cloud of his own after also falling foul – and prosaic performances inside the Octagon.
Up until this point, it’s been a rough 2016 for the UFC with titles changing hands on seven occasions and the merry-go-round coinciding with the waning star power of the company’s biggest success stories of the previous year: Ronda Rousey and Conor McGregor.
With the UFC feeling a bit of a deficit in terms of mainstream stars, the last thing they could afford was for their leading man to suffer defeat again. Yet, were UFC 200 proved a letdown, UFC 202 inflated.
In a sense, the promotion’s fortunes are married to McGregor’s. Without him in July they suffered but with him yesterday, everyone prospered. And the Irishman’s blood and guts majority decision win over Nate Diaz had quite the ripple effect.
From the personal nadir of defeat to Diaz in March, he recovered to accentuate his position as the sport’s peak player. Not only that, the nature of the five-round war also saw the genesis of another star name.
Diaz has long been viewed as the UFC’s antihero, but his resilience and heart to weather the green storm through a mist of red, further enhanced his mainstream capacity.
With both McGregor and Diaz thriving, it all created the perfect outcome for the UFC with fans yearning for the trilogy, providing the antidote to the troubles of previous weeks. Now, the next level is on the horizon.
Having been bought out for $4 billion in July the sport’s premier promotion is in a strong position. But make no mistake, the man to carry them is McGregor. The landscape of the game has changed thanks to his audacious trash-talking talents and transcendent abilities inside the Octagon.
And if you’re looking for justification of the new heights he has taken the UFC to, then just look at the numbers for yesterday’s highly-anticipated rematch. The event drew the fifth highest gate ever with $7,692,010.
UFC 202 will likely go on to break more records when the PPV numbers emerge but the one it has already snapped is the biggest disclosed MMA purse in the sport’s history.
McGregor earned $3million while Diaz pocketed $2m, combining for the largest payday for a single bout. Historically, seven-figure payouts have seldom been seen but deep purses are becoming a more regular sight with ‘The McGregor Show’ and if the athletes are finally to be paid what they merit, the 28-year-old will have played a significant role in that.
“I don’t care what anyone says, I helped bring this game to another level,” he said post-fight. “They can deny that, but I did. Look at Nate’s purse. Look at Nate’s purse after the first fight. Look at everyone’s. Everyone’s game has gone up money-wise, and I helped do that.”
While the divisive Irishman has often cut a controversial figure, his role in evolving the sport has been under-appreciated. In beating Diaz in the way that he did, though, McGregor’s victory was not only for himself, but in the end for Diaz, the UFC and for all of MMA.
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