He is beyond brash, arrogance personified, with seemingly no filter between brain and mouth. He makes no effort to conceal the fact he is here to conquer and pillage, to make loads of money, nor the fact he fears no one. He makes promises and predictions which, time and again, he delivers on, causing his fans to only worship him all the more and his critics to seethe and pine for his downfall.
No, I am not talking about Donald Trump, but about Conor McGregor, aka “Mystic Mac,” the bold and brazen Irish-born UFC Featherweight champion, now slated to face Nate Diaz in a five round battle contested at 170 pounds. The match was agreed to after lightweight champion Rafael Dos Anjos suffered a serious injury in training and had to pull out of his scheduled title defense against “The Notorious One.”
The press conference announcing the replacement match was a dandy with McGregor and Diaz continually throwing insults at each other. It peaked at over 360,000 viewers, and that was on YouTube alone and didn’t include viewers who saw it on Fight Pass or other outlets. That is more than the World Series of Fighting drew for its last event and that featured guys actually fighting. Conor is getting bigger ratings for simply having a public argument.
In retrospect, maybe it’s not a surprise that Conor and the UFC put it out there that he could compete at welterweight soon and even for the title. With the fall of Ronda Rousey and Jon Jones, Conor is the face of not only the UFC, but MMA in general. It’s why he is perhaps the only fighter in the world who can say the things he says, do the things he does, and just continue to get more popular.
“I run the West Coast,” Conor crows. “And the East Coast.” Who can argue?
Conor likes to let everyone know he enjoys the money and he regularly brags about all the zeros on his cheques. While that, among other things, caused Floyd Mayweather to be hated by hardcore boxing fans, UFC fans revel in Conor’s over-the-top pomposity.
“I am the rule,” shouted Conor on Wednesday. “I’m the only rule in this game!”
Make no mistake, many fans love the fact Conor McGregor has turned the tables on the UFC in so many ways. In the past, fighters were beholden to Zuffa and publicly servile, accepting whatever matches and paydays were offered without a word of protest. When fighters did balk, the UFC often sent them to purgatory or took measures to make sure they would ever after hold their tongue. But with Conor, you get the sense that no matter what he does or says, there is nothing Zuffa can do to contain him.
“Deep down it scares them that he might be the one fighter popular enough, crazy enough, and relentless enough to leave them,” one MMA insider recently told me. “If they push him, their fear is he could pull a Floyd, go out on his own, and they are hurting if that happens.”
That seems to be the truth as Conor right now is the one dependable star they have that can make them huge money. His short notice fight with Chad Mendes at UFC 189 produced over 800 000 pay-per-view buys, while his fight with Jose Aldo hit 1.2 million. The live gate brought in 10.1 million dollars which broke the record for an MMA event in the U.S.
Conor McGregor has become bigger than any other star in the UFC in that he has both an international following and a domestic one, both of which follow his every move. Come this Sunday, it’s a safe bet that almost a million people will buy this latest PPV event and watch as two lightweights fight at 170 pounds, just because Conor says so. It’s also a safe bet to say he will win, and then the speculation will shift to who “Mystic Mac” will face next, either Rafael Dos Anjos, UFC Weltwerweight champion Robby Lawler, or even a dream fight vs Georges St. Pierre.
Let’s face it: it’s a Conor McGregor world right now, and love him or hate him, we are living in it and watching every moment with keen anticipation. — Chris Connor