Fast forward a month down the road after Conor McGregor’s second retirement, and the fighter-turned-spectacle will be sitting across from UFC President Dana White at a negotiating table sipping Proper Twelve and doing business.
There really is no other conceivable ending to the former two-division champion riding off into the moonlight, since his impromptu retirement came in the form of a tweet late Monday night.
A few hours prior to the tweet, McGregor appeared in a pre-taped interview on “The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon” drumming up interest for a possible return in July. He did imply that he no longer needed fighting for sustenance, but he didn’t at all seem like a man ready to walk away from the high that comes from the most adrenalized form of human competition.
“We’re in talks for July,” said McGregor. “We’ll see what happens, a lot of politics going on. The fight game is a mad game. But again, like I said, and to my fans, I am in shape and I am ready. …I have done my piece for the company. I don’t necessarily need to fight. I am set for life. My family is set for life. We are good, but I am eager to fight. So, we’ll see what happens. I’m just staying ready.”
We can only assume what might have happened in the two weeks between McGregor being onstage and singing karaoke with Jimmy Fallon to sending out the tweet. Yet, it’s safe to say his negotiations with the UFC have hit a major speedbump.
There were talks of a fight with Donald Cerrone being on the table, but according to Cerrone, per ESPN’s Brett Okamoto, McGregor turned down the fight because it was slated to be in a co-main event spot. McGregor later refuted those comments when chatting with fans during an appearance in Chicago. He claimed he’d be willing to be demoted on a fight card if the UFC offered him shares in the company.
One has to think the two sides will find common ground sooner rather later, especially if fight placement and money are the only hang-ups keeping the biggest star in combat sports from signing on the dotted line.
White put out a statement claiming the retirement “totally makes sense” and how he’d “retire too” if he was McGregor. While all of that may be true, there is no scenario where the UFC is actually okay with seeing its megastar call it quits in the prime of his career. Everyone loses in that scenario—McGregor, the UFC and most importantly, the fans.
The UFC’s goal as the mecca MMA organization is appeasing fans with the biggest fights possible. That’s tough to do when the most recognizable face in the company is out toasting Pina Coladas instead of competing against the best fighters in the world. This also isn’t the best timing for the promotion considering current lightweight champion, Khabib Nurmagomedov, is already sitting out a year, and top contender Tony Ferguson is dealing with a slew of personal issues.
The UFC needs McGregor right now more than he needs them.
McGregor recently came in at No. 5 in ESPN’s compilation of the top-100 most famous athletes in the world. Imagine signing a major network deal with ESPN and never having an opportunity to promote the top draw in the company. That complicates everything for everyone responsible for turning the mainstream pipe dream into a reality for MMA.
There is still a strong likelihood that both sides will eventually come together and iron out their issues. This isn’t White’s first rodeo when dealing with these situations, although he’s never had a fighter with comparable star power to McGregor’s.
There were the infamous back-and-forth non-pleasantries shared on social media with welterweight contender Ben Askren, the drawn out court battles with Randy Couture and the boxing match that never happened with Tito Ortiz.
Surely, White and McGregor can come to terms with the language in a contract. It was only last August they were toasting to a deal after agreeing on a blockbuster title fight with Nurmagomedov.
McGregor is one of the most polarizing sports figures in the world, and everyone can agree the fight business is better with him in it, including the ones that openly root against him. That butterflies in the stomach feeling that fans are on the verge of some larger-than-life spectacle is a common theme every time he steps into the cage. It’s always a reminder that the UFC captured lightning in a bottle. That for one fighter, on one particular night, the world would pay attention.
If distance really does make the heart grow fonder, it will only be a matter of time before one side picks up the phone in an attempt to push through the speedbump. There are sure to be plenty more along the way as long as McGregor’s star power remains blinding.
It’s a good problem to have when even the most casual of fans are willing to offer up their hard-earned cash to throw on a pair of sunglasses and gleefully partake.
This article first appeared on BJPENN.COM on 3/27/2019.