UFC 205 took place this past Saturday from the world’s most famous arena, Madison Square Garden. It was the UFC’s first trip to New York City after some long and tenacious years of fighting and lobbying against local politicians who were trying to keep the sport illegal in the state. Many years later and presumably millions of dollars spent on both sides, mixed martial arts was approved in the state of New York earlier this year. It was a grandiose moment for the sport and one that everyone who is involved with the sport in any way, shape or form was looking forward to since it was banned from the state in the late 1990s.
Given the magnitude of this event and how hard the UFC scratched and crawled to get to this point, everyone with a brain knew the company was going to try to put together one of the best cards ever. Speculation of who would be on the card and who would be the headliner ran wild as soon as the UFC announced Nov. 12 as the date when it would bring the Octagon to the Madison Square Garden arena. However, in what has seemingly overnight become a new norm with the UFC and its big events, the lineup took some time to take shape.
At one point, with just a little under two months until the event, the card looked somewhat underwhelming given the promise made by the promotion to bring a massive show to MSG. The lineup featured two title fights at the top of the bill. It also included a pivotal middleweight fight which, by the way, included the most recognizable New York City area fighter, Chris Weidman. There was also longtime fan-favorite Donald Cerrone, who has been working to climb the welterweight ranks. In addition there were plenty of fighters who could easily headline a Fox or Fox Sports 1 event. Yet, in the eyes of many pundits, the UFC’s first New York show was lacking some major star power.
Then, in late September, around eight or so weeks away from the event, UFC President Dana White went on ESPN and made just one announcement that completely changed the way almost everyone viewed UFC 205.
The announcement, as we all know now, was that Conor McGregor would be gunning to make history at the event when the featherweight champion challenged Eddie Alvarez, the reigning lightweight kingpin at the time, in a fight where if McGregor beat Alvarez — which he ultimately did — he would become the company’s first fighter to ever hold titles in two different weight classes simultaneously.
The point here is not to highlight how good McGregor is as a fighter. Instead, it’s to bring attention to what clearly stood out the most as we emerged from this historic weekend for the company. McGregor is now easily the UFC’s biggest star.
UFC 205 was a great, stacked card from top to bottom before McGregor and Alvarez were added. Without these two names, UFC 205, on paper at least, was easily in the conversation for most stacked card of the year, if not for the last five years or so. This didn’t matter to the masses, though. They required another reason to get excited. The UFC gave them that reason.
Once McGregor was added to the card, it drastically change the composition of the event. The change is what led to the record gate numbers the UFC pulled in.
In a time where the UFC and its new owners were looking to gain back some of the money they spent for the company, this did the trick.
In a time where the UFC was starving for stars who can generate great box-office numbers on a consistent basis, McGregor was the answer.
In a time where the only other person who was even remotely close to McGregor and the numbers he pulls has publically stated she doesn’t have many fights left, the Irishman continued to go strong.
In a time where one of the UFC’s most promising rising stars has been plagued by controversies outside of the cage and is staring at a year-long suspension, McGregor continued to walk a straight line and avoid drama.
In a time where the once biggest draw in the game and the widely considered best pound-for-pound fighter couldn’t get a fight over just a few thousand dollars and a dispute with new management, the newly crowned featherweight champion came to terms with his employers and entered the cage.
Now more than ever, the UFC needs McGregor to not only be happy with his current situation, but to fight as frequently as possible. This is not what is going to happen, though. In fact, almost the exact opposite will take place, according to McGregor. After his dominant performance over Alvarez, the Irishman said he feels he deserves a bigger share of the pie. Given his track record, who can argue with the man?
McGregor also said in the same exact press conference, no one from the new UFC brass has talked to him about making a new deal. He has made it clear he wants what he feels he is worth. The new owners, WME-IMG, are nowhere to be seen when it comes to negotiating with the company’s most profitable fighter. McGregor has made it clear he is not fighting until he gets to sit down with his new bosses and hammer out a new lucrative deal.
With the current landscape in MMA and the lack of star power, the UFC needs McGregor at his peak. The promotion needs to stop playing hardball with this guy. He is not just the average mid-card fighter. He is the one that has led the company to back-to-back years of record pay-per-view sales. He consistently has the biggest gates in the sport no matter what city he fights in.
Given where the UFC stands today and where it wants to be a year or so from now, it has never been more clear that the company needs to pay this man and do it rather soon. If not, things could get ugly rather quickly.