Stop the presses! UFC President Dana White has found the biggest star in the history of the UFC. No, not that guy with the giant sword tattoo or the guy who is never impressed by anyone’s performance. No, not even that girl who was in one of the summer’s biggest (by budget, at least) films of the summer.
No, the UFC’s biggest star ever now wears a three-piece (“tree-piece”) suit when applicable and believes that there’s not a man alive that can beat him on Irish soil. Surging UFC featherweight contender Conor McGregor has become the de facto star for the UFC following his victory at UFC 178.
Heading into the pay-per-view, McGregor and his opponent, Dustin Poirier, engaged in some of the best trash talk in recent memory. The two men traded verbal barbs when given the chance, and their encounters on the UFC 178 Embedded series were both awkward and hilarious to watch. The fight had so much heat that it became a major focal point of the show despite it not being the main event, or even the co-headliner on the card. The fact that McGregor-Poirier had more fan interest than an UFC title fight speaks volumes to the ability of both men to generate intrigue. Most of the credit goes to McGregor, who showcased why he’s the sport’s top talker.
The Irishman’s ability to sell himself will score him big fights down the road. It’s no secret McGregor’s gamesmanship with the microphone helped tremendously in getting people to buy UFC 178. What makes his talking ability even more valuable to the UFC is that, thus far in his career, the man has backed it up. Unlike Chael Sonnen, who always had a knack for drawing people in only to flounder in the big fights, McGregor has dispatched of everyone in his path during his run inside the Octagon. Regardless of how you feel about Poirier, the ease by which McGregor dispatched him is very telling. The UFC finally has a star to promote who will help sell a card with his actions both in and out of the cage.
However, White’s proclamations that McGregor is the next big thing have to be taken with a grain of salt. McGregor is simply the UFC’s “flavor of the month.” It was only a few months ago that the UFC head was claiming Ronda Rousey as the biggest star in the history of the UFC. Now it’s McGregor, with the success of UFC 178 in the books. You can’t blame White for being caught in the McGregor-mania that’s been going around MMA since the featherweight’s arrival in the UFC. The man was given a full television entrance for a preliminary fight when he made his U.S. debut against Max Holloway. He followed that up with an entrance that created an aura that few have been able to make while walking out to face Diego Brandao back in July. The UFC also reported that 10 percent of the ticket sales for UFC 178 came from Ireland. Fact or not, it is true that Irish fans came out in droves to support their guy. One could’ve mistaken the card for one being held in Dublin, rather than Las Vegas, when McGregor appeared in front of the masses.
McGregor is a star in the making, there’s no doubt about that. But a bigger star than Brock Lesnar or Georges St-Pierre? As the saying goes, numbers never lie.
The last pay-per-view GSP headlined was UFC 167, and he was able to pull 630,000 buys according to the MMA Payout Blue Book. UFC 158, where St-Pierre fought Nick Diaz, drew 950,000 buys, and GSP drew 700,000 buys for his return fight against Carlos Condit at UFC 154. Meanwhile, Lesnar drew 535,000 buys for his UFC 141 bout with Alistiar Overeem, over a million buys at UFC 121, and another 1.1 million buys at UFC 116. Quite simply, McGregor isn’t even in the same league as St-Pierre or Lesnar when it comes to making money for the company. At least not yet.
As anyone who has watched how the promotion has handled McGregor’s career to this point knows, the UFC wants the Irishman to be the next big thing. The company is building him up to be its next megastar, and he’s either going to sink or swim from the pressure. It will be a balancing act for the promotion as it looks to groom him as the next major pay-per-view draw without it coming off as if the company is forcing him down our throats (which is where things stand now).
McGregor is also likely getting a nice pat on the back and in the bank account from the promotion for how he thinks. Watching the post-fight press conference after UFC 178, McGregor made it clear he’s in MMA to get paid. Thinking of himself as a prize fighter, McGregor laid down the plan—get in, get paid and get out. There’s nothing wrong with that train of thought. The career of a fighter is relatively short compared to athletes in other mainstream sports and the window of opportunity for big money fights is even slimmer. Fighters who want to compete and make money are exactly the fighters the UFC wants as well. To this point, McGregor hasn’t been difficult to deal with and hasn’t gone against the grain for what the promotion has planned.
A fighter that wants to make money and wants to play ball with the UFC brass? Sounds like something the UFC hype machine could get behind, full steam ahead.