There isn’t a more polarizing fighter in the UFC, or even in all of MMA, than Conor McGregor.
From the moment the “Notorious” one stepped inside the Octagon, he seemed to draw the attention of fans like moths to his Irish flame. When all it took was a microphone in his hands to take McGregor from the prelims to bonafide star, it was clear the UFC was working with an entirely different animal than it was used to promoting.
When it comes to the gift of gab, it’s hard to say that anyone has used their talking skills as well as McGregor. Unlike, say, Chael Sonnen, who was probably the UFC’s most prolific talker before McGregor burst onto the scene, McGregor didn’t follow the Muhammad Ali playbook and make his living off of punchlines and hot takes. When Sonnen spoke, it sometimes felt like the former title challenger was reading from cue cards or blatantly ripping off old “Superstar” Billy Graham promos. While the Irishman certainly knows how to work the press and give them a solid quote or two, there’s a real sense of belief and legitimacy behind McGregor’s words that makes his unwavering confidence feel more real than anyone that came before him.
McGregor’s confidence has ensured that anyone who considers themselves a fight fan has an opinion on the Irishman. Whether you love him or hate him, he’s made sure to keep people talking about him. The strange thing is, while most fighters that behave the way that McGregor has over the last few years become villains and end up showered with boos when hitting the scale or the cage, the Irishman has remained popular with both hardcore and casual fans despite his tendency to run his mouth.
McGregor has been able to remain a fan-favorite, even gaining cheers over the popular Nate Diaz in his last bout. Between McGregor’s ability to talk and his actual talent in the cage — something he has in abundance — he turned himself into the biggest star the UFC has seen in years. The last three fight cards featuring McGregor have all been amongst the most successful in the history of the promotion, and with the marquee UFC 200 event on the horizon, it only made sense that McGregor would be in the headlining spot. So when the card was first announced a few weeks ago, it came as no surprise that the “Notorious” one was in the main event opposite Diaz, the man who had handed McGregor his first loss in the Octagon.
Then things got interesting.
A few days ago, McGregor, seemingly out of the blue, sent a tweet hinting at his retirement. A few hours later, UFC President Dana White appeared on ESPN to announce that McGregor had been pulled from the card for refusing to participate in promotional and media obligations. Then, after a couple days of silence, McGregor posted a message to fans on Facebook saying that he was not retired and was still willing to fight at UFC 200. The catch? McGregor does in fact want to get out of some of the promotion for the fight, citing that he’s “paid to fight” and not to promote and that “it’s time for the other monkey’s to dance, I’ve danced us all the way here.”
The message goes on to illustrate McGregor’s excessive promotional duties before his last bout and suggest that these commitments contributed to his loss in March. McGregor insists his efforts promoting previous cards should earn him some leeway now that he’s asking for it for the first time in his career. On one hand, this seems fair and fans should find a little sympathy for McGregor. He’s been everywhere for the last 18 months or so, promoting his last three fights with more success than anyone else on the UFC roster. However, you can’t forget that McGregor is the one who asked for this fight against Diaz.
According to the UFC, both the promotion and McGregor’s coach tried to talk the fighter out of a Diaz rematch and into defending his featherweight title. The “Notorious” one would have none of it. He demanded the rematch.
When the rematch was set for UFC 200, a card that everyone knows the organization is going to try to make the biggest in history, McGregor had to have known he would be looking at a ton of media and promotion. McGregor is going to generate a ton of buzz and end up doing his share of media no matter when he fights, but if he wanted to try to tone things down for his next bout, then he had to have known UFC 200 wasn’t the place to do it.
The most interesting part of the message, however, is that McGregor claims he sent out the retirement tweet in order to make up the 10 million dollars in money the UFC had spent on promotion for the fight. In fact, the Irishman says he “tripled it,” and in a sense he’s probably right. He was everywhere in the news the past few days, which kind of sums up his entire post. In his own cocky, brash way, McGregor makes a lot of really good points, and he does it in the brutally honest way that earned him so many fans in the first place.
Like any fighter that is constantly in the limelight, McGregor has his fair share of detractors. They’re going to have a field day picking apart his message. Despite his reasonable arguments, there are plenty of moments where he can be viewed as arrogant and entitled. Even though McGregor’s haters are definitely in the minority, they’ll likely gain a few members and become even louder following his fake-out retirement. However, going head-to-head with the machine is always going to win over some fans, especially in a blue-collar sport like MMA. The odds are this isn’t going to end up hurting McGregor’s popularity at all.
By all accounts, McGregor should be one of the most hated men in MMA right now. He acted like a maniac during the build-up to his fight with José Aldo. He seemingly had the organization wrapped around his finger up until a few days ago. He just trolled his entire fan base with a fake retirement and ended up getting one of the most anticipated fights of the summer cancelled in one tweet. Yet, in the eyes of most fans, the “Notorious” one is going to come out of this unscathed. McGregor likes to use words like “untouchable” and “indestructible” to describe himself. While Diaz may have disproved these claims in the cage, McGregor’s reputation among fans has been just those things — untouchable and indestructible.