Last week, the UFC Featherweight champion, Conor McGregor, an athlete that always has people talking, managed to generate more conversation when he spoke candidly about his view of the sports entertainment genre.
Basically, he referred to Brock Lesnar’s recent failed tests after UFC 200 and his remarks were similar to other steroid comments that were made toward pro wrestling in the past. McGregor might have a point, but considering that Lesnar isn’t subject to the WWE wellness policy, and the general direction of the industry, it’s not exactly fair to compare the modern WWE landscape to some of the more infamous eras of the past. After his comments made some press, he sent a tweet to “clarify” his message, but ultimately fueled the situation. Despite his apparent disdain for sports entertainment, it’s doubtful that Conor has any actual hostility toward the business.
If anything, Conor is essentially borrowing a page from the pro wrestling playbook to hype his next bout later this month at UFC 202 in a rematch with Nate Diaz. The Stockton native took the initial fight on ten days notice to replace the then-Lightweight champion Rafael Dos Anjos, and McGregor moved up an additional weight class to fight at 170 LBS. McGregor was riding a wave of momentum into the cage earlier this year when he fought Diaz, and many expected a Conor victory, especially since he had previously knocked out the dangerous Jose Aldo to claim the 145 LBS title in just 14 seconds.
However, the brash Dublin import and many fans were surprised when Diaz sustained punishment in the opening round and was still dangerous in the second round. McGregor was overconfident and with his hands down, he got caught with crisp punches from his opponent. Ultimately, McGregor couldn’t recover from the combinations and was submitted via rear naked choke before the end of the second round. Conor McGregor is without question a skilled and entertaining fighter, which is why he is a top draw on pay-per-view, but this rematch could very well determine if he’s a long term draw for the promotion or a flash in the pan.
The hype around Conor was his dynamic style and Ali-type of promotional efforts, but he was humbled when he was submitted by an opponent that had less than two weeks to prepare so he has to “rebuild” the buzz around himself prior to the next contest, hence the pro wrestling “controversy.” The bottom line is, Conor knows how to get people talking about Conor, and it worked as many sports entertainment stars responded to him.
Similar to most of the promotional style of the UFC, Conor uses pro wrestling tactics to generate a fan following, and has done that so far in his career. The flashy clothes, the bold statements, and the elaborate entrances could just as easily be used to describe Ric Flair in his heyday, but those are all elements that McGregor uses today to enhance his image. Will Conor’s comments make some wrestling fans want to see him get knocked out? Sure, but as long as they order the pay-per-view, it doesn’t matter. The UFC is as much of a business, if not more so, as it is a sport and McGregor knows how to draw money.
It’s no coincidence that Conor McGregor made these comments on social media just a few weeks before he fights on pay-per-view.
This maximizes the publicity and the spotlight for the bout where he can redeem himself, which is a good business move, but as mentioned, the fight with Diaz could determine the direction of Conor’s career. Keep in mind, McGregor is a relatively new commodity with just a year at the top of the UFC, and without the accomplishments of some of the more well known fighters in UFC history. Quite frankly, he has more to prove in his career, considering that he has yet to actually defend his championship and another loss could damage his drawing power.
That being said, the rematch is extremely risky for the featherweight king pin, as this bout will, at his request, be at welterweight and this time, Nick Diaz has a full training camp to prepare for the contest. In many ways, the Diaz brothers have very unique untapped marketing potential, and the spotlight of defeating McGregor allowed a more main stream audience to get exposure to Nick Diaz, who brings an unfiltered style to the UFC. Diaz trains regularly with pro boxer Andre Ward and has a black belt in Brazilian jui jit su so he has well rounded skills. Under the radar for most of his career, Diaz is a journeyman of sorts in MMA, he wins some fights and loses others, but always has entertaining bouts, which is why he’s well known among diehard MMA fans.
If Conor is successful or not when he returns to the octagon remains to be seen, but if I had to guess, I would say that Nick Diaz will be victorious again. Diaz is a more natural welterweight and possibly a more well rounded fighter, as Conor seems to lack some of the ground skills. That being said, from a business prospective, it’s mission accomplished for McGregor, he definitely generated publicity for his return to pay-per-view. It’s somewhat ironic that Conor worked some veteran pro wrestlers, a group that made a living off of working an audience, to get him free publicity for his next fight on pay-per-view.
Until next week
E mail:[email protected]
You can follow me on Twitter @jimlamotta