Conor McGregor vs. the UFC, and What to Think About It

 

It’s absurd. We’re more than three months away from potentially the biggest UFC event ever.

Suddenly, the biggest star of the event, Conor McGregor refuses to fulfill his promotional obligations. Yes, the same person that’s done more promotional work in the past couple of years than anyone in the company

The UFC removes him from the event.

What’s Really Going On

”It doesn’t set a good precedent. It’s not fair,” said Dana White at last night’s UFC 200 Press Conference.

You’re damn right it’s not fair. But who is Dana kidding?

The Conor McGregor situation is about a power struggle between the UFC and its biggest star. It’s not about being unfair to other fighters; it’s about Conor trying to tell the UFC how to do the marketing for their events.

Besides, you want to talk about fair? Was the firing of Stitch Duran fair? Has the Reebok deal been fair to fighters? Was it fair to blame Jon Jones for UFC 151?

And that was just off the top of my head. Dana White is many things (including a brilliant fight promoter) but an advocate of fairness is not one of them.

Fairness, though, is exactly what should matter here.

The Hurt Business

The way you make money in this business is self-promotion. McGregor is one of the few fighters who understand this aspect of the combat sports business.

Fighters are private contractors to the UFC – they’re not employees. The difference is that instead of working to promote the UFC, fighters should work to promote themselves. The main focus should be on building their own brand and generating interest for what they’re doing. (Fighting on a pay-per-view event is one of the products they sell.)

When you get a chance to go on ESPN, you get a chance to promote yourself while selling your product (the upcoming PPV). When you get interviewed by the MMA media, you get a chance to promote yourself while selling your product. When you’re at a UFC press conference, you get a chance to promote yourself while, again, selling your product.

The UFC gives you an access to those platforms.

Many fighters seem to look at the media stuff as just another part of the job. They go to interviews and press conferences, set-up social media accounts, etc. because the UFC tells them to. Then they do the minimum work required to get through those ordeals.

None of those fighters will ever become big stars.

Most people buy PPVs because fighters with strong brands (that generate a lot of interest) are fighting. They buy PPVs because there’s a story behind the fighters and because they want to see how the story develops. The UFC always prefers fights in which both competitors have some history with each other so that they can create a story around it (also why we’re getting so many rematches – there’s automatic history).

The UFC matchmakers also try to ensure that both outcomes of any given fight lead to interesting stories.

Fighters (the private contractors) get paid based on how much money they help to generate for the UFC. If an event sells a million additional pay-per-views because you’re on it, you should make a lot of money, and certainly much more than someone who sells fewer pay-per-views.

McGregor’s argument is that while other fighters have done the bare minimum, he’s put so much effort into promoting himself and the UFC’s products (the PPVs, tickets, merchandise, Fight Pass memberships, etc.) that he now deserves some time off.

But that’s business.

What do we, the fans, care about it? What should we care about?

This Is Still a Sport

In other words, what does it matter if McGregor made the company $400 million in the last eight months? That’s between him and the UFC. None of the fans made – or are going to make – any of that.

In fact, it was the fans who paid for all the success. The more money McGregor and the UFC have made, the more money we, the fans, have spent.

No, this should be strictly about seeing a fair fight.

Regardless of how much money McGregor has made for the UFC, he shouldn’t get a competitive advantage over Diaz because of it. Diaz had to take a break from training to be there, and McGregor should have done the same thing. McGregor’s already got a better contract to make up for all the previous promotional work (they both show up for the same fight but McGregor leaves with the bigger check).

Now, if both opponents were to be exempt from the same promotional duties, there’s no competitive issue. If you’re exempt from your promotional duties, so should your opponent be. Making the company hundreds of millions of dollars is no reason to get an unfair advantage over your opponent.

There’s no reason Diaz should be at a disadvantage just because of what McGregor has done to promote himself in the past.

And remember: even though Diaz accepted the UFC 196 fight on short notice, he still showed up for lots of promotional work, even though that took most of the little time he had to prepare for the fight (the same thing with Mendes).

The question for the fans is: what is this weird obsession about how much money a fighter makes? Why are we so obsessed about big business to the point where a PPV does better just because it’s hyped as a potentially big financial success? (It felt like all the Mayweather vs. Pacquaio hype was based on this selling point.)

Are we still interested in MMA as a sport? A sport in which both competitors are on an even playing field? Are we still interested in the actual fight instead of the theatrics and the business side of things?

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