Conor McGregor hit headlines around the world this month after announcing his retirement from UFC at the age of 31. It was his third retirement in four years, so MMA fans took the news with a pinch of salt, but “The Notorious” insists he is finished for good this time. He can certainly look back upon a successful and lucrative career in which he emerged as the most influential UFC star in history. These are the five key ways in which McGregor has influenced the sport:
McGregor is undoubtedly a world-class fighter. Yet his tongue is even sharper than his fists, and he has built his career upon his lyrical prowess. The Irish wordsmith regularly lays into rivals with ferocious barbs, delivered like bullets being fired from an M16, making his press conferences essential viewing. He can be absolutely savage, and he is regularly foul-mouthed, but he is also surprisingly poetic at times. His rivals cannot keep up, and it is often a joy to behold him in full flow. Love him or hate him, there is no denying the aura he carries and the sheer magnetism of his personality. He generally uses it for flagrant self-promotion, talking up his achievements, trash-talking his rivals and generating headlines like no other fighter. He is often controversial, he has regularly been in trouble with the law and engaged in distasteful antics and many viewers loathe him, but UFC has never had a bigger star, and he has brought the MMA scene into the mainstream.
The Shock Factor
You never quite know what to expect when McGregor steps into the octagon. He knocked out generational talent Jose Aldo with his first punch after just 13 seconds of their UFC featherweight championship bout. He suffered a shock defeat to Nate Diaz in his subsequent fight, before prevailing via a majority decision in an epic rematch against Diaz. His performance against Eddie Alvarez was extraordinary. His showing against Khabib Nurmagomedov was totally underwhelming. Yet he then returned to the octagon following a 17-month absence and pulled off an astonishing demolition job on Donald Cerrone. McGregor never refuses a challenge. He has stepped into the octagon with all the biggest names in the business, and he has beaten most of them, including Max Holloway and Dustin Poirier. He is an explosive fighter, a knockout specialist and a thoroughly brilliant entertainer, regularly capable of shocking viewers with the ferocity of his punches, and that makes his appearances in the octagon must-watch events.
Breaking PPV Records
“The Notorious” is easily the biggest pay-per-view draw in UFC history. His showdown with Nurmagomedov at UFC 249 drew 2.4 million PPV buys, the most ever seen for an MMA event. He is also second, third, fourth, sixth and seventh in the list, with UFC 100: Lesnar vs. Mir the only PPV event disrupting his dominance. Before McGregor came along, large PPV buys were confined to boxing. UFC could never dream of selling more than a million buys, yet he changed all that thanks to his unique blend of self-promotion and explosive ability. There is a clear incentive for UFC president Dana White to lure him back into the octagon with a lucrative deal. Nurmagomedov may be the better fighter – check here for UFC odds and you will see just how highly rated he is – but his style is turgid and his press conferences are tedious. This is an entertainment business, and McGregor is a born entertainer, so White knows just how valuable his star man is.
Crossing Over Into Boxing
McGregor made the bold decision to cross over into boxing and fight arguably the greatest pugilist of all time. He could have locked horns with a journeyman fighter in a bid to secure victory, but instead, he locked horns with the unbeaten Floyd Mayweather Jnr. Their bout drew 4.3 million PPV buys in North America alone, making it the second biggest PPV event in boxing history, and McGregor held his own. He ended up losing via a 10th round knockout, and he was behind on all three judges’ cards at the time, but very few people expected him to last that long against the man that ESPN named the greatest pound for pound boxer of the past 25 years. McGregor could have pulverized Mayweather in an MMA bout, but he remained disciplined and impressed several boxing fans with his skills.
McGregor is also the first MMA star to launch a multitude of successful business ventures. The Notorious earned a cool $100 million for fighting Mayweather, and he is now well on his way to becoming a billionaire. Outside the octagon and the ring, he has launched Proper No. Twelve Irish whiskey and August McGregor Clothing, while securing a multimillion-dollar deal with Reebok. His personal brand extends well beyond the UFC, and he is likely to continue raking in the cash for many years to come. That has paved the way for fellow fighters to follow in his footsteps, and sponsorships, endorsements and business ventures are becoming more popular among fighters. McGregor has essentially dragged UFC into the mainstream and laid down a blueprint for other fighters to follow if they want to enjoy similar levels of fame and fortune.