Conor McGregor has repeatedly gambled on himself since the idea of being the biggest thing in mixed martial arts popped into his head years ago. On Saturday night in Las Vegas, “The Notorious” got up off the deck and cashed in his most crucial bet yet.
In truth McGregor was a slight betting favorite despite taking a bad beat in March that many pundits, fans and fighters pounced on as a sign of the beginning of the end. It felt as if no one besides his countrymen and team-mates believed in him ahead of a vengeful sortie against Nate Diaz at the T-Mobile Arena.
“This was a hell of an important fight for me,” McGregor said after winning a majority decision at UFC 202 that did much more than even his series with Diaz at one win apiece.
It was a career-defining performance from the 28-year-old UFC superstar at a weight he’s clearly not at his best, opening up several possibilities for what comes next — another example of what McGregor can accomplish when he is cool and calculated. By defeating a fighter who generally campaigns at lightweight but strangled the UFC featherweight champion at 170lbs in the spring, McGregor did what Ronda Rousey hasn’t found the courage to do since she was knocked off her perch by Holly Holm over nine months ago: recover from an embarrassing loss to reclaim the throne as UFC’s top draw.
McGregor made it his mission after paying close attention to the people who reveled in his demise, and now the king is back. “It certainly lit a fire under my belly,” he said. “Every single person doubted me. Every single fighter doubted. Doubt me now!”
Big risk. Big reward. Big time. That’s McGregor. Now we wait to see what kind of monarch he will make. He’s earned that respect to go along with his celebrity status and record-setting paychecks.
After failing to guarantee a $1m purse during more than two decades of promoting big money bouts, McGregor broke that UFC barrier earlier this year. Several months later, to get him back in the cage with the man who taught him so much about humility at UFC 196, McGregor’s fight fee tripled.
More impressive might be the fact that Diaz earned $2m for 25 minutes of work this weekend after spending a career toiling away on a hard contract that had him competing for far less than he felt he deserved. “I brought this game to another level,” McGregor said. “Look at Nate’s purse tonight. Look at Nate’s purse the first fight. Everyone’s game has gone up and I helped do that.”
Though Diaz pushed in his own ways to increase his earnings, it was the connection to McGregor (a “shortcut,” he called it) that put him in a new tax bracket.
McGregor has been the opposite of quiet regarding his value, and part of his genius is clamoring about financial information in ways no UFC fighter ever had, normalizing money talk and demanding the status a top tier sports star ought to enjoy. Now the star attraction is preparing for the next phase of his career.
McGregor’s first order of business after leveling his series with Diaz: “I’ve got to sit down and see what piece of the pie they’re offering me now and see where I go from there. There’s a lot of options. Some might not be this sport.”
McGregor recently passed on a movie role that went instead to British UFC middleweight champion Michael Bisping. If he wants them, more roles will be there for the taking, though McGregor said in the build-up to the Diaz rematch that fighting is what he enjoys most.
“We deserve everything,” McGregor said prior to the Diaz rematch. “We go on and put it on the line more so than anyone else on the planet and that’s for your entertainment. We deserve our name in lights for everything we do here.”
He’s not waiting on anyone to give him what he wants, either. McGregor envisions himself as the creator of his own content. Over 6 million views of his daily video series, The MacLife, has grown organically, he said, and more is on the way.
“I’m a promotion machine and I’m only starting,” he said. “We’re only on day one, really.”
By accomplishing what he set out to do versus Diaz, McGregor offered a rebuke of the foolishness that comes with doubting him. How quickly we forgot after he ended Jose Aldo’s dominant reign in just 13 seconds late last year.
McGregor has continually pushed back against talk of a rematch with Aldo, suggesting it is beneath him based on how it went down the first time. Yet the pressure to meet the Brazilian for a second time has ramped up significantly after back-to-back fights at 170lbs. Aldo said he would like to meet McGregor at UFC 205 at Madison Square Garden in New York City.
“It’s hard for me to get excited about that, especially after his last performance,” McGregor said of the Brazilian, who was masterful in picking apart Frankie Edgar at UFC 200 to win an interim title at 145lbs. “He didn’t go out there and get it like I wanted him to get it. I’m the featherweight champion. The interim featherweight champion is a man I KO’d in 13 seconds. I’ve got to figure out what’s next. Right now I don’t know what’s next. There are many, many things in the pipeline. Sit tight.”
UFC president Dana White said that win, lose or draw McGregor’s next contest would be at featherweight, where he is obligated to defend the belt for the first time or return it no questions asked.
“I don’t think they’re going to do that,” McGregor said. “I mean, how could they do that? If they want to give my belt to the guy I KO’d in 13 seconds and bury that division in the prelims or the Fight Pass stuff, cause that’s what they’re gonna do, I mean we’ll see. How can they do that? What would that do to the division if the guy I KO’d in 13 seconds is the unified champion?”
Any fighter who meets McGregor from this point forward will come to know this experience. Diaz’s profile shot through the roof in the wake of his victory in March, and he is teed up for a trilogy whenever McGregor and the UFC agree to make it. McGregor said he would like it to take place at 155 pounds, and Diaz is happy to go on vacation and wait for the bout before stepping in the Octagon again.
“When I fight Nate again it will be on my terms,” he said. “I came up [to welterweight]. I didn’t make any stipulations this time. We’ve got a lot to talk about. But I’m in a beautiful, beautiful position right now. And that was built through hard work and I’m going to capitalize on that.”