A McGregor vs Diaz Trilogy Fight Is The Unimaginative Play
Somewhere between January and July of 2015, Conor McGregor's status took a leap. During a world tour across from eventually-replaced opponent, Jose Aldo, McGregor's antics and personality were on full display for as many eyeballs as the UFC could put on him. McGregor went from fighting Dustin Poirier on a card that sold a mere 205,000 PPV's to headlining a card that would sell four times that against Chad Mendes. Months later, when he finally faced Jose Aldo, he cracked the million dollar barrier and became a 'made man'. That was a simpler time. Little did we know it, but McGregor's leap would usher in a new era of the sport. An era dominated by 'money fights'.
Before McGregor's ascension, the UFC model wasn't built on the 'money fight'. The UFC built it’s product on the back of competition, what some would call parity. Just like the NFL, it’s what made the product interesting. The best fought the best, because the fans wanted that.
We look at the current era, the money fight era, as being the definition of the 'giving the fans what they want' philosophy. Because, from an economics standpoint, the fights that make the money are clearly the fans the fans will pay for. However, this has always been the model. While we tend to ignore it today, the best fighting the best version of UFC model was built on the concept of making the fight fans demanded. UFC President Dana White often cited the desire of fans, who we wanted to see get the next crack, as being part of the booking process. Now there is simply an abject pursuit of the 'money fight', for the sake of revenue. The shift has been in the motivation. It's not a fan-first philosophy but a very corporate, revenue-first philosophy.
This is all thanks to McGregor. McGregor’s entire mystique has been built on spectacle, the unequivocal pursuit of the almighty dollar. As has gone his pursuit of revenue, so too has the UFC, as if the Irishman's personality has infused with the UFC and morphed their own business philosophy to match his own. But McGregor is playing with his own cards. His incredible ability to sell a fight is part-and-parcel in selling himself. For the UFC, this unflinching change in philosophy is untenable. In a sense, they can't be promoting everyone, everywhere at once.
The UFC’s job is to find a way to elevate fighters to star status. With McGregor ultimately out for himself, the UFC can't afford to be conceding to him, allowing the Irishman to draw away precious resources. To steal a pro wrestling concept, the UFC needs to take McGregor's star to give ‘the rub’ to others.
McGregor's status is such that when he wins, the UFC wins, but when he loses the UFC still wins. There was a time when the former was all that mattered and the latter wasn’t true. A McGregor loss to Mendes would have significantly pumped the brakes on his star power. As it stands, McGregor’s fallibility crossed the Rubicon a good while ago. Losses don’t hurt him anymore like they hurt everyone else. Losses now enhance it. They make him more interesting, more watchable. There is a reason a segment of the combat sports world immediately asked, ‘Rematch?’ when Conor lost to Nate Diaz in their first bout. There is a reason people thought, ‘Rematch?’ when McGregor looked competitive against Floyd Mayweather. Because just the inclusion of his name is enough to sell a follow-up and make it bigger than the first.
Why should we be asking ourselves that? We’ve already seen McGregor tested, defeated, and overcome Nate Diaz. Yet we clamor for a third one. Just reflect for a moment that there was a time when a McGregor versus Diaz trilogy was the punchline to a joke. ‘Those two are going to fight three times!’ said no one ever. But we’re likely heading to that point.
It just shouldn’t be now. Now is the time to put McGregor at hazard. Risk something for the long-term gain. Drop him in against the winner of Ferguson and Lee, give one of those two the opportunity to elevate themselves the way Diaz did. Ferguson has the fighting style and oft-grating personality to be a sell and Lee can be unique on the microphone (and a walkoff against McGregor would be epic).
In a fight against either of them, a loss wouldn't do much damage. McGregor's ironclad star status and ability to promote a tomato can as an opponent ensure that. Meanwhile, it immediately provides him an additional adversary a la Diaz who we would pay more to see him fight. The upside is elevating his opponent. Whoever he loses to is now in a position to enhance their own star power and be sold. Sure, this can fail (look no further than the UFC terribly promoting Amanda Nunes), but it’s an option you didn’t have before. And McGregor is still there, Instagramming his greatness to the masses eager to listen.
Booking McGregor any other way and the future remains murky, clouded by dollar signs. Then again, what does any of it matter? This is America. It is always about the money.
Rhys Dowbiggin @Rdowb
Rhys is the host of The Hurt Take on Not The Public Broadcaster