The Money Fight was a boon for all involved. While McGregor will be returning to the UFC, what else does the super event mean for the fight game?
“The Money Fight” is officially in the books. While Floyd Mayweather is riding off into the sunset, Conor McGregor’s stock remains at a premium. The sport’s biggest star has already promised us an inevitable return, but has the fight game already been changed?
Under normal circumstances, “The Notorious” already has his schedule booked until 2019. He should defend his title against the winner of Tony Ferguson and Kevin Lee at UFC 216 in the early quarter of next year. If successful, then his next match would be a more intriguing option between Khabib Nurmagomedov and Nate Diaz.
Of course, Conor McGregor has never operated under normal circumstances.
Talk has ignited about McGregor’s desire to face Nurmagomedov in the UFC’s debut in Russia. As it stands “The Eagle” was unavailable for UFC 216 due to still recovering from an injury, so Kevin Lee got the nod to square off with Ferguson for the interim title.
Logistically, the entire prospect is head-scratching for several reasons. First, reports that McGregor would return to the UFC for the New Year’s Eve card would be tossed aside. Assuming, of course, that McGregor is fully intent on breaking ground in Russia and that the company is close to opening the market in a reasonable time frame. The second is that it completely dismisses the entire match between Ferguson and Lee for the interim title.
There has only been one incident in the past several years where such a high profile booking has occurred. At UFC 91, then-heavyweight champion Randy Couture returned from an unexpectedly whirlwind UFC hiatus to defend his belt against Brock Lesnar. At the time, interim heavyweight champion Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira was already scheduled to fight against Frank Mir.
The difference: Conor McGregor has been fully committed to a UFC return. If he were to return next year in Russia against Nurmagomedov, or even on New Year’s Eve, it would be the UFC going against their long-standing blueprint to give McGregor what he wants.
The argument can be made that at this stage he is entitled to whichever fight he chooses. His bravado has been at the forefront to another subset of fight fans, and he would have a much-ballyhooed welcome back to the world of mixed martial arts. He has already proved himself the pay-per-view king of the era, surpassing even Ronda Rousey’s numbers in her heyday. “Rowdy” has stepped away from the sport and given no indication that she plans to return. Recently, light heavyweight champion Jon Jones positive drug test at UFC 214 could remove him from the Octagon for several years and virtually end his mixed martial arts career. If there were ever a time for McGregor to be given any request, it would be now.
McGregor has also not shut the door on a rubber match with Nate Diaz, despite the fact that he has not competed since their second bout last year and has not accepted any other fight the UFC has been given. Their previous meetings have historically sold well in part to McGregor’s star power, Diaz’s cult following and the clash of personalities and style. While Diaz is no Floyd Mayweather in terms of drawing power, he is still among the most popular options despite being inactive by choice all year.
What has this foray into boxing done for the sport of MMA? At the elite level, not much. No promotion, boxing or MMA, is about to risk a valuable asset to the other sport without the guarantee of a monumental payday like last Saturday. Could another star make the jump down the line? Of course. If the money and time is right. But without a clash of two stars at the level of Floyd Mayweather and Conor McGregor, such a meeting at this level may not occur for quite some time.
What could possibly top this super fight? Well, the obvious answer is a fighter who can dominate both sports. A young athlete so well versed that they succeed at the highest levels, and build up their name enough that they can draw interest from both a major MMA and boxing promoter. We may even have such an athlete in the making now in the form of Aaron Pico. The Money Fight has certainly changed what we once considered impossible. But the sheer thought of a fight being bigger than this one? The fact that it’s a possibility should tell you everything you need to know.