Cocky fighters have historically always done well in combat sports. From Muhammad Ali to Prince Naseem Hamed through to Deontay Wilder and, yes, Conor McGregor, the public has always been willing to pay big money to see their fights. Fifty per cent of the crowd fall in love with the charisma of the outspoken stars. The other half is there in the hope that someone will finally beat them and shut their mouths. The combination of a cocky fighter and a high-stakes match is a dream for promoters, but it comes with a catch. The dream only lasts for as long as the fighter with the big mouth keeps winning.
Conor McGregor is no longer a winner. He still talks a good game, but he can’t back it up in the cage for UFC. Having retired from the sport and then come back for more money multiple times, he got the shock of his life the first time he lost to Dustin Poirier. The fight was supposed to be a warm-up before he moved on to world title fights. Instead, he was left licking his wounds and nursing his bruised ego. When the two met in a rematch on July 10th this year, the event was billed as McGregor’s revenge. Again, the Irishman was supposed to beat the American and then move on to bigger and better things. Instead, he lost again. That’s devastating for the McGregor brand and, arguably, for the drawing power of UFC as a whole.
McGregor is a character that’s difficult to love, but we’ll try to be fair to him, given the circumstances. He didn’t lose the second fight because Poirier knocked him out or tapped him out. He lost because of a freak accident that saw him roll his ankle and break his tibia, rendering him unable to continue. Even by that point, though, he was behind on the scorecards. Poirier looked better than him in every way, and short of a flash knockout, it’s unlikely that the fight would have ended in anything but a defeat for McGregor. Now thirty-three years old and on a losing streak, this might finally be the end for the long-running “Conor McGregor Show” that’s dominated mixed martial arts for years.
A personality like McGregor’s was never likely to take defeat well, but his behaviour both in the immediate aftermath of the match and the days and weeks that have followed has been nothing short of disgraceful. He screamed abuse at anyone who would listen – including Poirier – on his way out of the cage in the aftermath of his defeat. A few days ago, he mocked the death of former foe Khabib Nurmagomedov’s father on social media. The Russian had tweeted Poirier to congratulate him on his big victory, saying “good always defeats evil.” McGregor’s reply, which has since been deleted, was “covid is good and father is evil?” which immediately drew widespread condemnation. The passing of Nurmagomedov’s father had a huge impact on the fighter, ultimately leading to his retirement. Poirier stepped in to say that he felt McGregor had crossed a line – especially when a rematch with Nurmagomedov is no longer a possibility.
It’s difficult to see where McGregor can go from here. His attitude is winning him even fewer friends than ever before, and his reputation as an elite-level fighter is in tatters. McGregor is no longer the guy who talks big but backs it up when fight night arrives. He’s the guy who runs his mouth and then gets beaten up. His drawing power is diminished, and so the incentive for UFC boss Dana White to overlook his behaviour because of the money he earns for the company is no longer there. His UFC career might be over for good – and this time, it will be because the sport walks away from him rather than the other way round.
This does not, of course, mean that McGregor is done fighting. He’s been trading insults with YouTube star and part-time boxer Jake Paul for months, and a fight between the two would attract money no matter how much the idea might horrify some fight fans. While many purists believe that neither of the Paul brothers has any business getting involved in professional boxing or MMA, their pay-per-view and ticket figures demonstrate that there’s an audience who’ll pay to see them. So long as that remains the case, there will always be someone willing to put the fight on, and it could be the last money match of McGregor’s career. The flip side is that he has nothing to gain and everything to lose from such an encounter. If Conor McGregor were to lose to Jake Paul, the shame would be unbearable.
He could do worse than take a page out of Mike Tyson’s book. Disregarding the boxing legend’s recent one-off exhibition match with Roy Jones Jr, he’s devoted his post-retirement years to promotional work. That’s how he ended up appearing in the “Hangover” films. It’s also how and why he has a range of casino games and online slots that bear his likeness and make him money. That’s a viable option for McGregor. MMA-themed online slots already exist in places like Online Slots UK. Even with his best years behind him, McGregor has an army of fans, and there’s likely to be a significant crossover between people who like Conor McGregor and people who play online slots. There, through merchandising and licensed entertainment products, he could have a lifelong income stream that doesn’t require him to get back in the cage and pose any further risks to his health.
Maybe McGregor will do something else. Maybe he’ll finally accept that invitation to go and have a few matches in WWE. The multiple losses on his record make him a less valuable “get” than he would have been a few years ago, but moving into pro wrestling worked wonders for Ronda Rousey. If presented the same way, McGregor could be a hit with wrestling fans. It would certainly be entertaining to see him with a live microphone in his hands inside such a cartoonish world. When it comes to UFC and MMA, though, the McGregor show ought to be over for his own good. His mouth still writes cheques, but his body can’t cash them.