Monday, May 23, 2022

The House Conor McGregor Built That Cannot Lose

Conor McGregor once said, “What defines us is how well we rise after falling.” After being sent to the canvas by a devastating right hook that capped off a ferocious flurry from Dustin Poirier, McGregor was unable to return to his feet at UFC 257. This weekend, however, the proud Irishman will look to brush off those finishing blows and prove that he was not and will not stay down for the count. 

The big McGregor-centered questions leading into this weekend’s spectacle are: What if McGregor is unable to bounce back from his first TKO loss? Will that serve as a lasting precedent that the well-fed can’t match the hunger of the active scrappers? And how many pegs would a consecutive loss to the same opponent drop this superstar?

The answer to those questions is the same and is much simpler and straightforward than the false narrative that everything is on the line for McGregor at UFC 264. Regardless of how easy or difficult this pill is for one to digest, Conor McGregor has reached heights in this sport and indeed mainstream pop culture, both financially and in celebrity, to a point where he cannot truly fall. He can only stumble before effortlessly playing it off. 

Quote Conor McGregor
Image Credit: Adam Hunger-USA TODAY Sports

We may never see a draw as big as Conor McGregor in the UFC again in our lifetimes. If you look up the best-selling pay-per-views in company history, you’ll find McGregor’s name plastered all over the page.

Neither McGregor’s star nor his numbers dimmed after losing to Nate Diaz at UFC 196. The PPV numbers and his personal net worth only rose at UFC 202 five months later. His loss to Floyd Mayweather after producing arguably his most audacious trash talk also didn’t keep him down. He only took the UFC’s numbers to a ceiling never before touched in his comeback fight against Khabib Nurmagomedov at UFC 229. Then, after tapping out to Khabib with the world watching, McGregor still turned around and produced the highest-grossing pay-per-view of 2020 in a non-title main event against Donald Cerrone, who had never headlined a pay-per-view event before.

And now, after losing to Dustin Poirier earlier this year, UFC 264 is trending to easily be the best-selling PPV of 2021. Conor McGregor cannot lose.

McGregor has amassed so much wealth, fame, and admiration that he is no longer a high-rolling player in the Fight game. He has, in the eyes of an uncountable fanbase, become the house. 

Hardcore MMA fans are aware that there are several supremely talented fighters in the UFC and that no one person is bigger than the promotion. But when there is only one individual on the roster who has demonstrated over the years that losses do not prevent him from breaking grossing records, that confirms his value is not comparable to anybody else in the game.

Until it is proven otherwise, McGregor will continue being the biggest draw in the UFC whether he wins or loses, and no other player can bring anything near McGregor’s stack to the table. History has shown that McGregor will almost surely remain the #1 draw in the UFC, even if he is unable to adapt and overcome the adversity a dog like Dustin Poirier is always prepared to present.

What this means is that Conor McGregor has nothing to lose at UFC 264 because he is playing with hard-earned house money.

Dustin Poirier himself has conceded that Conor McGregor is always potentially one win away from a title shot, even with a second straight loss to “The Diamond.” So relevancy isn’t really at stake for McGregor this Saturday as some would have you believe.

And let’s say for the sake of argument that’s false. Let’s say McGregor would have to pull together a string of wins to get back into title contention if he loses on Saturday. He’d still be pulling in millions of dollars every time he chooses to fight, not to mention the boatloads of money he is earning in his other business ventures.

What else could McGregor stand to lose? Legacy? Firstly, McGregor has already cemented his legacy as the first champ-champ in the UFC. So when it comes to the lightweight title, he’s already been there and done that in historic fashion with an unparalleled wind strapped to his back.

Second, McGregor is currently not on pace to have a legitimate argument as the greatest of all time or even the greatest in lightweight history win or lose this Saturday. Time is the best storyteller, so it’s true that anything could happen depending on how much longer he chooses to fight, but as of right now, McGregor has a long way to go to enter most people’s overall or lightweight GOAT conversations whether he starches or gets starched in the trilogy.

Dustin Poirier Conor McGregor
(via Zuffa LLC)

There is only one thing that could legitimately be at risk for Conor McGregor at UFC 264, and that is his status as a main eventer. It may seem preposterous to imagine McGregor on a UFC card and not headlining, but it would be unprecedented for a fighter to keep losing yet continue being in PPV main events without a title on the line. Let’s not forget that it wasn’t long ago when this exact topic was an issue of dispute between McGregor and the UFC after the promotion attempted to book his fight against Cerrone as a co-main event in 2019.

Would the promotion continue to acquiesce to McGregor’s main-event demands if that’s the only way to keep him fighting? Perhaps. And if they didn’t and McGregor actually decided to co-main event, he would still undoubtedly pull in millions for each fight until he retires. Therefore, even in a bizarro world where he is no longer main-eventing, McGregor would still come out as the biggest winner on the card.

True to the principles of wagering, when you are playing with house money, you can’t lose. With millions of people considering McGregor to be synonymous with the house that is the UFC, he is playing with the bottomless house money he masterfully stacked from the ground up since 2013. And in the end, even if Dustin Poirier turns McGregor’s competitive goals and his legions of fans’ hopes into ashes at UFC 264, you can scorch a house down to the earth, but you cannot stop its smoke from rising after it has already burned so bright. 

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