- Conor McGregor added another statement win to his record by finishing Donald Cerrone in 40 seconds at UFC 246 on January 18.
- The style of the victory restored McGregor’s global star appeal, which transcends mixed martial arts.
- McGregor is so valuable, and capable of building monstrously successful pay-per-view events, that elite boxers are now challenging him to fisticuffs.
- Manny Pacquiao and Terence Crawford, two of boxing’s best athletes, want to fight McGregor, which underlines how wildly the balance of power has swung away from their sport, and to the UFC.
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Boxing has long been considered the powerhouse combat sport, but the balance of power has swung wildly towards market-leading mixed martial arts firm UFC – and it’s largely because of Conor McGregor.
It appeared to start in November last year, when the scheduling of the anticipated UFC 244 ruckus between Jorge Masvidal and Nate Diaz made the American OTT firm DAZN delay its broadcast for the boxing main event between Saul “Canelo” Alvarez against Sergey Kovalev later that same night.
The UFC 244 show was being held at Madison Square Garden in New York, and produced a steady flow of fights. But if you were a boxing fan at the MGM Grand in Las Vegas, you had to sit in the arena and watch the Masvidal and Diaz fight on big screens, then, when it was over, finally you’d see Kovalev and Alvarez walk to the ring, more than 90 minutes after it was supposed to begin.
DAZN was hesitant about putting boxing in a head-to-head against the UFC. The online broadcaster later said it saw an increase in subscription numbers because of the delay, Bad Left Hook reports. Regardless, the damage had been done and prominent people in boxing were embarrassed.
Floyd Mayweather’s right-hand man Leonard Ellerbe called DAZN’s decision “terrible.” The Showtime Sports executive Stephen Espinoza said it was “insane.” And the Yahoo Sports combat columnist Kevin Iole called it “a glaring sign of weakness.”
But even they may not have been prepared for what was to come this month.
On January 18, McGregor bounced back from a devastating fourth round defeat to his lightweight rival Khabib Nurmagomedov 15 months ago to beat Donald Cerrone so resoundingly at UFC 246 in Las Vegas that the “Cowboy” has since been slapped with a six-month medical suspension from professional fighting.
40 seconds was all McGregor needed to succumb Cerrone to a third successive loss, showing the American a new shoulder barge skill so effective it busted his nose, kicked him in the head so hard it staggered him back, then finished him with a flurry of seemingly never-ending strikes until he was cowering on the canvas bruised and bloodied.
It was another statement win.
McGregor has many options
The “Notorious” is back. He’s back as a legitimate athlete in multiple weight classes in UFC and he’s back as a must-see combatant in fight sports.
Even before McGregor broke Cerrone’s nose and gave him a mild orbital bone fracture, people in UFC were lining up to challenge him later this year.
The popular Floridian fighter Jorge Masvidal, incumbent of the “Baddest Mother F—–” in the game accolade, told Business Insider last week that he’d be willing to put his $US50,000 BMF belt on the line if the Irishman did the same with a stake in his Proper no. Twelve whiskey business.
Then, at a post-fight press conference which Business Insider attended near the T-Mobile Arena on Saturday, the UFC president Dana White said the next fight for McGregor should be a rematch against Nurmagomedov. The Russian wrestler’s father Abdulmanap Nurmagomedov even said they’d take the second fight but the UFC would have to pay them $US100 million, according to Bloody Elbow.
This week, McGregor’s head trainer John Kavanagh told MMA Junkie that a welterweight fight against Justin Gaethje interests him personally. According to Gaethje’s tweets, it’s a fight he’d be willing to take, too.
That man is good. Bitch move to take that fight. Say my name @TheNotoriousMMA
— Justin Gaethje ???????? (@Justin_Gaethje) January 19, 2020
As the face of martial arts, McGregor has many options.
And, like it or not, as one of the faces of boxing, he has options there, too.
Yes, the man with an abysmal boxing record of zero wins against one loss is the go-to guy for elite-level boxers desperately clamoring for a payday. It’s a clear reverse of the way things were just three years ago when it was McGregor doing all he could to persuade Floyd Mayweather to contest a 50th pro bout, and to fight that 50th contest against him.
Manny Pacquiao was the first big-name boxer perpetually-linked to McGregor’s fight week as his manager Sean Gibbons had a mock fight poster for Pacquiao vs. McGregor at the under construction Allegiant Stadium in Paradise, Nevada, circulated on Twitter. Gibbons was reacting to McGregor saying at a UFC 246 press conference that talks had begun involving a match between himself and the Filipino.
In a video, Gibbons said McGregor knew where he would need to go if he wanted a “proper” fight after Cerrone. Pacquiao even wished him luck, presumably as a good win wouldn’t scupper a boxing fight between them. Gareth A. Davies, a boxing journalist at the Telegraph and talkSPORT, told Business Insider such an event could generate $US250 million.
This week, Top Rank founder Bob Arum, one of boxing’s most powerful men, began campaigning for one of his athletes, the WBO welterweight champion Terence Crawford, to fight McGregor twice – once in boxing and once in MMA. Crawford, who has a wrestling background, told ESPN he’s down: “I’m with it all.”
Gibbons and Arum have been in the sport long enough to know where the money is – and right now it’s in the heart of the 89118 area code; UFC HQ in Las Vegas, where prominent executives would put the paperwork together for fights involving their marquee contractor, McGregor.
UFC was once the butt of boxing’s jokes
It doesn’t seem that long ago that Arum made controversial comments about athletes competing in MMA, and those who pay to see it.
Fans of the sport were “a bunch of skinhead white guys,” he said in 2009, according to Bleacher Report, adding that the combatants are “guys rolling around like homosexuals.”
Arum was not alone.
That same year, Bernard Hopkins, the former long-reigning middleweight world boxing champion who would also win accolades at light heavyweight, said he’d feel “suspect,” which Bleacher Report interpreted as meaning “possibly gay,” if he ever paid to go see MMA.
Yes, MMA and the UFC was the butt of puerile jokes in boxing at the time. But guess who is laughing now, thinking about those potential $US250 million events involving their star fighter and one of boxing’s elite? It’s the UFC, its president Dana White, and star fighter Conor McGregor.
And with the prospect of $US250 million to generate per big event, they will be laughing all the way to the bank.
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