Opinion: Conor McGregor Has Introduced a Dangerous Element to MMA

DISCLAIMER: The following is the opinion of Albert and does not necessarily reflect the opinions of Cage Nation TV, it’s correspondents, or its affiliates.

By: Albert Cameron – Do you all remember being children and being taught the importance of good sportsmanship? Even if it wasn’t a parental figure instilling these values, social convention surely did. If you were the type of kid who would throw tantrums, took your ball and went home so that the other kids couldn’t play, or would be intolerable because things weren’t going your way, you weren’t invited to play again. Essentially, being a good winner and loser had its social benefits and there were real consequences for forsaking those good social skills. Everything that has happened with Conor McGregor really isn’t so black and white, but it’s not the neutralist of greys either.

If you listened to the podcast this week, you may have heard me give Conor McGregor several degrees of praise for his noble cause. I didn’t agree with his methods, and I surely wasn’t happy about how it threatened the prospects of other men and women who were to compete on the card, but I did agree that there was something of a nobility to what he was doing. I stopped feeling that way yesterday. Yesterday’s firestorm from twitter sounded something like this:

  • Conor McGregor tweeted that he was back on the card
  • The public is given the impression that their purchasing power and their support of a media darling has an effect on the short term business decisions made by the Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC)
  • Dana White tweeted that Conor McGregor is not on the UFC 200 Card
  • Nate Diaz was remarkably silent (or at least not going on a expletive fueled tirade)
  • Dana White has said that Conor McGregor may fight on the UFC 201 card

There are going to be many differing opinions on what the single motivating factor was behind this debacle from the beginning. Some will believe that McGregor was being [Woody] Guthrie-esque, fighting for the working man for fair working conditions and the ability to make a fortune with his own two hands. Others will say that the Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) is a monopoly and it’s about time that someone stood up to them; still, others will concede that this has all been a brilliant marketing campaign to draw attention to one of the UFC’s most prized fighters and the events that he’s going to be fighting on. Regardless of the opinion or position, I think we’ve been neglecting to give enough energy to the concept that the UFC has the ability to pull fights and that everyone who was slated to fight on the card could have potentially lost a pay day on a big card. McGregor boasted that his retirement tweet may have tripled the UFC’s advertising budget for the event; here’s another concept to consider: what about the UFC events leading up to UFC 200? UFC 197 just went down in the history books, but do UFC 198 and 199 seem as important considering how much unadulterated controversy is now surrounding UFC 200? Sure, Conor McGregor may have increased the drama for UFC 200, but don’t you think he may have diluted the importance of 198 and 199? Wouldn’t it be fair to reason that Conor McGregor made those main events less substantial with his tactics? In business, that concept is called “cannibalization,” it’s the reason why Sony and Microsoft don’t release the new Playstation or X-Box as soon as it’s been developed, because there is still life in the current models and they want to get as much revenue out of those product streams as possible.

What Conor McGregor has done, intended or otherwise, is introduce a very dangerous concept into the world of professional mixed martial arts (MMA): the hissy fit negotiating tactic. The “taking your ball and going home” method of debate is now on the table and there is no way that we can take it back. MMA, like other professional sports, does have a gap between the general athlete populous and the elite echelon of competitors. I said that Conor McGregor has introduced the hissy fit negotiating tactic into the UFC and of course it wouldn’t work for the new guy signed to the UFC; he’d get his walking papers and then we’d never hear about him again. For the main event draws, for the champions, and for the number one contenders; doesn’t taking your ball and going home seem like a feasible option? Sure, McGregor isn’t fighting on UFC 200 (or maybe he is, I have difficulty following “The Days of our Ultimate Fighting Championship on Twitter”), but doesn’t it appear that his stock has risen a little? With one tweet, fans all over the world were showing support faithfully. It’s been said that a fighter is only as good as his last fight, and McGregor is coming off of a loss to Nate Diaz, so his stock fell a little. With one tweet, Conor had proven that his brand has market share and buying power, his presence in the octagon gets ticket and pay-per-view buys. If you’re keeping score, McGregor’s implied star power is back up to where it was (roughly), even if the methods of getting there are a little tainted. The question stands: what’s keeping Jon Jones, Daniel Cormier, Meisha Tate, or Fabricio Werdum from doing the exact same thing?

Here’s the part where we, the fans, begin to suffer. On the relatively short lifespan of the Ultimate Fighting Championship, one thing has been apparent: the UFC comes out on top on business deals, always. It’s shrewd business, but its effective. When McGregor threw his retirement fit, he was pulled from the card. When he tried the same tactic to get back on the card, to incite fan support, and Dana White still said no. In the history of the UFC there have been several fighters who have been granted exits during their title reigns; Randy Couture and BJ Penn are two that come to immediate mind. The immediate danger at hand is that these elite fighters know that they can put social media’s volatile fandom to work for their personal gains, and at the same time, the UFC will refuse to tolerate their antics. The UFC may not release them from contracts, but fights can certainly get pulled and those main events that you and I were ready to pay money to see are now in jeopardy. Eventually, we won’t be able to count on main events, fights will stop being compelling, and we may all just lose interest. That’s an extremely bleak future, one that is befalling boxing as we speak, despite their fervent efforts to become the combat sport of choice. The difference between boxing and MMA is roughly two hundred years; boxing has only experienced the big business corruption in the last thirty years. Ten years longer than MMA has been a concept.

Up until this point, the MMA community and circuits have done a good job of keeping corruption and skullduggery out of the sport. The promoters that were unscrupulous have been drummed out and their memories are distant. We have been fortunate that we haven’t had the pleasure of any Don King types, media spectacles to get fights to go on, and the competition has been regular. It is a very real possibility that I might be reading too much into this; but I have been around the sport long enough to identify trends when they present themselves. I have seen promotions who have deep pockets and lofty aim of a TV to compete with the UFC, and I have seen those same promotions close within three years. I don’t believe that Conor McGregor had malice in his intentions; I truly believe that he acted from a place of desperation. McGregor was a man with no visible option and he reacted on instinct; unfortunately, his Hail Mary didn’t work and now we have a very dangerous concept on the table. We can hope that MMA will continue to travel the high road, of celebrating men who will fight anyone at any time. If not, we have boxing’s future to look forward to.