First of all, nobody should be so gullible as to believe that Conor McGregor is actually retiring. The man loves money too much, and he loves to spend it. He isn’t going to just kiss away the fine foods, the tailored suits, the fast cars and private planes that the fighting life has afforded him. Besides, a man with his impulsive buying habits is inclined to impulsive decision-making.
Then again, this is one of the damndest pieces of news to fall out of the spring sky, even if it’s just that. McGregor is 27 years old and is the first fighter to truly get the UFC to dance as he fires pistols at its feet. The UFC brass doesn’t like to admit it, but up until it "pulled" him from his rematch with Nate Diaz at UFC 200 -- the touchstone event happening July 9 in Las Vegas -- things had gotten a little contentious. It was one thing when McGregor kept showing up late to press conferences, a bit of ornery insubordination just to puff his chest out and say "deal with it." His spirit animal, Axl Rose, turned such antics into a sport in the early-'90s.
It’s another to get to where we’re at.
And of course, that’s the question that he practically ding-dong-ditched everybody with on Tuesday afternoon with his pregnant "I’ve decided to retire young" tweet: What in the hell are we at?
A lot of people are breathing conscience and humanity into the situation, as McGregor was cageside when Joao Carvalho fought a little more than a week ago against his SBG gym-mate, Charlie Ward, out in Ireland. Carvalho, who suffered head injuries in the bout, died two days later. McGregor posted on social media that he didn’t quite know how to take it, and expressed his condolences.
Maybe now that it’s been a few days McGregor made a stark realization about the very literal stakes of the fight game. My grandfather, who was an avid boxing fan, had no stomach for the sport after watching Cuban fighter Benny Paret get killed in the ring by Emile Griffith live on ABC in 1962.
That sort of thing can change attitudes.
Then again, McGregor likes the feel of silk, and he wears shoes made of caiman -- nice things to assuage a troubled mind. He is triumphantly materialistic, loves himself a spree and the spoils of fame. From nothing, he's come to symbolize money in the same way that Lorenzo Fertitta’s pocket square does. In three years McGregor has become what every prizefighter dreams of being times ten -- that’s why the resentment bubbled over into glee from his fellow fighters on social media on Tuesday. McGregor made a career of pissing people off (in all the right ways) by being a bombastic brat.
But he’s a competitor, too, and he wouldn’t be the star that he is if he wasn’t great at what he does.
The thing is, McGregor was in Iceland in recent days, and seemed to be going great guns with his training up until the moment he wasn’t (check his Twitter feed). The suddenness of his announcement and the UFC’s decision to pull him from the card smacks of a rift of the more traditional sort in the business of sports -- that of ego and money. When people got to adding the "Inc." to Conor’s name, you knew there would be a conflict at some point. Zuffa, if you haven’t heard, doesn’t co-promote.
We got Dana White’s initial version on ESPN, saying that McGregor wouldn’t fly in for this weekend’s press conference to promote UFC 200. So, to the naked eye, based on that one account, the story is this: McGregor didn’t want to come to Vegas while training, the UFC threatened to remove him from the card if he didn’t, and, when he didn’t, it did.
There’s more to it. McGregor is famous for saying that he always shows up — and he has, through last-minute opponent switches to world tours to his media obligations. Yet here he is not showing up. When McGregor tells his side of things, perhaps we’ll fill in the blanks. And there are plenty of blanks. Million dollar blanks. Blanks the size of craters.
It sucks for the fans who wanted to see him at UFC 200. In the currency of social media, 150,000 retweets can’t be wrong. McGregor is a star who knows he’s a star, and the UFC is the business that created him.
Welcome to the problems that come along with that. Yet in the common interest of money, here's guessing UFC 200 is a bump in the road, rather than the end of it.