Turns out Conor McGregor’s retirement lasted about 45 hours. On Thursday, just a day before the UFC 200 press conference he refused to attend so he could focus on training, McGregor reenlisted himself into the ranks of the active. He put out a declarative statement regarding his stance. Let’s deconstruct that statement, just so we can (hopefully) gain a little perspective. Starting at the beginning, which was loaded.
"I am just trying to do my job and fight here. I am paid to fight. I am not yet paid to promote. I have become lost in the game of promotion and forgot about the art of fighting."
See, the thing is when Nick Diaz got lopped out of his title fight with Georges St-Pierre at UFC 137 for missing media events, it was a little different. Diaz was coming back to the UFC after fighting in Strikeforce, where he was the welterweight champion. Him fighting under the UFC banner was novel, and the promotional champion against champion motif was hot in the air. The need to have Diaz on hand was obvious. There was a want of footage, of soundbites, of live airborne hostility to market.
Back then Dana White, who subbed Carlos Condit in for Diaz with parental authority, declared that he just wanted Stockton’s finest to "play the game a little bit." Diaz, Dana would swiftly learn, doesn’t go in for selling "wolf tickets" (and even when he does, it’s but reluctantly).
McGregor was pulled out of his UFC 200 rematch with Nick’s kid brother Nate because of similar insubordination. The difference is McGregor’s already played the game a lot of bit. As in, masterfully -- better than any UFC fighter before him. He’s engaged in world tours to promote a fight against Jose Aldo, and kicked his feet up in Brazil amid death chants. He’s accepted short notice fights to save events. He’s done the ESPN car wash so many times his fender has an eternal shine. He is a natural salesman, to the point that all he needs to do is send out a tweet for the fight world to come unhinged.
There’s a major difference.
(Also interesting, or telling, is that he said, "I am not yet paid to promote"…but we all know McGregor has a distant eye cast on "Conor Promotions").
"There comes a time when you need to stop handing out flyers and get back to the damn shop. Fifty world tours, 200 press conferences, 1 million interviews, 2 million photo shoots, and at the end of it all I'm left looking down the barrel of a lens, staring defeat in the face, thinking of nothing but my incorrect fight preparation. And the many distractions that led to this."
His numbers seem inflated, but you had to wonder when McGregor might come to such a realization. He’s essentially been paraded around on an endless loop since he stepped foot in Boston to face Max Holloway in 2013. There was a media day set up for him moments after he touched down at Logan International, down at Peter Welch’s gym in Southie. The carpet wasn’t nearly as red as it would eventually get, but there was a media throng ready to meet-and-greet the UFC’s new firebrand, which he readily obliged. McGregor hit the ground running.
Three years later — and even through convalescing a torn ACL, which he kept himself in the spotlight through by setting the entire pantheon of featherweights on fire — he’s essentially been going nonstop. All it took was a loss — something he hadn’t experienced in seven UFC fights — for him to reevaluate his priorities. It’s not hard to see why he wouldn’t want to fragment his regroup training camp with press hops to Vegas, Stockton and New York, especially given the added pressure of living up to what he’s carved out for himself: That is, as the game’s greatest circus barker. The attraction. The Irish coxcomb with a mystic side that allows him to foresee events before they unfold.
It’s remarkable he’s gone as far as he has without a come down.
"Nothing else was going through my mind."
There were reports out there that he demanded $10 million bones for the Big Bicentenary, which the UFC scoffed at. Dana White shot down that report with low-level disgust, and McGregor doesn’t seem to be appealing anything here. Moving along…
"It is time to go back and live the life that got me this life. Sitting in a car on the way to some dump in Connecticut or somewhere, to speak to Tim and Suzie on the nobody gives a fuck morning show did not get me this life.
"Talking to some lady that deep down doesn't give a fuck about what I'm doing, but just wants some sound bites so she can maybe get her little tight ass a nice raise, and I'm cool with that too, I've been giving you all raises."
As a Connecticut resident, this one stings, but at least he called out Tim and Suzie and not the MITH. But again, this is pretty hard to argue. The game benefits from having Conor McGregor in it. He’s a perfect storm: He’s got the Irish accent; he’s got the parlay tiger-and-gorilla tattoo on his thorax and torso; he’s an astute player in the game who can communicate details in fighting like nobody else; he has the lambo, and the Uzi; he fights for a country; he’s got a movement coach that he’s turned into a cult figure; he’s got an outsized attitude, compared often to Ali, bigger than the fight game itself; and he carves up Floyd Mayweather all the time.
Yeah, if you cover the fight game, McGregor does represent a kind of job security. Sure.
"But I need to focus on me now. I’m coming for my revenge here. I flew an entire team to Portugal and to Iceland to make my adjustments in preparation and fix my errors I made with the weight and the cardio prep. With the right adjustments and the right focus, I will finish what I started in that last fight.
"I will not do this if I am back on the road handing out flyers again. I will always play the game and play it better than anybody, but just for this one, where I am coming off a loss, I asked for some leeway where I can just train and focus. I did not shut down all media requests. I simply wanted a slight adjustment.
"But it was denied."
Conor’s not pulling any punches; he definitely feels he’s entitled to some alterations in the promo schedule given his previous legwork. Again, it’s easy to see his point. Just as it’s easy to see the UFC’s. UFC 200 is the landmark event, which christens the new T-Mobile Arena in Vegas for the UFC. He was granted a rematch with Diaz, just because he wanted it. It’s happening at 170 pounds, the arbitrary weight they met at the first time, to accommodate his wishes. The UFC has never yielded so thoroughly, and so willingly, to a star as it has to McGregor. The idea seems to be that he has outgrown his britches a little bit, and a public paddling is in order.
McGregor asking for "leeway" in an event specifically tailored to an opponent of his choosing — which wasn’t a popular booking for a good portion of the fighting public, anyway — might feel like a slap in the face.
Leeway cuts both ways. A fight promotion promotes. It uses its best pieces to promote, like a game of hype chess. McGregor’s presence is crucial to the efforts. He’s the star of the show. Still, what a crossroads. McGregor has banked a lot of goodwill (particularly in how much money he’s generated). You’d think they could come to a compromise on this.
"There had been 10 million dollars allocated for the promotion of this event is what they told me. So as a gesture of good will, I went and not only saved that 10 million dollars in promotion money, I then went and tripled it for them.
"And all with one tweet.
"Keep that 10 mill to promote the other bums that need it. My shows are good."
That tweet he mentioned had number automaton Darren Rovell jumping out of his skin. The #RetireYoung tweet did over 160,000 RTs, meaning it found its way to just about every single person’s timeline between here and Orion. The tale of the tape doesn’t begin to grasp Conor’s reach.
"I must isolate myself now. I am facing a taller, longer and heavier man. I need to prepare correctly this time. I cannot dance for you this time.
"It is time for the other monkeys to dance. I've danced us all the way here. Nate's little mush head looks good up on that stage these days. Stuff him in front of the camera for it. He came in with no shit to do that last one. I'd already done press conferences, interviews and shot the ads before RDA pulled out.
"Maybe I'll hit Cabo this time and skull some shots pre-fight with no obligation. I'm doing what I need for me now."
Lost in all this is the basic fact that McGregor dropped that fight to Diaz, who was able to absorb McGregor’s best shot early and submit him in the second round. Losing takes a toll; Ronda Rousey all but disappeared after getting knocked out by Holly Holm at UFC 193, and the UFC stood by her decision. McGregor was at least willing to get right back in there, and to accommodate the UFC 200 spot. This fight is a mulligan. But it’s also a fight that he stands to lose a heck of a lot with if he doesn’t come through. Back-to-back losses to Diaz, especially with the first fight a makeshift affair that right now you could dress up with asterisks (short notice, new weight, etc), makes for a lot of pressure.
If anything, the fighter McGregor — not the bombastic showman — is a marvel on its own. Most of us didn’t follow him in Cage Warriors, back when he was living in poverty and barely ten steps out of his plumbing profession. We didn’t see the hunger of the fighter; we saw the ready-made star who was quaffing expensive whisky backstage with Lorenzo Fertitta after dumping Diego Brandao in Dublin. We’ve always seen the showcase, the monster the UFC created, who is now creeping towards his creator with human-like feelings and mortal-like conscience. This is an important time for McGregor. If he wants to show us the humble man of his roots, damnit, that has its own allure.
"It is time to be selfish with my training again. It is the only way. I feel the $400million I have generated for the company in my last three events, all inside 8 months, is enough to get me this slight leeway. I am still ready to go for UFC 200.
"I will offer, like I already did, to fly to New York for the big press conference that was scheduled, and then I will go back into training. With no distractions."
This is at least McGregor’s version of a compromise, willing to fly in for the singular engagement in New York to promote the fight with Diaz. That seems reasonable to me. One press conference with McGregor produces a million soundbites. Besides, McGregor at this moment promotes fights just by existing. At least put him in New York, which can house his kind legally now.
"If this is not enough or they feel I have not deserved to sit this promotion run out this one time, well then I don't know what to say. For the record also — for USADA and for the UFC and my contract stipulations — I AM NOT RETIRED."
And all of Ireland can rejoice. And so can the rest of the fight world, which was bordering on hysterics there for a minute. He’ll fight again. What strains he and the UFC after all of this, well, that’s a story still unfolding.
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