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Let’s say Conor McGregor wins — What comes next?

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This article isn’t about predictions or what one should believe about what will happen between Floyd Mayweather and Conor McGregor. It’s about possibilities. Or, rather, what outcomes ultimately mean. However remote one considers the likelihood of McGregor’s chances against Mayweather (or the opposite), one of the possibilities worth thinking about is what happens if McGregor wins.

In short, the implications are important. Not merely a little, but astronomically. A McGregor victory alters not merely his career or even boxing, but sports and pop culture itself.

Here are five major changes to expect or anticipate if McGregor wins:

1. He’d arguably be the biggest star in sports, at least temporarily. In terms of betting odds, this isn’t even close to some of the bigger upsets in boxing or sports history, but those gambling odds reflect peculiar preferences of those laying odds as well as placing bets. They do not necessarily indicate historical significance.

There are many lists of the most significant boxing upsets in history, all of which involve a variety of unusual circumstances. The common thread in nearly all of the cases, however, is that they involved credentialed boxers at various stages of their careers. Some were surprise journeyman who achieved on one great night. Others were aging legends. Still, others involved the element of surprise when crossing national boundaries with limited or bad information. The key consideration, however, is that none were making professional boxing debuts. In fact, it’s difficult to even conceive of how a boxer normally in such a predicament could achieve something spectacular. Given their limited skills, who could they reasonably beat? Additionally, how could they entice a decorated or talented boxer into the match in the first place? No promoter would want it and no audience would care.

What makes Mayweather vs. McGregor so unusual is McGregor’s ability to establish striking bonafides and popularity without ever having boxed. It’s not a scenario especially possible absent a modern combat sports context. Boxers with records of 49–0 vs. 0–0 ordinarily have little incentive or need to fight one another. Crossover bouts between stars of rival or separate sports have happened, but often with mixed rules. Even without such changes, those matches carried little value as a resume-boosting, reasonably-legitimate bouts for occupational legitimacy. This bout, by contrast, can alter Mayweather’s sterling (boxing) legacy while substantially elevating McGregor’s boxing profile.

McGregor enters this contest not merely as an already enormously popular sports figure, but one facing uniquely modern circumstances. UFC President Dana White has argued this fight has a global appeal given boxing’s and MMA’s reach along with the ability to distribute the contest anywhere there’s an Internet signal. Add in the ability to unseat the generation’s best boxer in a bout that’ll mark the Irish fighter’s professional debut and what’s produced is maximum visibility with maximum potential for impact.

Obviously it’s debatable just how big McGregor’s profile and popularity would swell with a win. Part of what would drive the conversation would be the nature of the win itself and to what extent it was dominant. However, there’s no underselling the scale or historically unprecedented nature of the Mayweather-McGregor pairing. “If Conor McGregor wins, he’s the biggest athlete on Earth,” White has said. That’ll could be fleeting in an era where LeBron James, Cristiano Ronaldo and Tom Brady maintain relevancy. For a moment, however, McGregor’s might as a titan of sport would easily place him alongside such revered figures.

2. The winner of GGG vs. Canelo would call him out. This seems unfathomable in a pre-fight context and, admittedly, it’s speculative to suggest they will, without fail, demand a fight with McGregor. However, it’s hard to see how they wouldn’t.

McGregor’s win would arguably the biggest upset in the history of boxing and certainly that of this era. It’d also be in close proximity to the impending middleweight championship contest between Gennady Golovkin and Saul “Canelo” Alvarez, taking place just three weeks apart. McGregor’s win would very likely still be the central topic of discussion in boxing, a win whose magnitude would be hard to digest while impact immediate. More importantly, a fight with him after he’s dethroned the reigning king of the sport would, in turn, make a fight with McGregor the most sought-after opportunity.

Most importantly, the weights are not prohibitively far apart. McGregor is fighting Mayweather at 154 pounds. GGG and Canelo will fight at just six pounds above that. A McGregor vs. GGG or Canelo contest could either take place at junior middleweight or one weight class above. McGregor has fought has high as 170 pounds in mixed martial arts even if that’s far outside his optimum weight. There’s no obvious obstacle other than fighter willingness preventing this kind of pairing.

It sounds absurd to even articulate a thought like this. While the MMA community is accustomed to McGregor being hounded by would-be suitors within his sport of origin, to simultaneously add in boxing’s elite champions and iconic figures would be a demonstration of extraordinary power in combat sports. It’d also be, again, without any kind of historical precedent. But how could they resist? A MMA fighter would have done something no boxer could, become an immeasurably lucrative fight possible in appropriate weight classes and done so fresh on the minds on the sporting world. Canelo’s promoter, Oscar de la Hoya, suggested McGregor vs. Canelo is the only fight that makes sense. Even if the winner of GGG vs. Canelo somehow ignored McGregor, no one else in boxing would.

3. Mayweather could demand a rematch. It’s hard to overstate just how enormous a potential rematch could become. Mayweather’s loss would be calamitously bad for how he is both viewed and remembered. His reputation is staked on being ‘TBE’ or ‘The Best Ever’ (something he is actually not in boxing’s larger history), insofar as this generation is concerned, despite taking fights against legitimate opponents who were often just off prime.

Nevertheless, he remains undefeated. To lose such a prestigious deisgnation is bad enough, but to do so to a boxing neophyte is potentially irredeemable.

Mayweather, though, would try for redemption. He has repeatedly indicated this is his last fight, but there’s an enduring conditionality to fighting retirements. Mayweather’s had a couple already. To end his illustrious career on a note as sour as would be devastating seems unfathomable for a boxer whose identity is tied to a carefully manicured appearance of perfection.

As aforementioned, few fights sell as easily as this. McGregor’s star power would be nuclear hot while Mayweather’s redemption story enters as effortlessly compelling and impossible to discount. The narrative for the first Mayweather vs. McGregor bout centered on the ‘what if?’ for the MMA visitor. The rematch would focus on whether Mayweather can salvage what’s left of the wreckage from McGregor’s handiwork. The contest would still involve the two biggest stars in combat sports, this time double or nothing.

4. McGregor would be overwhelmed with endorsement and crossover opportunity. When Buster Douglas defeated Mike Tyson as a 42 to 1 underdog, apparel companies lined up to secure the halo of his popularity to help sell themselves, but they were hardly alone. A video game was created using his likeness, Sylvester Stallone wanted to do a movie with him and, by the end of 1990, Douglas ended up second on the Forbes highest-paid athlete list (Tyson, notably, was still first).

Imagine what McGregor’s clearly superior upset could net him. That’s not merely true because the upset would be more impressive, but because of how much more bankable that upset becomes in 2017. The 1980s might’ve been something of a golden era for boxing competitively, but the present offers athletes - including those of the combat variety - unprecedented opportunity as spokesman, avatars and third-party validators. Relative to the 1980s, athlete sponsorship is more ubiquitous and lucrative by orders of magnitude.

McGregor already has a number of sponsors, from beer companies to headphone makers to delivered toothcare products. Some of these are already blue chip brands. Add in his already decent suite of endorsement earnings with an historical upset and two-sport dominance and it’s difficult to know precisely where the ceiling on endorsement opportunity ends.

Ronaldo’s current annual endorsement earnings of $35 million beats McGregor’s guaranteed purse for his bout with Mayweather at $30 million. Neither sum is a shameful underpayment, but in the case of McGregor, the potential growth opportunity to balloon his take-home pay in the event of a Mayweather defeat is extraordinary.

5. The UFC would face serious dilemmas. Zuffa has housed a number of popular athletes during its tenure, but McGregor has exercised the most individual power and leverage of any of fighter in the company’s history. He has forced the UFC to allow him to take a boxing fight in the middle of what could’ve been a double title reign and with a contract that normally precludes anything but reasonable predictability. In the history of the UFC’s white knuckle history with fighters who seek to challenge determinative clauses in contracts, this is hugely unprecedented.

The question is how they retain his services. After UFC 205, where he became the first fighter to ever hold two UFC weight class titles simultaneously, he asked for a share of ownership stake. Whether the UFC would be willing to grant such a thing or change the way and amount McGregor is paid is hard to know. Perhaps they do not impede any potential further run through boxing, but if they wanted to capitalize on his now-enormous fame, changes are in order.

There are a number of different mechanisms to achieve this, but, in short, the UFC would have to make it as financially worth his while to compete in MMA as it would be in boxing. That likely carries little promise for rookies fighting for $10,000 to show and win, but it could alter how stars get paid. The UFC, then, would be faced with a choice about whether to pay McGregor for his services and potentially create an expensive precedent or to let him roam. In either case, there’s a tax to pay.

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