Conor McGregor may have been gone for 15 months, but his return at UFC 246 proved that the Irish superstar is still the biggest draw in combat sports.
In the weeks leading up to his fight against Donald “Cowboy” Cerrone, there were dozens of stories and interviews questioning if the former two-division champion had squandered his good fortune with fans thanks in part to bad behavior outside the sport coupled with his absence from the UFC with only one mixed martial arts contest over the last three years.
The answers came in rapid fire fashion once McGregor showed up for fight week in Las Vegas.
The “UFC Embedded” series saw viewer numbers skyrocket to comparable figures to McGregor’s last fight in a heated rivalry with Khabib Nurmagomedov in 2018. The live gate at T-Mobile Arena ballooned to more than $11 million — the second-highest sales for any mixed martial arts event in the state of Nevada behind only McGregor’s fight with Nurmagomedov.
While the UFC doesn’t release pay-per-view sales figures, MMA Fighting’s own Dave Meltzer stated that metrics appeared to show McGregor’s return could generate around 2 million pay-per-view buys, which would easily become one of the company’s most profitable events in history.
In other words, rumors of McGregor’s demise in terms of his popularity and profitability were greatly exaggerated.
“I think the thing about Conor, he’s a polarizing figure,” McGregor’s manager Audie Attar, president of Paradigm Sports Management, said when speaking to MMA Fighting. “There’s people that love him and there’s people that don’t like him. At the end of the day, I think you always have the latter trying to discredit him in anyway. The numbers don’t lie. The energy doesn’t lie.
“So when you’re either there witnessing the droves of fans packing in and selling out a weigh-in or the energy come fight night or the reports you’re now reading about the success of the event and the pay-per-view, that shows you Conor McGregor’s star power.”
According to Attar, what happened at UFC 246 is just a precursor to the long-term plan McGregor is already plotting for the rest of 2020.
“[Conor’s star power] is just as strong as it is today, and it will continue to grow as he continues to accomplish the things he’s set out to do professionally and athletically,” he said. “I’m excited about it. I think we’ve done so much from a professional stand point up to this day. He’s done so much athletically up to this point but the best is yet to come.
“I think we’re getting back into the excitement of this story and this journey. I’m just super proud of him and his journey. The best is yet to come.”
McGregor may not have been present in the Octagon very much over the past three years, but his overall business was still booming.
The launch of McGregor’s signature whiskey — Proper No. 12 — generated massive worldwide sales. He’s recently started his own clothing brand called “August McGregor” alongside famed fashion designer David August.
He has several more businesses in the works and McGregor has also committed to fighting three times in the UFC during this calendar year. It may sound ambitious but Attar promises McGregor is up for the challenge.
“Conor is a global superstar,” Attar said. “Now we’ve launched a whiskey company, we have an apparel company, we have a fitness venture launching, we have all these different businesses going on. It’s always busy but I think when you throw in three fight cards for him as well for him to be on and headline, it takes things to a different level.
“Yes it’s going to be busy but we welcome that. We’re super excited for it. I think we’re all on the same page when it comes to ambition and goals and so that’s really fun to see when you’re entire team is in sync. I think we all welcome that type of work load. We don’t look at it as pressure. We look at it as opportunity.”
This past weekend following his win over Cerrone at just 40 seconds into the opening round, McGregor already had a string of potential UFC opponents lining up to face him next.
Add to that, the 31-year-old Irishman saw a slew of top ranked boxers — from Floyd Mayweather to Manny Pacquiao to Terrence Crawford — drop his name in hopes of drawing him out for a fight.
His manager wasn’t ready to give any hints about McGregor’s plans for the immediate future but he says there’s no denying his drawing power any longer.
“That’s just a testament to Conor’s star power,” Attar said. “Whether it’s MMA and the fans in the UFC trying to decide who’s next, now it’s the boxing world putting their best foot forward because everybody wants a red panty night. That’s the reality of it.
“Conor McGregor is the biggest thing in combat sports. Period.”