When it comes to combat sports, there’s one story that stands out above all others in 2017. The circus that was the Mayweather-McGregor “Money Fight”, pitting reigning UFC lightweight champion Conor McGregor, against the retired 12-time world boxing champion, Floyd Mayweather, Jr., captivated audiences the world over. On fight night, Mayweather defeated his MMA counterpart by 10th round TKO, to bring his career record to an unprecedented 50-0. The bout is McGregor’s lone foray into boxing to date.
It wasn’t all bad news for McGregor though, as he netted a reported $100 million for his efforts. Mayweather earned upwards of $300 million in his triumphant return to the squared circle. There are conflicting reports about the pay-per-view buyrate, but all parties involved have claimed between 4.4 and 6.7 million buys domestically.
Since the fight, McGregor’s return to the UFC remains in question. Interim champion Tony Ferguson is next in line for “The Notorious” one, but there has been doubt cast about McGregor’s desire to return, given his newfound wealth. Not to mention the news of talks between McGregor and Manny Pacquiao about a potential fight.
This is one of the many effects of Mayweather-McGregor… It highlights the issue of fighter pay in MMA. This is nothing new, as the UFC’s sale for $4.2 billion in July of last year did just that. For the first time in the sport’s history, we heard fighters talking about free-agency. In fact, several high-profile fighters like Benson Henderson, Rory MacDonald, and Ryan Bader left the UFC and are now fighting in other promotions.
Before his transition to boxing, McGregor made history becoming the highest paid fighter in the UFC, earning $3.5 million in his title win over Eddie Alvarez at UFC 205.
Seven figure earnings are great, but nine figure earnings are even greater.
There are those who feel that McGregor should fight Ferguson immediately, but the reality is, he holds the cards. After making $100 million, can anybody expect him to return to the octagon, where there are arguably more dangerous matchups, for a fraction of the salary?
What will the UFC do? Strip him of his belt? If anything, that will only draw fans to him more as he becomes an anti-establishment figure. The UFC would have a PR nightmare on their hands. Not to mention the fact that with $100 million in the bank, McGregor doesn’t need to fight at all if he no longer wants to.
Even rival Nate Diaz, who earned a reported $2 million in his rematch with McGregor, has announced his intention to venture into boxing until the UFC offers him what he thinks he is worth, (a reported $20-30 million), even turning down a title shot in a weight class of his choosing.
Old school UFC icons often talk about how there was no money in the sport when they started. It wasn’t a business, but a hobby. In fact, many seem proud of how broke they were in their fighting primes, wearing it as a badge of honor of sorts. That’s admirable in its own way. There is indeed something to be said for that. But, times have changed. If any of these legends had the opportunity to make “McGregor money”, they would have jumped at the opportunity.
It should come as no surprise that MMA superstars like Conor McGregor and Nate Diaz are taking firm stances. After the success of Mayweather-McGregor, fighters are more aware of their earning potential than ever before.
When it comes down to it, the UFC will do everything in its power to try and entice McGregor back into the octagon. He’s their undisputed cash cow. The biggest take away from the Mayweather-McGregor extravaganza?
There’s big money to be made in the fight game.