When it comes to making money, the UFC seems to be blessed with the luck of the Irish. In this case, Irishman Conor McGregor.
After a worldwide pandemic that saw sports and entertainment companies hemorrhaging dollars from the cancellation of live events, UFC held up well and led the way back to live entertainment. Yet, we should ask the question: how badly does the UFC need its top stars to return in 2021?
The answer is simple: it needs its biggest names and it needs them soon.
Conor McGregor, the former UFC featherweight and lightweight champion, was just recently crowned the world’s top-paid athlete according to Forbes, thanks mainly to the sale of his stake in the Irish whiskey Proper 19.
After a financial boom and a banner paycheck year that saw the fighter make over $180 million, you’d think McGregor would call it a career. After all, the late boxing legend Marvin Hagler may have said it best: “It’s tough to get out of bed to do roadwork at 5 am when you’ve been sleeping in silk pajamas.”
Against the odds, though, Conor McGregor, 32, returned in January to face off with rival Dustin Poirier in the main event of UFC 257. It almost didn’t matter that McGregor, the UFC’s most bankable star, suffered the first knockout loss of his career.
Some 2,000 fans were given tickes to the event and, with COVID restrictions in place, the live gate return was nominal. Still, “Notorious” had returned, and with him came the revenue and 1.6 million pay-per-view buys.
A year ago at this time was a different story.
UFC weathers the pandemic storm
While the rest of the world held its collective breath in 2020, waiting for any sign of hope amid a deadly surging virus, UFC President Dana White made a vow that the company and its roster of mixed martial artists would return to provide live sports and entertainment for hungry fans across the globe.
White kept the UFC moving forward and money rolling in the only way he knew how by putting on the best events he could with his talent.
After a year of heavy losses across the board, the company has started to make up for lost ground. Thanks in part to increased event output, higher media rights fees, and sponsorship fees, UFC buoyed Endeavor Group Holdings Inc., the parent company of the UFC, and helped the company post a small profit of $2.4 million on its first earnings report since going public last April.
The UFC helped focus the spotlight on emerging stars like middleweight champion Israel Adesanya and welterweight champion Kamaru Usman by utilizing a tight number of events plus a sports-starved fan base.
Usman, in particular, has seemingly benefited the most by the newfound attention, parlaying a Twitter beef with BMF-belt winner Jorge Masvidal into multiple lucrative television events.
Now the UFC has ramped up shows in 2021, doing its very best to put its top stars in the spotlight as fans around the world are allowed to start attending live events again.
Amanda Nunes returned to form, defending her women’s featherweight title against Megan Anderson. Francis Ngannou captured his first heavyweight championship title by dethroning heavyweight great Stipe Miocic.
For all of its success in helping to keep Endeavor treading water through an incredibly tough financial year, to move forward and refill the coffers the UFC must get its biggest money draws back into the Octagon.
Jon Jones hasn’t stepped foot inside a UFC cage for over a year now. He’s now embroiled in a deep stand-off with Dana White and company over his compensation for a move to heavyweight for a big money fight with Ngannou.
That fight will come together eventually. After all, where there’s money to be made, you can bet that some way or another cooler heads (see: dollars) will prevail.
The biggest of them all though is Mystic Mac.
Conor McGregor still UFC’s biggest and bankable star
Owner of seven of the top 10 pay per views in combat sports history, millions of followers across various social media platforms that hang on his every post, and his every move an ESPN-worthy headline, Conor McGregor will once again climb into the Octagon to face off with Poirier in the rubber match of their suddenly relevant trilogy.
The two mixed martial artists will meet on July 10 at T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas. The winner is a sure-fire bet to get the next title shot against newly crowned lightweight champion Charles Oliveira.
McGregor once noted that he was cocky in prediction, confident in preparation, and humble in victory or defeat. Still, McGregor’s vast fan base and global reach move the money machine like no one in combat sports history.
For a sport that wasn’t legal in all 50 U.S. states until 2016, to now have one of its own as the top paid athlete in the world has to bring a Cheshire Cat-like grin to both McGregor and White.
Although White nor anyone within the company will ever say it out loud, the UFC desperately hopes that Conor McGregor can return to form with a spectacular win.
In fact, they’re banking on it.