By Morgan Campbell
Medical staff had barely begun wiping the blood from Donald Cerrone’s busted nose when other fighters started making it known they want to face Conor McGregor, who beat Cerrone in 40 seconds in the main event at UFC 246.
Some of those who want the next shot served notice on Twitter.
“Weak,” veteran UFC fighter Nate Diaz tweeted with an expletive, implying that, if given a third fight with McGregor, he would perform better than Cerrone had.
Rugged welterweight contender Jorge Masvidal sat prominently near the octagon at T-Mobile Arena on Saturday night, after telling reporters earlier in the week that he would rather face the Irish star McGregor than fight for a world title.
“Saw what I needed to see,” Masvidal tweeted Sunday, hinting that he had spotted flaws in McGregor’s performance that he could exploit.
And on Instagram, boxers Floyd Mayweather and Manny Pacquiao each posted about the fight, with Mayweather uploading a fight poster featuring himself pictured alongside the 31-year-old McGregor, touting a hypothetical rematch this year.
Whether or not those fighters believe they can beat McGregor, they know they can make significant money facing him. Cerrone earned a career-high $200,000 for his loss, and the brief bout generated $11.1 million in ticket sales, the second-best figure ever for a mixed martial arts event in Nevada.
If McGregor, who returned Saturday night after a 15-month layoff, can stay in the octagon and out of legal trouble, he gives the UFC a bankable star with mainstream profile, and gives fighters in two sports a chance at career-defining paydays.
McGregor’s win over Cerrone gives him options more than three years after he became the simultaneous champion of two divisions.
“I’m going to have a look at the calendar and see where we’re at,” McGregor said after the fight on Saturday. “I’ll be ready.”
McGregor suggested that he could return as quickly as March 7, for UFC 248 in Las Vegas, and he told reporters that he planned to resume training on Monday.
Before Saturday, McGregor had last competed in October 2018, when he was neck-cranked into submission by Russian wrestling ace Khabib Nurmagomedov in a championship grudge match that ignited a post-fight brawl. The melee earned McGregor a fine and a six-month suspension from Nevada regulators, and the fighter’s time off featured a series of legal issues. McGregor pleaded guilty to smashing a tourist’s camera in Miami, and to punching a bar patron in Ireland.
During fight week, McGregor and his backers at the UFC unveiled a rebranded version of the fighter’s persona. The trash-talking heel who grew into the promotion’s biggest star renewed himself as a congenial sportsman who, with most of his legal issues settled, could focus on becoming the best fighter possible.
In the octagon, McGregor appeared to be the same fast, accurate striker who won titles in two weight classes, even if he opened the fight by missing Cerrone with a wild left hand.
“Fifteen months outside of the octagon, a little eager,” McGregor said.
From there, he overwhelmed the 36-year-old Cerrone, knocking him woozy with a left-footed kick to the jaw, burying him with a barrage of punches, and prompting a massive ovation from the 19,040 spectators who packed T-Mobile Arena.
The near-sellout indicated that McGregor’s time off didn’t damage his ability to sell tickets, and the UFC had already bet on McGregor’s marketability by guaranteeing him $3 million for the Cerrone bout. He will receive an undisclosed portion of the event’s pay-per-view revenue, and earned a $50,000 bonus for his spectacular knockout.
While McGregor’s initial payout was the largest on Saturday’s card — everyone else’s guarantees totaled just under $1.5 million — it was far less than the $30 million he made up front for his 2017 boxing match with Mayweather. Those dollar figures help explain why, when questioned about McGregor’s future bouts, UFC President Dana White focused on fights with mainstream appeal, and the potential to break revenue records.
He acknowledged that boxing matches with Mayweather, who is retired, and Pacquiao, who is still active, remain long shots. But White said Saturday that a rematch between McGregor and the undefeated Nurmagomedov could fill football stadiums. He mentioned AT&T Stadium in Dallas and London’s O2 arena among several potential destinations for that bout.
“This is a massive fight with global appeal,” White said.
First, Nurmagomedov is scheduled to defend his 155-pound title against Tony Ferguson at UFC 249 this April at Barclays Center in Brooklyn.
White’s long-term plans for McGregor depend on the fighter staying healthy — he suffered no apparent injuries in his 40-second win over Cerrone.
They also require the fighter to stay out of trouble. McGregor was silent on Wednesday when asked directly about two sexual assault investigations in his home country of Ireland, though he told ESPN in response to a general question about “allegations” that he denied them and that “time will reveal all.” The New York Times reported on Wednesday that he had not been charged, and the existence of the investigations does not imply that McGregor is guilty of any crime.
Through a publicist, McGregor has denied the allegations, and he maintained during fight week that he no longer faces any legal obstacles.
McGregor gives the UFC a top-of-the-roster star who can reach mainstream audiences, and his return to the UFC’s regular rotation is likely to provide a timely boost in viewership to the fight promotion.
Last year the UFC entered a deal with ESPN, migrating their online video streaming service to the ESPN+ streaming platform, and putting their U.S. pay-per-view business online. Partnering with ESPN gives the UFC a steady presence among mainstream sports fans — the network sent a “SportsCenter” crew to Las Vegas, and integrated fight-week content into its regular programming.
“If you had to pay for what ESPN did for the promotion of this fight, what would that number be?” White asked after the fight. “It’s a massive number.”
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