The Bottom Line: ‘Notorious’ Doubts
The ordering process for Ultimate Fighting Championship pay-per-views has changed: UFC 246 is only available on ESPN+ in the U.S.
Editor’s note: The views and opinions expressed below are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of Sherdog.com, its affiliates and sponsors or its parent company, Evolve Media.
Starting with his first pay-per-view headliner against Chad Mendes nearly five years ago, every Conor McGregor fight has felt like a major event. As the fight approaches, the publicity kicks into overdrive. Irish fans arrive in the States ready to party. McGregor sells the enormity of the event like few have ever been able to do. It’s Red Panty Night for all involved. No matter who wins or loses, everyone’s going to make tons of money.
There’s plenty to suggest UFC 246 on Saturday will be no different. McGregor hasn’t fought in over a year, which should create demand to see how he’ll look while attempting to rebound from a definitive loss to Khabib Nurmagomedov. He has a charismatic and popular opponent in Donald Cerrone—a bigger star than many past McGregor counterparts. Advertising for the event has been omnipresent the past few weeks. While Ultimate Fighting Championship President Dana White’s announcement of a rapid sellout proved premature (there are now hundreds of non-resale tickets available at different price levels), the arena will still be packed, even with astronomical ticket prices. To this point, betting against McGregor on pay-per-view has proven to be akin to betting against Michael Jordan in the NBA Finals.
Still, as the hype for McGregor-Cerrone reaches its pivotal stage, I can’t shake the feeling that something feels off when it comes to the promotion of this event. It does not seem like the sort of massive spectacle that every McGregor fight has felt like for so many years. This isn’t a moral judgment. To be sure, there has been an increasingly unseemly feel surrounding McGregor the past couple years. However, that does not preclude a fighter from capturing the public imagination. More often it’s the opposite, with controversy enhancing the appeal of a famous fighter. Mike Tyson is the strongest example of this trend, but he’s hardly the only one. If fans want to see a fight, there isn’t going to be a lot of hand wringing about where their money is going.
Whether McGregor-Cerrone should be a massive attraction or not, less than a week out it feels like the first time since the Irishman rose to prominence that interest in one of his pay-per-view events has ebbed. Make no mistake: McGregor remains the biggest star in the sport, and he still generates headlines like no other fighter. However, this bout seems unlikely to reach the heights that McGregor has reached for his other recent fights. This relates in part to his opponent and in part to McGregor himself.
McGregor’s career has been built around taking on challenges. Mendes was the style matchup many thought McGregor couldn’t solve. Jose Aldo was the dominant longtime champion. McGregor moved up two weight classes to take on Nate Diaz, and the rematch was his effort to avenge a conclusive loss. Eddie Alvarez was a champion at a different weight class. Floyd Mayweather Jr. was a champion in another sport. Nurmagomedov was the unbeaten monster who had taken what was once his title.
There is no comparable story for what beating Cerrone would represent for McGregor’s career. Cerrone is a highly respected figure, but he’s also 36 and coming off consecutive TKO defeats. Beating Cerrone would simply serve as a reminder that McGregor is still relevant—hardly a lofty aspiration. The fight is being pitched mostly on the hook that McGregor is back, a distinction his last fight against Nurmagomedov also carried, in addition to so much more intrigue. It’s no accident that the early headlines for this fight have focused not on Cerrone as an opponent for McGregor but on ancillary concerns, like how much McGregor will make and a potential rematch with Mayweather.
That leads to the issue when it comes to McGregor himself: the general sense that he isn’t the force he once was. Even if McGregor defeats Cerrone in explosive fashion, it’s unlikely to convince many that he could defeat Nurmagomedov in a rematch. Tony Ferguson would seem stylistically a better matchup for the Irishman, but that’s still a tall task for a fighter who has seemed distracted for years. It’s easy to imagine that many fans will clamor for Justin Gaethje to receive the next title shot rather than McGregor if the latter beats Cerrone. McGregor’s personality has always driven interest in the man, but he would not have reached the level he did had he not consistently backed up his words inside the Octagon.
Early-week impressions for big fights can sometimes feel off by the time fight night arrives. The last few days are usually the key to a promotion’s success or failure, and sometimes, interest will unpredictably rise or fade late. Perhaps that will be the case with this fight, and McGregor-Cerrone will feel no different than the former two-division champion’s past box office bonanzas by the time he steps into the cage. At this point, I have serious doubts.
Todd Martin has written about mixed martial arts since 2002 for a variety of outlets, including CBSSports.com, SI.com, ESPN.com, the Los Angeles Times, MMApayout.com, Fight Magazine and Fighting Spirit Magazine. He has appeared on a number of radio stations, including ESPN affiliates in New York and Washington, D.C., and HDNet’s “Inside MMA” television show. In addition to his work at Sherdog.com, he does a weekly podcast with Wade Keller at PWTorch.com and blogs regularly at LaTimes.com. Todd received his BA from Vassar College in 2003 and JD from UCLA School of Law in 2007 and is a licensed attorney. He has covered UFC, Pride, Bellator, Affliction, IFL, WFA, Strikeforce, WEC and K-1 live events. He believes deeply in the power of MMA to heal the world and bring happiness to all of its people.