It’s true, what you’ve heard. The King is back.
Let’s get one thing straight first: Win, lose or draw at UFC 202 last Saturday, Conor McGregor would have woken up the following morning a very rich, very popular mixed martial artist…but he would not have been a king.
Not in the way he’s used that title.
And for the record, it probably shouldn’t be that way. A big part of what makes McGregor so fascinating is that he’s willing to accept risk. His entire rivalry with Diaz, as we’ve come to know (and love), would not exist if it weren’t for that.
Five biggest winners from McGregor’s win over Diaz
Conor McGregor’s victory over Nate Diaz in their rematch at UFC 202 produced a number of those who benefited from the result. Brian Campbell ranks the biggest winners.
McGregor avenges loss to Diaz in 5-round classic
In an exhausting and bloody five-round affair, Conor McGregor and Nate Diaz delivered an instant classic, with McGregor gutting out a majority decision Saturday in the main event of UFC 202.
Sports and entertainment worlds enthralled by McGregor-Diaz II
The five-round spectacle in the UFC 202 main event excited many prominent sports and entertainment figures on social media.
McGregor accepted risk when he originally agreed to fight Diaz at 170 pounds back in March. He accepted it again — demanded it, actually — when he insisted a rematch take place at the same weight rather than at 155, which would have benefitted him.
He was determined to prove a point in an arena where merely winning is hard enough; where champions are falling like flies in 2016. That point alone should add to McGregor’s stardom.
The reality of the fight game, however, is that none of that matters if you don’t win. When it comes to star power — the only factor capable of truly lining a fighter’s pockets with cash — a pair of losses to the same opponent, after the run McGregor had been on, would have been devastating.
The best part? McGregor never cared. This rematch was about one thing: Conor McGregor proving he could beat Nate Diaz. What it meant for his legacy, the UFC’s overall health and his own selling power afterwards — that was just noise to him.
You can literally sum up UFC 202, a multi-million-dollar event, as simple as that. It existed because McGregor had to prove he could beat Diaz.
And this is what makes McGregor one of the best stories in sports today. He’s unlike anything ever witnessed in MMA. Who gets pulled from UFC 200 for refusing to take part in a commercial shoot? Who announces retirement at age 27, to the tune of 160,000 re-tweets?
Who elects to still headline a card after a UFC title shot has been pulled from the table due to an injured opponent…twice?!
Following UFC 202, McGregor has options. Dana White wants him to return to 145 pounds to defend his title against interim champ Jose Aldo. A potential dispute looms over whether the company would strip him of the title if he refuses that fight — a story in itself.
Lightweight champion Eddie Alvarez is picking a fight with McGregor. A trilogy match against Diaz would do enormous business. McGregor said he feels “s—‘s about to hit the fan,” regarding what’s ahead. He even said his next move “might not be [MMA].”
If we know one thing, McGregor’s future will be the one he chooses. There is no ghost writer in this narrative. McGregor writes it himself.
Even considering how good the Diaz fights were, part of me still wonders about an alternate universe in which McGregor would have said, “I’ll wait” after Rafael dos Anjos withdrew from their lightweight title fight at UFC 196.
ConorMania was approaching an all-time high when that happened. McGregor was looking at a chance to make history, trying to become the first fighter to ever hold titles in multiple weight classes simultaneously. Where would we be had he elected to wait that out?
It’s an intriguing question, but one that ultimately doesn’t matter. McGregor is gonna do McGregor. And at the moment, few sports stories compare.