First, imagine that casual fans of mixed martial arts do exist. Now, imagine that some of those fans had not heard of Conor McGregor until the week of UFC Fight Night 26. Finally, imagine that the only point of reference these casual fans had on McGregor was what the UFC hype machine fed them leading up to his fight against Max Holloway on Saturday night.
The UFC built up McGregor to be some kind of world-beater. The amount of attention they gave the 25-year-old Irish fighter was enough to lead one to believe that McGregor was some kind of mythical beast combining the best aspects of Anderson Silva, Brock Lesnar, Royce Gracie, Georges St-Pierre and Jon Jones. Taking the hype without a grain of salt, it seemed like all McGregor was going to have to do is look at Holloway and he would curl up into the fetal position and tap before the referee even signaled the fight to begin.
Okay, that may be laying things on a little thick, but I hope you see the point. Did the UFC’s pre-fight push of McGregor leave these casual fans a little disappointed in McGregor’s performance on Saturday night?
Let me be clear, I thought McGregor looked great, he fought a tough opponent in Holloway and dominated the fight. He overcame the adversity of injuring his knee, and I appreciate the fact that he left TD Garden disappointed in his performance. McGregor’s reaction to not getting the finish leads me to believe that he has even more of an upside than he has shown in his two UFC fights.
Back to the mythical casual fan, I can imagine some of them walked away from McGregor’s fight, thinking, "Is that it? That’s the guy UFC president Dana White said had as much hype behind him as Brock Lesnar?"
That’s the danger of pushing a fighter before he’s a proven commodity. The UFC wants McGregor to succeed so badly it’s almost as if they are setting him up to fail by setting the expectations at a level that is almost unachievable.
The best bet for the promotion is to match McGregor up against another fighter outside the top ten in his next bout and roll back the hype machine. From there, they should let the young fighter develop on his own, at his own speed, and let him build his own hype.
McGregor has what it takes to become a superstar in the UFC, there’s no need to force the issue.