One thing that might have slipped under the radar during UFC 246 fight week was when former two-division UFC champion Conor McGregor said he was competing on that card on a one-fight deal.
In the lead up to his welterweight matchup against Donal Cerrone, McGregor told Ariel Helwani that he hoped to renegotiate his deal in the aftermath of the January 18 fight card. McGregor won that bout in 40 seconds. He knocked out Cerrone in that time, claimed a $3 million disclosed payday along with a $50,000 “Performance of the Night” bonus and didn’t get hit a once in the process. Additionally, the event drew $11 million at the gate. That number dwarfed the highest gate of 2019, which was the $6,575,996.19 brought in at UFC 244.
What made the UFC 246 numbers even more impressive was that they came in McGregor’s first fight since his submission loss to current UFC lightweight champion Khabib Nurmagomedov in 2018.
Following McGregor’s victory, UFC president Dana White — seeming to eschew sense — was adamant that the next fight to make for McGregor was a rematch between him and Nurmagomedov for the 155-pound crown.
The odds are against McGregor in that prospective title fight. Nurmagomedov is more than a 3-1 favorite in that potential rematch, but we know odds don’t always mean that much when it comes to the fight game. Don’t forget, some fight books had Maycee Barber as a 10-1 favorite over Roxanne Modafferi at UFC 246. Modafferi walked away from that bout with a unanimous decision win.
I’m going to guess that one of the reasons White might be frothing at the mouth to see Nurmagomedov vs. McGregor 2 is pretty simple. If the ex-champ does manage to pull off the upset, he will lose the majority of the power he has when it comes to negotiating with the UFC, thanks to the incredibly restrictive — and possibly illegal — UFC champion’s clause.
Here’s a refresher on that nasty bit of language. In Article IV of Eddie Alvarez’s leaked contract from a few years back, it states that if a fighter is a champion when their UFC deal is up, that deal will automatically extend for one year or three UFC fights. Which means, the second White straps another title around McGregor’s waist, if the newly minted champ is finishing up a one-fight deal, McGregor’s contract will be extended for one year or three fights, whichever keeps him tied up longer.
Knowing that, McGregor and his team should avoid all UFC title fights the promotion dangles in front of them. Title fights don’t make financial sense for McGregor at this point.
McGregor might be the only fighter currently on the UFC roster with real power when it comes to sitting down at the negotiating table with the promotion. One of the reasons for that is that McGregor-headlined cards hold three of the top four spots in single fight gates revenue in UFC history. The top two of those events, UFC 205 and UFC 229, both exceeded $17 million. Another reason is McGregor, without a UFC title, can force the UFC to return to the table before each fight if he continues to compete on a single-fight deal. And knowing the breadth of McGregor’s self-confidence, those talks could become testy, even if McGregor does lose a fight.
Sure those negotiations will be stressful, especially the next one after McGregor put Cerrone away in under a minute in the first PPV card of 2020. But the UFC’s ownership team needs McGregor now more than ever. The UFC did break some records in 2019, but one thing the promotion missed was how McGregor filled the coffers in 2016. He headlined three pay-per-view cards during that year. The total gate of those events was nearly $34 million. In 2019, the total disclosed live gate (totals for 11 events were not released) was a bit more than $61 million. Yes, McGregor has juice and the UFC’s owners, Endeavor, need that cash to service substantial debt.
Another reason McGregor and his team might want to play the one-by-one contract deal is the two open sexual assault allegations hanging over the fighters head in Ireland. With his long-term future up in the air pending the outcome of those investigations — McGregor has yet to be charged — it might be in his team’s best interest to get the biggest paydays they can, as often as they can.
The UFC and a number of its fighters are always anxious to advertise when a lengthy deal gets inked. The problem with a UFC contract is that the length does nothing but lock the fighter to the promotion for those fights. The fighter has zero job security and zero guaranteed income. A long deal with the UFC is a sucker’s bet, and that’s why the promotion has done some shady dealing to get fighters to re-up before they became free agents.
McGregor is a rare breed. He needs to continue on that path and refuse to play nice with the promotion. Sure McGregor has a lot of money, but even he deserves a bigger share of what the historically stingy UFC offers him. He and his team can’t ask for that money. They need to demand it.