After tweeting his retirement and getting yanked from UFC 200, it looks as though Conor McGregor hasn't quite retired. It was pretty crazy to expect McGregor to retire at this stage of his career so no dramas there, the way McGregor is pulling our strings though and perhaps pulling the UFC's strings, is incredibly intriguing.
Many people toe the line of 'no individual is bigger than the organisation'. That's cute and all most of the time and it's a fair point of view in a team sport for example when you need everyone on equal standing, co-operating and working together. If there's one thing that I've learned in the past 48 hours, it's that someone like McGregor is definitely bigger than the organisation and in somewhat of an epiphany, I've got no worries with that.
Conor McGregor is bigger than the UFC right now and you can consider his umm, threat of retirement as a power play. McGregor's sticking point is that he doesn't want to do the endless promo tours, interviews and general marketing that the UFC rolls out for it's events as he'd rather train, prepare for the rematch against Nate Diaz. Let's not forget that Diaz touched up McGregor, he challenged him with his longer limbs, tougher chin, better jiu-jitsu and better striking than what McGregor had dealt with in his own weight division. From what McGregor has said, it's clear that he fully understands the threat posed by Diaz and instead of flying across the world to do interviews etc (which can be done via the interwebs anyway), McGregor would rather train.
I kinda like that. No one has done a better job in the media than McGregor and the reason McGregor's stature in the sporting world grew so quickly was because he hustled through media opportunities ahead of previous fights. He didn't give the cliched answers that we see from our union/league/sports people, he offered entertainment and at some stage, you've got to prioritize.
This is tricky and is where we start to see this 'bigger than the organisation' idea really come into play as the UFC can't have one set of rules for one fighter and then expect other fighters to play by a different set of rules. We all know however that a Nate Diaz fight against anyone besides McGregor would make the UFC half the money than Diaz vs McGregor would, because McGregor is their most bankable star and that's where maybe McGregor is bigger than the organisation. Not too many other athletes have that sort of pull, that their lack of presence would result in a substantial drop in revenue for the organisation.
Listen to me, I mean, McGregor has me sympathizing with him after he fake-retired.
I like McGregor and I like what he's done. In a way, he's standing up for himself because he knows that he's a fighter first and foremost, he wants to rectify that loss to Diaz and that takes hard work. The ball is in the UFC's court now, they must decide what UFC 200 will look like with or without McGregor.
Lost amongst all of this has been UFC 197 which goes down this weekend and features the return of Jon Jones against Ovince Saint Preux. There's a bunch of other interesting fights as well, but I'm most interested in Jones' return and quasi-kiwi Robert Whittaker's fight against Rafael Natal.
If we are to compare Jones to McGregor ... Jones is the better all-round fighter but McGregor is far more charismatic and better at selling a fight. Jones has been out of action for a while now and has battled a variety of issues outside the octagon which made his initial match up against Daniel Cormier such a blockbuster as Jones was making a return to re-claim his belt, his belt that he never lost inside the octagon.
Cormier had to pull out of this fight a few weeks ago after he got injured in training camp, which meant Saint Preux was given the chance to fight Jones for the interim belt. I'm backing Jones to win and announce his return, however I'll be watching this just to see Jones where he belongs, not in the news about some drama but in the octagon ripping awkward elbows down on his opponent's face. There's uncertainty that comes any time an athlete returns after such dramas and that uncertainty is what makes this fight so exciting, Jones could come back and be the beast that he was, or it might not be the same.
The excitement for Whittaker is different as he's climbing the ranks in the middleweight division, so much so that Dana White has labeled him the next big thing. The middleweight division is currently stacked, full to the brim with killers and Whittaker is ranked 7th, no shame when you consider the names ahead of him; Lyoto Machida, Anderson Silva, Michael Bisping, Vitor Belfort, Jacare Souza, Chris Weidman and the champ Luke Rockhold. Whittaker, the half-kiwi/half-Aussie is kicking it with some of the UFC's best which gives us kiwis two top-10 ranked fighters (chur Mark Hunt) to follow and enjoy along with the improving Dan Hooker.
Natal is ranked 13th but both are coming off four straight wins and this is Whittaker's first crack at fighting on a loaded card in Las Vegas where he'll be watched closely by fans, analysts and the UFC's match-makers, who will be keen to see whether Whittaker is capable of continuing his climb.
As always, the real winner in all of this - regardless of McGregor's power play - is the UFC. While casual UFC fans have their knickers in a twist regarding McGregor and the stir that he's caused, everyone is talking about the UFC whether it's the casual fan or the hardcore fan. The UFC has the casual fan whipped up in a frenzy and there's UFC 197 coming up this weekend that the hardcore fan has something to sink their teeth into.