LAS VEGAS – Conor McGregor and Nate Diaz are in limbo now and the man who has the biggest say about their futures has decided to remain mum.
UFC president Dana White, during a brief text message exchange with Yahoo Sports, wrote, “I have no comment on the Conor situation.”
Most likely, he will around 2 p.m. PT on Friday, when a news conference to promote UFC 200 and its surrounding activities kicks off at the MGM Grand Garden.
McGregor, the UFC’s featherweight champion and transcendent star, signed a contract to face Diaz at T-Mobile Arena on July 9 in the main event of UFC 200, a rematch of a bout Diaz won by second-round submission in March.
But on Tuesday, McGregor announced on Twitter that he was retiring. Later that day, White announced that McGregor was off the card because he’d refused to fly to Las Vegas to take part in a news conference and other promotional-related events.
After 48 hours of feverish speculation, McGregor on Thursday posted a 651-word statement to his Facebook page from his Reykjavik, Iceland, training base, saying that his need to train properly for the Diaz rematch was more important than promoting the fight.
As a compromise, he offered to fly to New York for a news conference scheduled there next week.
Both sides have great points. McGregor is seen by many who support the UFC as a petulant superstar and/or as a guy who is looking to dodge a fight against a tough guy.
Neither point could be further from the truth.
Nobody has done more to promote the UFC in the past several years than McGregor. The UFC is on an unprecedented roll in combat sports, selling more pay-per-views on a regular basis than any promotion ever.
Last July’s UFC 189 card headlined by McGregor’s second-round finish of Chad Mendes came in right around 1 million. So, too, did UFC 190, headlined by Ronda Rousey’s 34-second blowout of Bethe Correia in Brazil.
In November, UFC chairman Lorenzo Fertitta told Yahoo Sports that Rousey’s loss to Holly Holm at UFC 193 was trending to be the company’s second biggest event, trailing only UFC 100.
In December, McGregor’s 13-second knockout of Jose Aldo at UFC 194 surpassed 1 million. And then, despite Diaz being a late replacement less than two weeks before the bout, UFC 196 blew by all previous events to become the company’s biggest show ever.
McGregor, clearly, has played a large role in its rise. But he understands that another loss to Diaz would significantly diminish his brand.
He’s extraordinarily popular, not only because he’s accessible and has a great wit and is willing to work like no other pitching a show, but also because he’s an outstanding fighter who delivers in the cage.
There are dozens of clever, funny, compelling and charismatic fighters in the UFC. But the ones who aren’t nearly as talented as McGregor don’t sell because it takes both ends to care enough to put down their $55.
Forget the notion that McGregor is somehow trying to avoid Diaz. He accepted Diaz on short notice at UFC 196, when he could easily have passed, and when he was talking to the UFC about its plans for 200, he insisted on meeting Diaz instead of fighting either Frankie Edgar or Jose Aldo for the featherweight title or Rafael dos Anjos for the lightweight belt.
McGregor was supposed to fight Diaz in the main event of UFC 200, because he wanted, no, demanded the bout.
What is often overlooked about him is his commitment to his craft. While his witty lines and brash predictions are what drives the Twitterverse crazy, he’s successful because he works extraordinarily hard to improve his skills.
It’s easily understandable why he wants to remain in Iceland to work on the flaws he discovered in his game when he was submitted by Diaz in March.
And it’s equally understandable why the UFC said no.
Moreover, they pretty much have no choice but to say no.
If White and Fertitta bend and allow McGregor to still headline UFC 200 while not doing the behind-the-scenes promotional work that led to the extraordinary successes at 189, 194 and 196, they’ll quickly have Rousey and Jon Jones and perhaps other of their high-profile fighters requesting to do the same.
None of these fighters enjoy the marketing and promotional aspects, and they surely don’t like having to deal with the media.
McGregor may have said it best in a statement he released Thursday.
“ … Sitting in a car on the way to some dump in Conneticut [sic] or somewhere, to speak to Tim and Suzie on the nobody gives a [expletive] morning show did not get me this life.
“Talking to some lady that deep down doesn't give a [expletive] about what I'm doing, but just wants some sound bites so she can maybe get [herself] a nice raise, and I'm cool with that too, I've been giving you all raises. But I need to focus on me now.
“I'm coming for my revenge here.”
But talking to Tim and Suzie and the lady who doesn’t care is all part of why McGregor has sold so many pay-per-views. The UFC’s powerful marketing and promotional team gave him the platform and he exploited it beautifully.
The cold, hard truth, though, is this: UFC 200 will sell whether McGregor is on the show or not and whether he participates in the promotion or not. There are a lot of stars on the show and the UFC is putting all of its muscle behind it.
It’s not this card that White and Fertitta are concerned about anyway. It’s all the ones that come after if the fighters get the idea they don’t have to participate.
McGregor and Rousey stand above all others as major stars. But Jones is not far below them. And if, as seems likely, Georges St-Pierre returns, he’ll arrive on that same level with McGregor and Rousey. The Diaz brothers, Nate and Nick, are also in that range.
Be sure, those fighters will pay very close attention to what White and Fertitta do with McGregor.
There are some events that promote themselves. The Floyd Mayweather-Manny Pacquiao boxing match last year was one of them. Though it turned out to be an utter flop in the ring, fans had clamored for it for six years, and anticipation was so high, neither had to say much of anything to help it sell.
It wound up doing a pay-per-view record 4.6 million sales, as well as an astronomical $72 million gate.
But other events can sell if they’re nudged along by promotion and marketing. UFC 197, which is Saturday, is one of them. The show contains the two fighters, Jones and flyweight champion Demetrious Johnson, who are considered the best in the world.
It also has Olympic gold medalist Henry Cejudo in against Johnson, and a match that has hardcore fans’ mouths watering in ex-lightweight champion Anthony Pettis against Edson Barboza.
Jones is returning from exile, after two brief stints in jail, another in drug rehabilitation and plenty of controversy. He’s says he’s been sober for seven months now, and it’s a compelling story that has been overshadowed by the McGregor controversy.
That extra push could help it sell, and that’s where the UFC’s formidable marketing team comes into play.
It seems as predictable as another losing NFL season in Cleveland that White will announce tomorrow that McGregor isn’t fighting at UFC 200.
He’ll spin it as best he can, and he has plenty of options.
This is a case, though, in which while both sides are in the right, there is no solution to make it right for everyone.