Conor McGregor rose to the occasion at UFC 205 last Saturday, knocking out Eddie Alvarez in the second round to capture the UFC lightweight championship.
Fans went in expecting a great fight, but as it turned out, McGregor won the match before it even started.
“Look, Conor McGregor is an international icon at this point,” MMAFighting.com UFC reporter Ariel Helwani said on CBS Sports Radio’s Tiki and Tierney. “All the talk going into it and being at MSG and the bright lights, Eddie admitted that he just completely threw out the game plan. He did not do a single thing that he worked on going into the fight. We all thought that he would try to replicate the game plan that he had against Anthony Pettis in January, (when he relied on his wrestling skills). It wasn’t the prettiest fight of all time, but it was effective and he won the fight and it got him to the title fight. We all thought that’s what he was going to do because everyone believes that Conor McGregor’s wrestling is his Achilles’ heel, and he did none of that. I think his first takedown attempt came in the second round, and by then, it was almost a formality after the multiple knockdowns. So I feel for Eddie. I’m glad that he got his million-dollar pay day and then some. I’m happy that he got that moment. But that is not the Eddie Alvarez that we’ve been watching for a decade, and you’ve got to give credit to Conor for just making him forget anything and making him buckle under the pressure. The setting, the scene, the arena and the opponent, in my opinion, had everything with him to do not fighting like himself.”
McGregor (21-3) is now both the lightweight and featherweight champion.
“We’ve become somewhat spoiled when it comes to Conor,” Helwani said. “In the last 12 months, he has fought four times. He’s more active than any champion out there. That’s why I think it’s ludicrous to say that he needs to drop one of the titles. Even if he defends the featherweight title twice next year and the lightweight title twice next year – which probably doesn’t happen because (he’s becoming a father), but let’s just say that it does – he’s still more active than any champion in the UFC. I think he’s going to take a little bit of a break.”
McGregor would reportedly like to fight Nate Diaz at 155 pounds, and if the UFC is wise, it will try to make that happen.
“The most interesting thing about Conor in my opinion right now is how uncomfortable he makes the UFC executives,” Helwani said. “He says things that no one has ever dared to say to the UFC, to the owners. He says, ‘You have to come see me now. I want a stake in this company. I want equity. I want to get paid more. Until you guys do that, until you guys make the effort to sit down with me and pay me what I’m worth, I’m not coming back.’ No one’s ever said anything like that before. So there’s a lot of stuff that needs to be done before we even think about the next fight, in my opinion.”
The UFC, like many professional organizations, has grown accustomed to calling the shots with its employees. The UFC cannot do that with McGregor.
“They 100 percent need him,” Helwani said. “He is the biggest star in the sport. He is the biggest draw in the sport without a doubt. Dana White likes to say that Ronda Rousey is the biggest star in the sport. That was maybe arguable going into MSG. It’s no longer an argument anymore. I don’t know about you guys, but I feel like Conor has reached this whole other stratosphere. It’s one thing to do it in Vegas. It’s one thing to do it in Dublin. It’s another thing to make history, which he did by becoming the first man to hold two titles at the same time, at MSG in front of Madonna, having Odell Beckham rush to the back to go take a picture with him. It’s a little bit of a different thing now. I think he’s just on a whole other level now, and they 100 percent need him. I think they need him more than he needs them at this point. He’s the only guy in the UFC who, if some way he goes out on his own and becomes a lone wolf, he could put on his own shows. He’s the only guy that has that kind of drawing power. He’s just on a whole other level from the rest of the fighters in the UFC, in the sport in general. So they definitely need him, and I would try to make him as happy as possible. You can’t let the inmates run the asylum, so to speak, but they need to deal with Conor a little differently now. They need to deal with him as a partner as opposed to just an employee. It’s amazing because he’s the highest-paid fighter in the UFC and I still think he’s the most underpaid fighter in the UFC considering what he brings to the table.”
Brandon Tierney wondered just how important McGregor is to UFC. Is he as important as, say, Tiger Woods was to golf or Peyton Manning was to football?
“He’s bigger than them,” Helwani said. “He means more to the UFC than Tiger Woods meant to the PGA. When Tiger was doing his thing, they’re going to get great ratings. Tiger will bump those ratings, especially if he’s (near) the leaderboard on Sunday, but you take Conor out of the equation, MSG doesn’t have a gate of $17.7 million. It doesn’t even sniff that number. They broke a number not just for the UFC on Saturday; they broke the record for Madison Square Garden. Madison Square Garden’s record was broken by an Irishman who weighs 155 pounds. That’s absurd. UFC can’t even sniff that number (without McGregor). They can’t be in that conversation. He is more important to the UFC than any of the people you mentioned were to their respective sports. I’m not trying to downgrade them, but he just means that much because they have done a relatively poor job, in my opinion, of building up other stars. Conor has he done it on his own, and as a result, he’s now enjoying all these riches.”