It feels like forever ago since the Ultimate Fighting Championship made its way to Ireland, but in all fairness, a lot of things have transpired since UFC 93, the promotion's most recent event in the republic.
The UFC expanded, traveled to a plethora of countries, witnessed the departure of some top draws and recognized the influx of a new breed of talent. Overall, those events helped the UFC emerge into its own, as only the fastest-growing sport in the world can do.
Naturally, when fans talk about the new breed, someone always brings up former Cage Warriors two-division world champion "Notorious" Conor McGregor. McGregor represents a rising name in the UFC and a prominent name in the Irish MMA scene, predominantly due to his pre-UFC career. His star only elevated further with a knockout win over Marcus Brimage and his unanimous-decision win over Max Holloway.
Despite the noise McGregor made in his past two fights, some would suggest that UFC president Dana White hit it on the money when he spoke to media members this past Monday and suggested not only that they could go to Ireland without McGregor on the bill, but also that it would feel a bit silly if they went to do an event in Mexico without UFC heavyweight champion Cain Velasquez.
None will argue much, if at all, with how much it would hurt the UFC if they did decide to go to Mexico without Velasquez. Notwithstanding, the presence of Erik Perez, Frank Trevino and other talent would create huge waves if booked for the UFC's debut event in Mexico, because Velasquez carries a big name and a certain appeal that would work best on that type of card. Still, with TUF: The Smashes winner and Northern Ireland's own Norman Parke as the only other Irish fighter on the UFC's roster, can the UFC really pull off a return to Ireland without McGregor?
Yes, it remains possible that they can, and if McGregor doesn't get clearance to compete before the UFC does return to Ireland, they almost certainly will look for some way to pull it off. Remember, this same promotion delivered memorable cards in England without having Michael Bisping in the main event. And in 2013, the promotion also proved that it could draw in some interest for cards in Brazil without former UFC middleweight champion Anderson Silva anywhere on the card. In fact, Vitor Belfort headlined the brunt of those cards, as did Glover Teixeira and Demian Maia.
At the bottom line of it all, though, it'd sound foolish to think that the UFC would not at least consider featuring McGregor. Sure, people don't like him, while others choose to not yet buy what McGregor sells—in terms of his constant desire to face top-10 competition—but did that ever become a bad thing?
One constant in MMA is whether anyone likes McGregor or not, they will watch him fight if he can get cleared to fight, so if he can heal up by the time the UFC heads to Ireland, he will get booked. If they don't watch out of a love for his bravado, or a hatred for his brash sound bites, they will watch because while only McGregor represents a style all his own, he may also represent the next enigma in terms of his fighting style.
One minute he'll throw something out of a Capoeira skill set. The next minute you'll wonder if he relocated to Roufusport to pick up a tip or two about taekwondo from Erik Koch or the Pettis brothers. And the minute after he could look like a totally different fighter altogether. For all anyone knows, his return could see him going heavy on a fluid submission-based game plan, or he could look to slam his next opponent 23 different times in a round, potentially forcing his foe to quit in the corner and subsequently causing McGregor to shout out a Sambo specialist.
In other words, McGregor's style remains hard to figure out because he represents the martial artist without one martial art. The guy will mix up every style he studies in order to get a win, and if his countrymen in Ireland knew they'd get the chance to see it in person, that support would help McGregor evolve into likely more of an international star than anyone could ever imagine.
Should we listen to those who won't count out the UFC's ability to make something happen without him on the next Ireland card? Absolutely, do not discount the UFC, because they've made things happen without one star on a particular card, even at the expense of ratings, and they can do it again.
Still, what does it mean to think the UFC won't include McGregor on the UFC's return to Ireland if they know he's cleared to compete and make weight by that time? One could easily call that as foolish as the UFC debuting in Mexico without Velasquez, if not more.