Conor McGregor’s bizarre retirement from the UFC ended Thursday after less than two days.
Unfortunately, the drama figures to persist awhile longer.
In what is largely being framed as a high-profile tiff between fighter and his fight-company bosses, it has been tempting to pick sides, to say one is right and the other is wrong. The more details that emerge, however, the more it becomes clear that neither party is putting its best foot forward.
It could be there is merely a lot of blame to go around.
From the moment earlier this week when McGregor announced his sudden withdrawal from the sport he professes to transcend, something about the situation didn’t add up.
Conor McGregor @TheNotoriousMMA
I have decided to retire young. Thanks for the cheese. Catch ya's later.2016-4-19 18:29:59
It wasn’t like the normally verbose Irishman to leave fans hanging. If he were serious about stepping away from the cage, surely he would show up in front of a microphone in one of his custom suits and hold forth first.
We all wondered: Was this a joke? A bid for more money leading up to his UFC 200 rematch against Nate Diaz? Was it a sign McGregor had abruptly grown concerned for his health after witnessing the death of a Portuguese fighter at an independent MMA event a week earlier?
Theories ran rampant. Then, after first tweeting and deleting a promise to make a clarifying statement Wednesday, McGregor broke his silence early Thursday—and it turned out things were a lot more mundane than all that.
In a blistering 650-word post to his official Facebook page, McGregor revealed he and the UFC had simply squabbled over the marketing schedule for his hotly anticipated second meeting with Diaz. So concerned was McGregor with getting back to his winning ways that he refused to fly to Las Vegas this week to begin the promotional effort.
“I am paid to fight. I am not yet paid to promote,” McGregor wrote. “I have become lost in the game of promotion and forgot about the art of fighting. There comes a time when you need to stop handing out flyers and get back to the damn shop.”
Fair enough. It was reasonable that after tasting defeat in the Octagon for the first time at UFC 196 in March, McGregor would want to recenter himself and get back to basics.
It was unreasonable, however, to assume he just learned of these press obligations this week. Surely, he had known about them all along, likely even before the UFC confirmed the Diaz rematch.
If that was that case, then it made him look both petty and unprofessional to pull out—and those were words we never thought we’d associate with McGregor. He had mostly been the picture of cool since debuting in the UFC in 2013.
When taken as a whole, the Facebook manifesto didn’t help much, either.
McGregor’s statement made numerous valid points. He documented how much money he's made for the UFC (though his math might be inflated), how hard he's worked and how beneficial he's been for the sport. All correct. All right.
But his words were also scattered, misspelled and, at times, ugly. He lashed out at the media—which was weird, since the media love McGregor—and at one point he crossed over into trite misogyny (warning: NSFW language):
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 f--k morning show did not get me this life. Talking to some lady that deep down doesn't give a f--k about what I'm doing, but just wants some sound bites so she can maybe get her little tight ass a nice raise.
Not to mention the fact that announcing his retirement one day and ending his next major statement with the all-caps declaration “I AM NOT RETIRED” just made McGregor look silly. Even if the specific “retirement” lingo was designed to get him around a pesky clause in the UFC’s new drug-testing policy, it made the normally uber-confident fighter look suddenly skittish and uncertain.
In short, all of it was very un-McGregor.
His primary strength to this point in his career had been doing media, after all. McGregor may not get paid to promote, but the promotional aspect of his game is largely what set him apart from other fighters.
He made his bones in the UFC as a master of trash talk. Without his knack for capitalizing on press opportunities, his march to stardom and to the 145-pound title probably would have taken twice as long as it did.
So, while there was a lot to agree with in McGregor’s statement, there was a lot to be disappointed about, too.
Meanwhile, the UFC fared even worse in the court of public opinion.
The world’s largest MMA company has a well-established reputation for overreacting and overreaching, and it responded to McGregor’s gripes in what can only be described as classic UFC fashion.
Instead of trying to work things out, it pulled its biggest star from its biggest card of the year over an argument that occurred months before the July 9 event.
It was the worst thing the UFC could have done, so of course that’s what the UFC did.
“You have to be here to promote your fight,” UFC President Dana White told Fox Sports radio’s Colin Cowherd on Tuesday. “We’re spending $10 million in promotion for UFC 200, and all that money is in motion. You can’t do this. I don’t care who you are, or how big you are. You can’t do this.”
The UFC could have had McGregor fulfill his press obligations via satellite or on the phone. It could have rescheduled his photo shoots and commercial appearances. Instead, TMZ.com's Thursday report (via Dave Doyle of MMA Fighting) contended the company has pulled the plug on putting together his rematch with Diaz altogether.
Late in the day, ESPN.com's Brett Okamoto reported the two sides might be getting closer to an agreement to get McGregor back on the fight card, but the announcement of a deal didn't seem imminent:
Brett Okamoto @bokamotoESPN
Nothing official and hearing UFC likely won't make statement today, but my McGregor/200 gauge has risen from 50/50 to 60/40 he'll fight.2016-4-21 21:20:37
If McGregor doesn't fight Diaz as scheduled, it will make the organization look as heavy-handed and reactionary as ever. White and the UFC are still trying to rule with an iron fist, it will seem, when they should be moving in the opposite direction.
So, what happens next?
Conor McGregor @TheNotoriousMMA
I've got my bills paid. My money made. And the entire game slayed. #YourMove https://t.co/wOgbNgUPVd2016-4-22 00:12:53
Conventional wisdom says McGregor and the UFC will eventually get in the same room and hash out their differences. There is simply too much money to be made for them to do anything else.
With each passing day, however, it becomes less and less likely McGregor will end up appearing at UFC 200.
And that’s not a good look for anybody.