Conor McGregor and Paulie Malignaggi do not like each other.
They never have.
Even when they tried to get along in the name of iron sharpening iron, it lasted somewhere around 20 rounds before Malignaggi was social media shamed right out of town and into a media tour of his very own.
And now, after their million-dollar smoker ahead of McGregor's billion-dollar real thing with Floyd Mayweather on August 26, one thing has become apparent: Malignaggi and McGregor are the perfect headlining duo for the first event promoted by Zuffa Boxing.
Zuffa Boxing? Whoa whoa whoa, wait a minute here. Zuffa is an MMA promoter. Zuffa owns the UFC.
Yes it does, and based on the lead-up to McGregor's pro boxing debut, it's about to get into the boxing game as well.
Conor McGregor @TheNotoriousMMA
Talking Zuffa boxing with @danawhite outside the @ufcpi Las Vegas. https://t.co/K8vOEElPg72017-8-16 07:56:13
The first sign came when Dana White showed up on the Mayweather-McGregor press tour in a T-shirt emblazoned with a debutant logo: Zuffa Boxing. To that point there was no word about any such creation, but it got people's attention.
Speaking in a scrum soon after the event, White did little to quell the curiosity.
"It's an entity," he said. "You never know [if we'll do boxing events]. I didn't say no, I didn't say yes," he continued, smirking the entire time.
Not long after White coyly acknowledged potential interest in Zuffa promoting boxing, McGregor began saying he intends to compete in both the ring and the cage.
Now, Mayweather fight notwithstanding, it seems unlikely Zuffa is going to free up its biggest star to make money for the Showtimes and HBOs of the world, so there's going to need to be promotional architecture in place to allow that to happen. McGregor, for all his gumption, is likely not yet experienced enough or rich enough to make it happen alone through McGregor Sports and Entertainment, so he'll need a partner.
Ariel Helwani @arielhelwani
It’s actually refreshing/interesting to see Dana in this boxing promoter role. Just backing 1 guy and full on promoting him. Works for him.2017-8-16 21:52:09
Enter Zuffa Boxing.
Together with McGregor, Zuffa already stands to make more money on a single event than it ever has in MMA, and it's largely due to the star power of the Irishman and the lucrative payouts attainable in boxing.
They can link up with McGregor to headline big boxing events going forward then flesh out the cards with other mixed martial artists who are under contract to them but have expressed an interest in boxing as well—and there has been no shortage of those.
That's where Malignaggi fits in.
He's been ranting and raving about McGregor for months now, most recently frothing at the mouth over being made famous on the internet on unfair terms. He's been tireless in his criticism of McGregor and has even taken aim at White as well during an appearance on the MMA Hour.
It's boiled over to the point that McGregor-Malignaggi has produced more column inches than Mayweather-McGregor since those notorious sparring sessions, and that level of attention is evidence of an appetite to see them throw down at some point.
Herd w/Colin Cowherd @TheHerd
"If he looks decent, yeah I'll get in there and kick his ass." — @PaulMalignaggi on fighting Conor McGregor (@TheNotoriousMMA) in the future https://t.co/PMpvzQqS8v2017-8-16 16:54:08
The whole thing has come together brilliantly for McGregor and his likely partners at Zuffa Boxing, where the setup for the Mayweather fight is essentially done and the Malignaggi bout is already lining up.
Barring a catastrophic, embarrassing loss to Mayweather that eliminates interest in McGregor entirely and makes people forget the Malignaggi beef altogether—an idea even more farfetched than McGregor's starting this whole boxing career in the first place—the fight carries interest to the masses.
For Malignaggi, it allows him a final cash infusion before proper retirement and a chance to set things straight against McGregor, for better or worse. It's paid redemption for him against a man who will be, win or lose, one of the two biggest names in combat sports after the Mayweather fight, assuming he's not already.
That's not a bad deal for a guy who thought his checks would be coming from analyst work for the foreseeable future.
It's not a bad deal for McGregor either, making boxing coin against an aging, undersized foe with limited punching power who he may or may not have already wailed on in sparring.
But most important, it's not a bad deal for Zuffa Boxing, a fledgling potential wing of the world's foremost fight authority. Simply by hanging around its biggest star while he's been off conquering the world, they've set themselves up to make major bank before they've even gotten off the ground.
That's pretty good for something borne out of a press tour, some imagination and a T-shirt.