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The Good Life: Should Conor McGregor's Bromance with UFC Bosses Be an Issue?

Chad Dundas@@chaddundasMMA Lead WriterOctober 28, 2014

Getty Images

When UFC President Dana White posted his latest Instagram selfie with Conor McGregor early Monday, at least he had the presence of mind to caption it, "Ready ... Set ... HATE!!!!"

Apparently, White is self-aware enough to understand how all this looks from the outside.

For a while there, it appeared he and Lorenzo Fertitta might be oblivious to public perception that the UFC co-owners are trying to cast McGregor as the company’s next big star, while simultaneously treating him like their new best friend.

Now we know they just don’t care.

This latest picture of White and McGregor grinning like lottery winners aboard the boss’ private jet comes on the heels of a shot of them lounging together on deck chairs, sipping tropical drinks out of actual coconuts before Saturday’s UFC 179.

Gregory Payan/Associated Press

That one came a week or so after McGregor bragged during an interview skirmish with Chad Mendes that he’d be staying in “the Fertitta hotel, in the suite, on the Copacabana” while waiting to watch Mendes scrap with Jose Aldo in Brazil.

McGregor’s words seemed more like simple fact than just a boast. An earlier report said he’d been living in Fertitta’s private suite at the Red Rock Casino Resort & Spa prior to a September victory over Dustin Poirier and that he’d just bought a fleet of custom suits from a pricey tailor recommended by his UFC bosses.

All of this is to say nothing of that recent video of McGregor and White watching fights together or stories of them cruising around Las Vegas in White’s Ferrari.

Gregory Payan/Associated Press

So, yeah, McGregor—who has been in the UFC for a shade more than 18 months now—is already attached at the hip to the guys who book his fights and sign his checks.

Is there anything wrong with that?

Probably depends on whom you ask.

Perhaps none of the above hints at anything explicitly untoward. White and Fertitta seem to get a genuine kick out of McGregor—really, who doesn’t?—and it’s only natural for fight promoters to feel extra-attached to the people they think are about to make them the most money.

Lorenzo Fertitta @lorenzofertitta

@TheNotoriousMMA mission accomplished!!! 🍀🍀🍀 http://t.co/D26i4tBEWK

We all remember Jared Shaw literally jumping out of his seat in horror at seeing Kimbo Slice struck down by Seth Petruzelli. We all remember Muhammed Lawal accusing Bjorn Rebney of straddling a certain part of Quinton “Rampage” Jackson’s anatomy. We all remember Pride, which was notorious for playing favorites and occasionally even put them over in bouts against former champions.

HONG KONG - AUGUST 20:  UFC President Dana White, right, introduces UFC women's bantamweight champion  Ronda Rousey on the stage for a Q&A session during the Macao UFC Fight Night Press Conference at the Four Season Hotel on August 20, 2014 in Hong Kong.
Anthony Kwan/Getty Images

Even in the UFC, these sorts of relationships aren't unheard of. Last year, White’s constant traveling companion was women’s bantamweight champion Ronda Rousey as she came to the height of her powers. Long before that, Chuck Liddell rose to prominence in the Octagon on the merits of a double-wide mohawk, a deadly overhand right and a previous managerial relationship with the UFC president.

Then there’s this picture of UFC brass literally jumping for joy with Brock Lesnar during the short window when he was their biggest draw.

All things considered, McGregor is merely the latest in a long line of high-profile fighters to hobnob with his superiors. Hard to blame him either. As a guy who was reportedly cashing welfare checks when his UFC career began, you can’t expect him to turn down this sudden access to the finer things. We have no way to know yet if his stay in the penthouse will be a short one or a long one, so he’s right to take advantage while he can.

Michael Carroll @MJCflipdascript

McGregor's mic game gets him frequent flyer miles on the ZuffaJet. Where does Darren Elkins' mic game get him?

Yet there are some important differences between McGregor and fighters like Liddell, Lesnar and Rousey.

In Liddell’s case, he was already friends with UFC ownership before they even became UFC ownership. Additionally, you could make a convincing case that back in his heyday, The Iceman came exactly as advertised.

SAN FRANCISCO - SEPTEMBER 13: UFC fighter Chuck Liddell looks on before the San Francisco Giants and Los Angeles Dodgers Major League Baseball game at AT&T Park on September 13, 2009 in San Francisco, California. (Photo by Jed Jacobsohn/Getty Images)
Jed Jacobsohn/Getty Images

Liddell really was the fight company’s best marketing chip. He really was super talented and one of the most important cogs in its drive toward mainstream acceptance. Therefore, it was difficult to argue he was getting any more than what he rightly deserved.

The same was true of Rousey and Lensar. For the most part, they had already earned their places as top draws and the best fighters in their weight classes by the time they got their UFC-branded friendship bracelets. Did they get a few perks? Sure they did, but they also totally deserved them.

By contrast, McGregor has yet to fully make good on his tremendous potential.

BOSTON, MA - AUGUST 17: Conor McGregor pins down Max Holloway in their featherweight bout at TD Garden on August 17, 2013 in Boston, Massachusetts. (Photo by Jared Wickerham/Getty Images)
Jared Wickerham/Getty Images

To date, his star power is based solely on his own gift of gab and the great expectations fostered by four wins over middling (and arguably handpicked) opponents. The organization is still very much in the process of building him up, and so far it gives the impression that’s exactly what it intends to do.

So here’s where things get a little bit sticky.

Each picture of McGregor standing arm-in-arm with White makes it harder and harder to book the guy fights against foils like Poirier or Dennis Siver without making it seem as though the UFC is more than just an impartial promoter. It’s tough to float the idea of McGregor leap-frogging Cub Swanson in the featherweight title picture without inviting charges of cronyism.

Especially when the fighter himself tweets stuff like this, assumedly referencing UFC co-owner Frank Fertitta:

Conor McGregor @TheNotoriousMMA

Myself, Uncle Frank and the rest of La Familia are in the process of selecting another victim to eliminate in the meantime.

Uncle Frank? La Familia? Another victim? Maybe those are just careless words from a brash 26-year-old, but they sure send the message that there’s something other than straightforward matchmaking going on here.

And, honestly, maybe that’s one reason why McGregor seems to revel so much in these relationships.

BOSTON, MA - AUGUST 17: Conor McGregor elbows Max Holloway on the ground in their featherweight bout at TD Garden on August 17, 2013 in Boston, Massachusetts. (Photo by Jared Wickerham/Getty Images)
Jared Wickerham/Getty Images

Palling around with millionaires and billionaires agrees with his public persona, as the swaggering, self-obsessed Irishman who doesn’t give a rip what anybody thinks. He no doubt enjoys rankling other fighters with his special treatment and antagonizing fans by flaunting his status as the company’s next chosen one.

If you were already a McGregor supporter, you likely don’t mind seeing him jet-setting around the world with White or reading about him warming his toes on the heated marble floors in Fertitta’s private digs. If you already didn’t like the guy, perhaps it only makes you more willing to shell out $54.95 in the hopes of some day seeing him get served his share of humble pie.

Either way, that’s good business for McGregor and the UFC.

Somewhat less so for Poirier, Swanson and Siver.

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