Last week, I reported that Conor McGregor would move up to the lightweight division to challenge Rafael dos Anjos for the UFC's lightweight title.
On Tuesday, the promotion made it official, announcing the event and a press conference that will take place next week in Las Vegas.
But it was McGregor's own announcing of the fight that brought the most intrigue.
OFFICIAL FIGHT ANNOUNCEMENT FROM MCGREGOR SPORTS AND ENTERTAINMENT:
Conor McGregor Vs Rafael Dos Anjos for the UFC Lightweight World Championship.
MGM Grand, Las Vegas.
LIVE ON PPV.
This McGregor Inc. executive business decision is brought to you by the King himself in association with EA Sports. 'McGregor is the Game.'
Mr. McGregor would like to thank the fans and the media for their patience in this decision.
Mr. McGregor was still busy counting the take from his last fight.
He has chosen to dedicate this demolition job to the loyal people of Brazil and all the fans around the globe who stay true to their roots and loyal to their land.
Mr. McGregor has said that Rafael is a traitor to his people and vows to "behead the 'American Gringo' Rafael Dos Anjos, in the name of La Brasilia!"
Viva la Brasil!
See you all in Las Vegas, March 5th!!!
The King returns!
One of the first things you'll notice is that McGregor has already come up with an angle to sell the fight. He's claiming that dos Anjos is a traitor to the Brazilian people, ostensibly because the lightweight champion elects to live in Los Angeles instead of back home in Brazil.
We've heard this before, of course; Chael Sonnen wasn't the first person in history to use this same gimmick, but he was the first MMA fighter (and not pro wrestler) that I can remember doing so.
That's all well and good. McGregor is, as you know by now, a master at selling his fights. This kind of stuff may seem silly to folks who like their MMA on the serious side, but it's the kind of thing casual fans lap up, and those casual fans make up the difference between the 180,000 or so hardcore fans that buy every pay-per-view and the 800,000 to 1.1 million or so that McGregor entices.
The most important thing you'll notice about the announcement, and maybe you didn't even realize it the first time you read it, is this: The only time McGregor mentions the UFC is in naming the belt he is fighting for.
There is no mention of UFC 197. He bills the announcement as being from "McGregor Sports and Entertainment." He notes that the decision was made "by the King himself in association with EA Sports." There is no thanking the UFC, no thanking Lorenzo Fertitta or Dana White. There is none of the chummy friendship that we used to see between the UFC's biggest star and the people who run the company.
Of course, some of this is bluster. But I believe there is truth here, also.
I have been told by multiple credible sources close to the featherweight champion that McGregor's ultimate goal is to strike out on his own, to start his own promotion company and to either promote events on his own or perhaps co-promote with the UFC. It is not more McGregor bluster. He actually wants to do it.
You can see the signs already, if you look closely enough. After beating Jose Aldo in 13 seconds at UFC 194, McGregor took to the stage for the post-fight press conference and thanked everyone on "behalf of himself and the promotion." And then there is today's announcement, which makes it clear that McGregor isn't satisfied with the status quo. He is going for history on March 5, when he attempts to become the first fighter to hold UFC belts in two weight classes.
But if his ultimate goal comes to fruition, he'll also become the first top-tier fighter to strike out on his own, to promote his own fights without the help of the UFC.
"McGregor Sports and Entertainment" might just seem like a funny way for McGregor to announce his next fight. But I believe it stands for much more. I think he's out there, right now, giving us hints as to what he plans on doing in the future, and I think that is a future that does not include the UFC because history has shown us that the UFC is absolutely unwilling to co-promote bouts with fighters.
Last summer, McGregor did an interview with Ariel Helwani (the part in question begins roughly seven minutes into the above video), where he talks about his method of negotiating his contracts. He presents his value to the company in terms of analytics, showing exactly what he brings to the table, and then has a stronger stance for negotiating. But immediately after, McGregor drops a hint as to what his future might hold.
"Eventually, it will be me in association with Zuffa," McGregor said. "That's where I feel I am going." The then-future featherweight champion added that he sees White and Fertitta as business partners.
McGregor's big plans won't come to fruition unless he keeps winning, though. Any kind of power he has to create his own promotion company would be greatly diminished if he were to lose to dos Anjos or Frankie Edgar or both.
But what if McGregor keeps winning? What if he takes the lightweight title, defends the featherweight title and then—as his coach John Kavanagh hinted at in a column penned for Irish outlet The42 after today's announcement—moves up yet again and tries to take the welterweight title, too? The odds of all of these things happening don't seem all that high, but everything about McGregor's rise to the top has been unlikely thus far. So what if?
At this point—after all we've seen him accomplish—I think we have to assume that if McGregor has decided that his path in life will include him being a promoter of his own fights, it is probably unwise to bet against him.
And if he ends up there, with "McGregor Sports and Entertainment" booking big fights at Croke Park, then history might look back on him not just as a loud-mouthed fighter from Dublin who accomplished extraordinary things, but also as a trailblazer who changed the sport forever.
Jeremy Botter covers mixed martial arts for Bleacher Report. Follow him on Twitter.