Before we get started, let me save triggered fanboys the trouble of maniacally scrolling to the comments section to fire off their furious what-fors.
Yes, Conor McGregor can kick my ass.
Yes, “Notorious” is 100x richer than me.
Yes, I’m a click-baiting hack.
All of those statements are true. You know what else is true? McGregor is not the greatest of all time or the best pound-for-pound fighter in MMA. Wealthiest athlete in UFC history? No question. The most popular fighter to ever step foot inside the cage? No one else comes close.
But let’s try to separate hype from history.
McGregor, 32, has a losing record at 155 pounds. The best he can do is pull even with a victory over Dustin Poirier in the UFC 264 pay-per-view (PPV) headliner, which takes place this Sat. night (July 10, 2021) inside T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas, Nevada.
Here’s the kicker: McGregor was well on his way to becoming the greatest of all time.
The power-punching Irishman enjoyed a magical run through the featherweight division that culminated in back-to-back victories over Chad Mendes and Jose Aldo, the latter of which minted McGregor as UFC featherweight champion.
Featherweight GOAT, perhaps?
As good as McGregor was at 145 pounds (7-0 with six knockouts), it’s hard to reward him with that honor in the absence of a single title defense. I think most of us would agree that Max Holloway currently holds that distinction after previously winning 14 straight fights — and the division crown — with 10 violent stoppages.
In addition to 145-pound bragging rights, McGregor also proved he was the best lightweight in the world by smashing Eddie Alvarez at UFC 205, but once again failed to defend his newly-won title. Instead, “Mystic Mac” took several months off to welcome his newborn son, then parlayed his popularity into a Floyd Mayweather fight.
He got smoked, of course, but changed his life forever.
The “Money” fight was never about beating Mayweather. It would have been the world’s largest feather in the world’s largest cap, but the end goal was less about winning and more about setting himself up for life, financially speaking, then working if and when he felt like it.
Color me envious.
I know UFC President Dana White likes to carry on about how McGregor is “underrated” as a true fighter and competes for the love of the sport. I don’t doubt him. But money changes people. It shifts priorities and ultimately, erodes ambition.
Remember that 7-0 run at featherweight?
It took place within a span of two and a half years. That’s because McGregor — who was once so poor he was forced to collect state benefits — didn’t own a tailored suit until his first win under the UFC banner back in April 2013, which paid him just $10,000 to show.
His $60,000 performance bonus must have felt like winning the lottery.
“My pay for that night was $10,000 to show and $10,000 to win, I walked out of the arena with an $80,000 check,” McGregor told GQ. “The first thing I did, I took a big chunk of cash out of it out and I gave it to my mother. The second thing was going to a tailor in Dublin city centre. My father, growing up, had always said, ‘You know you’re successful when you’ve got a fully tailored suit.’”
Fast-forward to 2021 and McGregor is the world’s highest-paid athlete.
It’s been remarkable to watch his evolution as a fighter. But the fan in me is somewhat saddened by the fact that we never got to see what McGregor was truly capable of. After capturing the lightweight title from Alvarez in late 2016, “Notorious” competed just three times across a span of nearly five years.
Because he could afford the time off — and the 1-2 record that came from inactivity.
I don’t think it’s crazy to suggest that McGregor had a much better chance of beating Khabib Nurmagomedov in 2016. That said, you simply cannot stop competing at this level of competition without getting lapped. True, “Notorious” never stopped training, but any athlete will tell you that practice just keeps you sharp.
Experience is what helps you grow.
McGregor has not grown much since 2016 and to suggest otherwise is to take all the data that exists between then and now and simply chuck it right out the proverbial window. And we haven’t even mentioned his submission loss to Nate Diaz back when “Notorious” was in his competitive prime.
Which makes me wonder how McGregor landed at No. 5 in the official UFC rankings.
Have a look at the Top 10:
Champion: Charles Oliveira
1. Dustin Poirier
2. Justin Gaethje
3. Beneil Dariush
4. Michael Chandler
5. Conor McGregor
6. Tony Ferguson
7. Rafael dos Anjos
8. Dan Hooker
9. Islam Makhachev
10. Gregor Gillespie
McGregor’s only win over a Top 10 lightweight comes in the form of a UFC 178 knockout over Poirier, which took place in late 2014 when both combatants were competing at 145 pounds. “The Diamond” would later avenge that loss — at lightweight — in the UFC 257 main event.
I’ve seen fanboys on the message boards scoff at the Top 10 and insist “Conor wipes all of those dudes.” Maybe he does … but what data exists to support such a claim? A 40-second win over a shopworn Donald Cerrone in the welterweight division? I think that’s my biggest issue with these insufferable nuthuggers: they just shout you down and call you names without producing any evidence to reinforce their position.
That’s my job, dammit.
I’m not picking him to win, but I actually think McGregor has a pretty good chance to beat Poirier this weekend in “Sin City.” As good as “The Diamond” has become, he still has a bad habit of getting into a brawl when it’s completely unnecessary. And when you’re trying to play whack-a-mole with your opponent’s face, your chin is front and center, completely unprotected.
And “Notorious” hits like a ton of bricks.
McGregor has done a lot for this sport and garnered a lot of attention (both good and bad). And if you think “Mystic Mac” got rich over these last few years, just imagine how much UFC made promoting his brand of violence. But getting rich and winning fights don’t always go hand-in-hand, so when you see hordes of fans jumping and screaming in the presence of the uber-famous Irishman, ask yourself one question.
What exactly are they celebrating?
For much more on UFC 264: “Poirier vs. McGregor 3” be sure to check out our official UFC 264 news archive by clicking here. For the complete UFC 264 fight card and PPV lineup spread across Fight Pass, ESPN+, and ESPN click here.