Well, ain’t this some shit.
According to multiple sources, UFC featherweight champion Conor McGregor has suddenly, inexplicably, opted to retire from mixed martial arts. Except that he probably hasn’t. Except that he *has* been pulled from his UFC 200 rematch with Nate Diaz. Honestly, no one really knows what the Hell is going on right now, but head after the jump for all the details.
Yesterday afternoon, UFC featherweight champion Conor McGregor sent out the following tweet:
I have decided to retire young.
Thanks for the cheese.
Catch ya’s later.
— Conor McGregor (@TheNotoriousMMA) April 19, 2016
It was almost immediately dismissed by those of us “in the know” as the little more than the latest publicity stunt from the McGregor camp — possibly a tactic to get in the head of Nate Diaz ahead of their welterweight rematch scheduled for UFC 200 (I guess?). We all had a good chuckle about it, in either case, until late last night when rumors began to circulate that this thing was at least semi legitimate.
McGregor’s coach, John Kavanagh, echoed the sentiment of McGregor’s retirement with a tweet of his own, writing, “Well was fun while it lasted.” Then, Ariel Helwani tweeted out that “Multiple sources are adamant at this time that McGregor’s tweet isn’t a joke, troll job or hoax of any kind. Reason(s) behind it is unclear.” But media speculation is just that: speculation.
Of course, when Dana White then went on Sportscenter to announce that McGregor had been pulled from his UFC 200 headliner for failing to make the necessary media appearances earlier in the week, it began to feel like McGregor’s retirement was at least semi-legitimate. The question then became: Why? Had McGregor suddenly been afflicted with a personal tragedy? Was this the latest result of his repeated “clashes” with the UFC brass? WHAT THE F*CK IS HAPPENING?!!!
The reasoning behind McGregor’s shocking announcement seems to boil down to one of three things:
If you haven’t heard, Portuguese fighter Joao Carvalho tragically passed away last week following a TKO loss to McGregor’s SBG teammate, Charlie Ward. The heartbreaking death has stirred up some intense feelings from Irish media about MMA’s place in the country in the time since, and McGregor — who witnessed the fight first hand — seemed to take the news of his passing harder than most.
“To see a young man doing what he loves, competing for a chance at a better life, and then to have it taken away is truly heartbreaking,” wrote McGregor in a Facebook post last week.
“We are just men and women doing something we love in the hope of a better life for ourselves and our families. Nobody involved in combat sports of any kind wants to see this. It is such a rare occurrence that I don’t know how to take this.
I was ringside supporting my teammate, and the fight was so back and forth, that I just can’t understand it.
My condolences go out to Joao’s family and his team. Their man was a hell of a fighter and will be sorely missed by all.
Combat sport is a crazy game and with the recent incident in boxing and now this in MMA, it is a sad time to be a fighter and a fight fan.
It is easy for those on the outside to criticise our way of living, but for the millions of people around the world who have had their lives, their health, their fitness and their mental strength all changed for the better through combat, this is truly a bitter pill to swallow. We have lost one of us.
I hope we remember Joao as a champion, who pursued his dream doing what he loved, and show him the eternal respect and admiration he deserves.”
It could be entirely possible that McGregor decision to hang up his gloves was not only influenced by the shaking realization of how dangerous this sport can be, but by the fact that he was supposed to appear in Vegas just days after it to promote an event as if nothing had happened. Then again, if that was the case, why would McGregor be posting photos like this just days ago?
Of course, there’s also another possibility behind McGregor’s retirement…
2. A Bluff Gone Wrong
It’s been rumored for sometime now that McGregor has been clashing with the UFC brass over the most obvious of issues: Money. McGregor is a smart guy, realizes that he’s by far the UFC’s biggest draw, and has been demanding increasingly exorbitant paychecks as a result.
“Conor had a deal with the UFC. And Conor’s now going back and trying to renegotiate and it just doesn’t work that way. It can’t. You can’t write everything down, you can’t get your contracts done all the time in this business. There’s 500 guys under contract. There’s not even that many employees in the UFC. I think there’s like 340 employees with 500 fighters. There’s 53 shows scheduled for a year that only has 52 weeks in the year. You have to be able to make a phone call, count on whatever the guy says, hang up the phone and that’s the end of it. You have to be able to do that.
According to a tweet sent out by TV sports personality Charly Arnolt late last night, McGregor was demanding $10 million dollars to rematch Nate Diaz at UFC 200, a number significantly higher than *any* UFC fighter has ever been paid before.
— Charly Arnolt (@CharlyArnolt) April 19, 2016
Now, McGregor has always been a big picture guy, to the point that he’s openly discussed eventually leaving the UFC to promote his own fights. Just as Floyd Mayweather became the kajillionaire that he is today after he decided to leave Bob Arum behind to found Mayweather Promotions, McGregor may very well be using his popularity as a tool to hold the UFC hostage in a negotiation. Lord knows he has earned enough money to sit back for a while until the UFC decides to pony up, but would he really risk everything on a bluff?
According to Chael Sonnen, yes, he would. During a Facebook live chat last night, Sonnen speculated that McGregor had bit off more than he could chew in attempting to bluff the UFC brass.
“Conor has a contract, he made a deal, somewhere he didn’t sign it. Let the promotion go out, let the money get spent and then realized ‘I’ve got the upper hand. Now I can come back and renegotiate. Who’s going to tell me no when the advertising is already done?’ That’s what he did. Guaranteed. With no inside knowledge, guaranteed that’s what happened,” said Sonnen.
“He might really be done…I don’t know if he wants to be done. This was a negotiation tool. But he called the bluff of the wrong guys. These are gamblers man, there’s rules in Vegas. If you say bet you have a bet. I mean that. You go to a casino, you don’t put your money down, you tell the pit boss ‘I want that bet’ if he yells the word bet you have a bet. And it goes both ways. If you win it he’ll pay you…Anytime you go into a negotiation and you call someone’s bluff, man you better mean it because this is what can happen.”
According to Dana White, however, McGregor’s bluff could have been a lot simpler than that. “He was in Iceland training and didn’t want to ruin his preparation for the fight,” said White while appearing on Sportscenter, suggesting that McGregor may have simply pulled the biggest power move of them all when forced to deal with the obligations the UFC so often forces upon its fighters. Though if we’ve learned one thing from Dana White over the years, it’s that he cannot be trusted.
3. It’s all a set-up
The one thing facet of this story that seems to be agreed upon by both MMA media members and fans is that McGregor, obviously, is not actually retiring. Helwani has since tweeted that “Wouldn’t hang my hat anything. One thing multiple sources seem to agree on: he’ll fight again. When? Where? How? TBD. But they believe that,” and with rumors of George St. Pierre’s return to MMA gaining more steam than ever, the idea has begun to spread that McGregor’s retirement has been a bluff by both the man himself *and* the UFC in order to set-up a match between the two somewhere down the line.
It seems ridiculous, we know, but consider what GSP told The MMA Hour on Monday:
“I would rather be known as the best ever than holding the belt. If you’re the best and even if you don’t have the belt and you’re the best, it’s more gratifying. The belt is a material thing. It’s good. I won it a few times. But I want to fight the best, the biggest name.”
Would the UFC actually pull such a positively WWE-esque move just to put an even bigger fight into place down the line? Not a chance in Hell, if you ask us, especially with what is already primed to be the biggest card in promotional history ever-approaching.
Absolute insanity. We’ll keep you updated as this story develops.