Conor McGregor Has The UFC Under His Thumb

Conor McGregor Has The UFC Under His Thumb

The UFC is not super kind to its fighters. Don't get me wrong: some champs and popular up-and-comers make decent bank, but they have little leverage. A few ugly losses, ill-advised words, or hell, a uniform violation can leave them out of a job — or at least on the UFC's shitlist. So it's crazy to see a fighter making the UFC kowtow to nearly all of his demands.

If you follow the UFC even casually, you probably caught wind of the recent news that UFC 197 in March will feature two completely bonkers fights: Holly Holm vs Miesha Tate for the women's bantamweight title (the one Ronda Rousey lost when her invincibility hack finally stopped working) and Rafael dos Anjos vs Conor McGregor for the men's lightweight strap.

Most overtly, the latter is noteworthy because — up until this point — McGregor's UFC fights have been at featherweight (66kg), not lightweight (70kg). He's not knocking on the gate of a new division so much as he's teleporting directly to the throne room and attempting to decapitate the king.

These so-called "super" fights almost never happen in the UFC. Sometimes the UFC's not on board with the idea, other times the champs in question spend months talking big, but never actually sign their names on the vaunted "You can now legally reduce each other to vaguely human-shaped meat patties" contract. On top of that, the UFC's recently become insistent that super fights come with the following stipulation: one champ must vacate their belt — essentially leave behind the division they fought so hard to rule — to go fight another.

On some level, it makes sense: a single fighter can only fight so many times per year, and one person holding multiple belts slows down multiple divisions. But it also stops a whole lot of titans from clashing, and that's a damn shame.

Faced with the prospect of leaving his shiny new belt at the peak of Featherweight Mountain to scale Lightweight Doom Spire, McGregor essentially said, "Nah, fuck that. I'll do both." And ol' Papa UFC was like, "Well I don't know about that, you crazy Irish whippersnapper [spits into spittoon, and also on a baby]. There are, of course, Rules."

Typically, the UFC gets its way in disputes because it's a massive corporation strong-arming its way through a field of contractors (fighters are not regarded as full-time employees, barring them from all sorts of tax, healthcare, and unemployment benefits) with little in the way of contractual rights and no union.

As I said earlier, fighters — especially all by themselves — have very little leverage. Even the biggest stars eventually roll over, as they have for things like the UFC's garbage deal with Reebok, in which basically everyone took big pay cuts (except, of course, Reebok and the UFC). In the UFC-fighter relationship, the UFC has almost all the power, and they often wield it in ways that hurt fighters and other employees.

And yet, one month later, it's been announced that McGregor once again got his way: he's jumping the line to fight for the lightweight belt, and he's doing it while retaining his featherweight belt. This after he got to be front-and-center in one of the UFC's biggest marketing pushes ever — one in which he reportedly had more influence than most UFC fighters would — and signed a contract that, again, puts him in a more powerful position than most UFC fighters.

"I am changing this sport," he told GQ. "I am signing a new contract the likes of which there has never been. Share of ticket sales, share of pay per view, I am rewriting the rules."

Conor McGregor Has The UFC Under His Thumb

Knowing McGregor, some of that is just hot air, but so far the results speak for themselves. McGregor does what he wants, says what he wants, and the UFC follows along, lapping up the cash that trails in his wake. Conor McGregor is making the UFC hundreds of millions of dollars with his relentless barrages, both verbal and fistic. They say that money talks. So does McGregor. The two have a lot in common.

On paper, this is a great thing for fighters. Finally, somebody's shifted the balance of power a bit. Finally, there's someone the UFC can't seem to push around. The question is, will these rewritten rules — McGregor's holy creed — trickle down to everyone, or does McGregor alone get special treatment due to his burgeoning superstardom?

Moreover, what happens when McGregor's arrangement with the UFC is actually tested? So far, everything has been exceedingly convenient. McGregor keeps saying (mostly) the right things and winning. He hasn't (publicly) pissed off any execs or gotten popped for cocaine or plowed one of his 35 sports cars into a nursery for baby people and babier piglets yet.

On top of that, he fights frequently, suggesting that it wouldn't slow down divisions all that much if he held two belts. I'm sure the UFC considered that when letting him hold onto his featherweight belt. So really, at the end of the day, how much power does he actually have? We don't really know yet.

Conor McGregor Has The UFC Under His Thumb

I want this to be a good thing for UFC fighters — who get beaten, run through the promotional ringer, and cast aside like wounded racehorses on a regular basis — but I can't help but feel like this is all some temporary fever dream. Once things get rough, I worry that the UFC will resume its old tricks.

Maybe, if nothing else, this will teach the UFC that individual fighters can be hyper-valuable — that the company isn't always more important than the individual. Maybe, in other words, McGregor's example will raise the standard a tiny bit for everybody else.

But forgive me for not being super hopeful. The UFC looooooooves throwing fighters (and their pay and their reputations and their rights) under the bus when it suits them, and let's face it: McGregor is kind of a selfish arsehole. I doubt he'll leverage his influence and go to bat over larger issues like, say, Georges St-Pierre did with drug testing back in the day.

Oh, and before any of that even has a chance of transpiring, McGregor has to get past Rafael dos Anjos, the guy who's flattened multiple lightweight legends with ease. Beating him is no small order, and I'm not sure even McGregor is up to the task.


    It's been one hell of a ride. It keeps getting more and more unlikely that McG will come through with the goods, so every time he wins it's something special. Really hope he beats RDA then Frankie Edgar.

    I am a long time reader, first time poster.
    I don't mean to be rude but the reason I'm posting this is because I just do not understand why this article has been publish on this site? Correct me if I'm wrong but I thought Kotaku was a video games journalism site not a 'post a story about UFC because the author likes it...'

      If the article bothers you don't read the UFC ones.
      Do you post the same comments on the articles about Japanese culture?

      If you look on your keyboard, there is a button that says "Page Down" - I recommend you press this and read the other columns if this doesn't interest you, the same way I keep scrolling down if there are video game articles that don't interest me to get to the ones that do.

    Have the fighters considered using their substantial strength & known ability to beat people up as a way to intimidate the executives doing this obviously dishonest shite? Even if they wore a disguise and just jumped one in the car park, it seems like there'd be too many suspects to work out who did it...

      I for one support your idea of vigilante justice, beating up rich executives, to bring more money to the humble masses (ie the fighters). Though I dont think it goes far enough, we need to aim higher. This should be aimed at all high end executives and the uber rich who sit on their piles of not so hard earned money, that comes from the sweat of the brow of the lowest among us. Would you kindly start beating up on the 1 percenters...

        Did you know that to be considered part of the 1% club you only need an annual income of $34,000.

          I was under the impression that debt was also a factor.

          I'd like to see your source for that stat. @xxryan

            Well considering this is an Australian site we don't have a 1% in Australia.
            So for the 1% to be a valid claim you have to be saying that it is the top 1% of the worlds population hold 99% of the worlds wealth. If that is the case then $34,000 compared to the average wage the much of Africa and SEA would put it in the upper echelons.

              @tigerion - That's exactly what I'm saying. I always find it really ironic when residents of Oz complain about the 1% when in fact, we are the 1%.. on a global scale.




            Last edited 12/01/16 11:45 am

              Thank you, rather interesting read :) Cheers for actually providing info. I didn't think the "global" 1% wage would be that low tbh.

                You're Welcome :)

                I try to look at stuff like that on occasion when I feel like life's tough.

                We are extremely lucky to live where and when we do.

                Last edited 12/01/16 3:17 pm

    He was so good in trainspotting. Best movie ever!

      Are you sure you're not thinking about "Snatch"?

    Agreed. And the logic of, "don't like it, don't read it" makes no sense in the context of Kotaku, as this is very much promoted as a video game enthusiast site. Sure you are free to write what you wish, but if you are promoting something, and writing about the opposite, in my opinion it shows lack of professionalism, lack of media integrity and is disrespectful to loyal fans of Kotaku. Peace.


      Keep the UFC stories coming Kotaku!

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