Conor McGregor’s impact on MMA is similar to that of Michael Jordan on basketball or Jonah Lomu in rugby union.
Once in a generation, a special character can drag a sport forward and McGregor’s crafted showmanship combined with skill was a perfect marriage for the UFC.
His latest retirement caused a deeper appreciation for the tremendous impact he had as the first international crossover superstar in cage fighting, taking the sport mainstream.
Conor McGregor has had a greater impact on MMA than any other fighter in the sport
The Irishman, now retired, took the promotion to another level as a crossover star
On Thursday, McGregor’s longtime coach John Kavanagh tweeted, “I’ve had a few UFC fighters push me over the week and say something along the lines of,” I may not like your boy, but we should all be 5% send . He changed the game for all of us. “Be thankful and you will receive more to be thankful for.”
It is difficult to argue with that sentiment. The UFC was certainly on the rise before McGregor arrived, but there’s little chance your grandma would have heard of hunters.
Now the name Conor McGregor has become inextricably linked to the organization, which has grown in popularity.
As the fighters prepare for the highly anticipated UFC 251 on Fight Island this weekend, McGregor will stand out for his absence. It will be staged by Kamaru Usman and Jorge Masvidal, with the former defending his welterweight title.
The UFC achieved an estimated revenue increase of £ 252 million between 2016 and this year, making only rising gains before that, even with a dip between 2014-15 and a decrease of £ 52 million.
McGregor fought three times in 2016, two high-profile grudge matches against Nate Diaz and then the lightweight title win over Eddie Alvarez.
McGregor has five of the six best pay-per-views in UFC history, including Jose Aldo’s fight
The Irishman had even released his own fly-on-the-wall documentary on Netflix
It was a huge year for both the Irish and UFC, and revenues have continued to rise ever since, reaching an estimated £ 848 million last year.
If you look at the pay-per-view records, McGregor’s appeal is even more apparent.
Five of the top six pay-per-view events in UFC history have been headlining McGregor. His confrontation with Russian nemesis Khabib Nurmagomedov brought in 2.4 million purchases in the United States alone, setting a record for the promotion.
And of course there was the ‘Money Fight’, his foray into boxing against Floyd Mayweather, which was accompanied by a stadium tour for publicity. It turned out to be an even bigger success with 4.3 million purchases.
Although it was a boxing match, McGregor’s charisma drew even more eyes to MMA, many for the first time.
McGregor’s ability to market itself has set a precedent that other hunters can follow
He has 36.6 million Instagram followers and 8.1 million on Twitter. And other hunters soon found that running the same map as McGregor was hugely beneficial in boosting their profile.
Just 24 hours after the defeat of UFC 229 and McGregor by Khabib, the Russian had gained a whopping 3.1 million new followers. Tony Ferguson jumped 100,000 and Derrick Lewis jumped 507,000.
In total, the other competitors that evening saw their fan base increase by a total of 5.1 million.
Even from their first meeting, UFC President Dana White knew he had someone special in the books.
“The first time I met him, we flew him to Vegas and he and I went out for dinner, and I was blown away by him,” said White.
“When I got in my car, I called [then-UFC owner] Lorenzo [Fertitta] and I said, “Let me tell you something, I don’t know if this boy can fight, but if he can even punch, this boy will become a huge superstar.”
McGregor fulfilled that prophecy not only as an athlete, but also as a marketing dream for the UFC. He’s always been incredibly active on social media, even building his profile by hiring a fly-on-the-wall documentary team to follow him and post the content online ahead of big battles.
McGregor became the first fighter to hold two titles simultaneously in the UFC in 2016
Khabib Nurmagomedov increased his Instagram followers by 3.1 million after winning
His movie ‘Notorious’ streams on Netflix and his character fits perfectly with the demographic interest in MMA.
According to IMG ARENA, 88 percent of sports fans are between 18 and 44 years old, 75 percent of whom are men.
With more followers than the NFL, MLB, NBA and NHL, the UFC Instagram page is an advertiser’s dream with their young and committed fan base.
UFC fans are 129 percent more likely to bet regularly while watching a live sport compared to an average spectator.
McGregor also made a lot of his heritage, hanging the Irish tricolor flag over him, declaring, ‘We’re not here to participate, we’re here to take it over’, taking thousands of supporters to paint Las Vegas green on big fighting weeks.
The fact that the biggest star in the sport came from outside the United States was also a major growth factor for the UFC.
The fact that McGregor came from outside the US helped grow the sport worldwide
McGregor’s move to boxing for ‘The Money Fight’ helped get even more attention
They now have broadcasts in 165 countries, 300 million fans worldwide with an estimated reach of 1.1 billion households.
Martial arts have always been about selling personalities as well as the sports competition itself, and while colorful characters weren’t exactly hard to come by before McGregor made his UFC debut in 2013, he became a gifted salesman.
His press conferences became a must-watch with plenty of sound bites and mostly an extravagant suit from his wardrobe.
And while many felt that his clunky, in-your-face, and often offensive style was hard to tolerate, it was always captivating and crucially he had the skills to support it.
McGregor called himself the ‘champ champ’ after being the first man to achieve titles in two weight classes simultaneously. And many doubt that his last retirement, his third, will last long.
The battle of the year isn’t far as Jorge Masvidal takes on Kamaru Usman at UFC 251
Usman, the welterweight champion, is the favorite of bookmakers who have enjoyed a full training camp
Prior to his retirement, McGregor was expected to fight again this year, with Anderson Silva, Jorge Masvidal and a retake against Khabib Nurmagomedov as possible options.
Masvidal is battling Usman this weekend at UFC 251, replacing in the last minute to replace Gilbert Burns, who tested positive for coronavirus and was thus unable to win the match.
A late replacement has not caused much excitement since Nate Diaz intervened to fight McGregor at UFC 196.
The pair Usman and Masvidal have wasted no time firing verbal barbs at each other, just as McGregor became known throughout his career leading up to big games.
Masvidal, in particular, has followed in McGregor’s footsteps in a different way by giving a grand overview of his pre-battle travel arrangements, posting photos of himself tucked into pizza while wearing an extravagant robe on his private jet.
Masvidal posted a photo of himself eating a pizza on his jet after stopping in Rome
Clearly, there are a number of factors in the UFC’s continued rampant growth, not just the impact of one superstar. Their television deal with ESPN was a huge milestone, and the company continued to make great strides even when McGregor is inactive.
The man himself was also fully aware of his importance, previously demanding a stake in the company and even had them advertise his own McGregor Sports and Entertainment company along with Proper 12 whiskey.
Many of his colleagues have accepted that they have been the beneficiaries of McGregor’s rise.
UFC heavyweight and commentator Daniel Cormier believes the company should pull out all the stops to get McGregor back.
“Everything is just bigger when he participates. It’s not worth losing it for the long haul, because you can’t make him happy now.
The ‘Notorious’ made press conferences almost as entertaining as the fighting itself
“You have to figure it out, you have to let it happen. Again, it’s not worth the penalty if he walks away. It’s not worth it, you have to make it work for him, ‘he said on the show in DC and Helwani.
Joe Rogan, the UFC’s veteran color commentator, summed it up when he said, “You’ll never see another like him, he’s a unique person.
“He is the first man in the UFC who has been able to talk so much, but has also achieved spectacular results.
“It’s almost as if we don’t have a word strong enough,” unique “isn’t strong enough.”
If McGregor really gave up, he can, knowing that no fighter has had a greater impact on MMA in the history of the sport.