It’s well catalogued that Conor McGregor is arguable the UFC’s biggest star, and their most reliable cash-cow, so what happens if he endures a savage loss – not something Khabib’s opponents are unfamiliar with.
The UFC allowed McGregor an astonishing amount of leeway in taking on his boxing match against pound-for-pound boxing great Floyd Mayweather last year while most UFC fighters are kept on a tight leash, relatively low pay and long-term contracts that prevent fighters from taking part under other promotional banners.
The obvious benefit to the UFC, if not the fighters, is that fighters tend to have to fight whenever called upon, simply to maintain a means of earning a living.
However McGregor was allowed to break this circle.
True, the UFC did take a substantial cut from McGregor’s earnings on that night, but McGregor still made an astonishing amount of money by boxing standards, let alone MMA levels of pay; easily enough that realistically, he never has to work a day of his life again.
Thus, a major motivation has been removed from McGregor’s life. As a prizefighter, he has no more need to earn that prize.
It’s mostly about pride, and legacy and other such lofty ideals now.
He and his coach John Kavanagh make noises about coming back only for ‘interesting’ fights, fights that present the right challenge, or could cement McGregor’s leagacy.
As much as he is the highest earner in the promotion and an exceptionally exciting fighter, he arguably hasn’t cemented his legacy as an MMA great.
He may have brought the UFC more eyes than they could have envisaged when they signed him, and he will always stand out in UFC history as the man who helped push MMA more towards the mainstream, and the pages of the traditional sporting papers, but nobody talks about how much money Sugar Ray Robinson earned, or how much Ken Shamrock earned, or what Fedor Emilianenko earned.
Unfortunately, McGregor has stopped talking about legacy quite as much as he used to, preferring to indulge in shows of wealth, and misplaced aggression.
The best outcome of this intense rivalry is that McGregor’s fire has returned.
Before he won his second title against American Eddie Alvarez, he talked of being an active champion, defending two belts and fighting four times a year.
The exact opposite happened, losing both belts and fighting zero times in MMA, but hopefully boxing wealth hasn’t tamed the MMA warrior spirit in McGregor.