Less than three months away from Conor McGregor’s mega-money rematch with Nate Diaz, the UFC superstar has sent the MMA world into meltdown, claiming that he is retiring from the sport.
McGregor sent shockwaves through the fighting world on Tuesday after he tweeted: “I have decided to retire young. Thanks for the cheese. Catch ya’s later.”
Conor McGregor’s coach John Kavanagh added fuel to the speculation, tweeting shortly afterwards: “Well was fun while it lasted.”
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After a couple of hours of wondering what may have spurred this sudden and unforeseen outburst from the UFC featherweight champion, Dana White appeared in an interview with ESPN to shed some light on the background to McGregor’s tweet.
"We pulled Conor McGregor from UFC 200 and we're working on other fights right now ... Conor did not want to come to Las Vegas and film the commercial and be a part of the marketing. He's in Iceland training."
Off the back of his first loss in the UFC, it seems McGregor’s bargaining chips have taken a huge hit as this marks the first time that UFC President Dana White has clamped down on his prized fighter’s demands.
Conversely, it also signals just how serious McGregor appeared to be taking his rematch with Nate Diaz if he was so unwilling to disrupt his training regime to participate in the promotional and media events that he persistently dazzles in.
The UFC have only ever pulled one other fighter from an event previously, and that was when Nick Diaz refused to show up at a press conference for his scheduled title fight with Georges St-Pierre in 2011.
It seems McGregor’s latest demands were a bridge too far for Dana White, and the ball is now in his court if he wishes to salvage his status in the UFC, or if he really does want to hang up his gloves.
Remember, Nick Diaz was eventually re-added to the UFC 137 fight card to fight BJ Penn after Georges St-Pierre ironically pulled out due to injury. Do not discount anything when it comes to the soap opera that is the UFC.
Ultimately, the UFC is a means to an end for McGregor. In his terms, the promotion is a medium for him and top fighters alike to make their fortune and attempt to get out relatively unscathed and injury-free.
It is true that McGregor has frequently spoken about the dangers of the fight game, and his eagerness to get in, make his money, and get out. But I don’t believe that McGregor’s time is now.
We have always expected him to retire early, however at just 27-years-old and one of the biggest fights of his career now hanging in the balance, it seems far too premature for him to quit the sport.
To go out like this would certainly tarnish his reputation in the sport and everything he has come to achieve to date.
Most UFC fighters would kill for the opportunity to headline the milestone UFC 200 event and cash in their chips with a mammoth payday. Win, lose or draw.
If not for the fame or fortune, what is McGregor fighting for?
The three-piece suits, alligator skin shoes and Dolce & Gabbana sunglasses will tell you that it is the money that motivates him at the top, but you get the impression that there is a genuine love and even obsession with MMA embedded deep inside of him.
It is clear he has already made his fortune. What he is fighting for now is his status, and he would be mad to walk away from the sport he so dearly loves on such dispiriting grounds.
A little over a year ago, I visited Conor McGregor’s gym, SBG Ireland, to shoot a short documentary. McGregor-mania was in full swing and the media was saturated with content featuring the Dublin native, so we decided to take a different angle, and interview the man behind Ireland’s first UFC star.
That man is McGregor’s coach John Kavanagh, dubbed the godfather of Irish MMA, and a man who has been with “The Notorious” since his first steps into the sport.
Kavanagh is Ireland’s first BJJ black belt, and was noticeably intelligent, highly analytical and very open about his approach to the sport. It was evidently clear that Kavanagh and McGregor share the same love and obsession when it comes to MMA.
I recall McGregor walking in, getting stripped, greeting his coaches and colleagues, warming up and engaging in a series of impressive stretches and warm-ups. Afterwards, he began sparring with former training partner and UFC fighter Cathal Pendred.
He was gearing up to headline his first UFC event in his hometown – UFC Fight Night Dublin: McGregor vs. Brandao. Speaking to him off-camera, he exhibited the same passion and love of MMA as his coach.
Ego stripped aside, here is a guy who fights for more than fame and fortune, who has devoted the majority of his adult life to train and compete at the highest level of the sport.
This is ultimately what motivates McGregor to fight, like the thousands of fighters competing in small local circuits around the world, making buttons in comparison to the sport’s elite.
No top level professional athlete dedicates themselves to their sport and gets into it because of the money. Not Floyd Mayweather, not LeBron James, not Lionel Messi, not Conor McGregor. But it is a nice bonus.
At just 27, McGregor has yet to hit his peak as a top level professional fighter and he fought tooth and nail to set an immediate date for a rematch with Diaz. It’s difficult to believe that he is going to bow out under such baffling circumstances.
Only time will tell.