Monday 26 September 2016

Is Conor McGregor using social media to redress the balance of power between the UFC and its fighters?

The McGregor v UFC 200 saga continues. The latest tweet could be statement of fact or a show of force.

Published 25/04/2016 | 13:40

Conor McGregor
Conor McGregor

There was a period where Conor McGregor spoke and it happened. He narrated his career from being a dual weight champion on the regional circuit to being the biggest draw in the world’s biggest MMA promotion once inside the UFC.

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Then last Tuesday the world was sent into a tail spin as ‘The Notorious’ announced his retirement from the UFC and MMA in one simple tweet. It’s correct to say ‘the world’ and not just the ‘MMA world’ as every media outlet in operation covered the story.

On Thursday McGregor recanted and revealed in a statement on Facebook that his promotional duties were getting in the way. He was not retired but wanted to focus on training and preparing and more or less asked for a ‘mulligan’ on the media stuff.

The retirement tweet received 167,000 Retweets and 145, 000 Likes making it one of the most viral sports tweets in sometime.

His Facebook post has been shared 265,000 times and received 725,000 Likes. At one point, minutes after the post was published it was being shared 1,000 times a minute.

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The latest move in this social media chess game was from Conor McGregor this morning. He announced that he is back on the UFC 200 card and thanks the UFC’s owner and president, tagging Lorenzo Fertitta and Dana White.

There had been some speculation that this apparent spat between the UFC and McGregor was a manufactured publicity stunt. While it has brought more attention to the UFC 200 card, I’m not sure it was manufactured or that it will actually work out in Conor’s favour.

Last Friday the UFC held a big press conference to launch its ‘International Fight Week’ that will essentially be the build-up towards UFC 200. Events are scheduled for the Thursday and Friday night before Saturday’s UFC 200 on July 9th.

In attendance at the press conference were all the defending champions, their challengers and the main event fighters. Here in lies the problem. Conor McGregor wasn’t there. And that’s why he was pulled from the UFC 200 card. As far as the UFC are concerned, this is a deal-breaker.






At the press event Dana White was running out of ways to say that Conor was off the card referring to all the other fighters who made the effort – “Conor will fight again but is it fair to everyone sitting up here. People came in from Poland and Brazil. I mean… How many times have I got to say it.”

When White was pushed on whether he’d let McGregor off this time… “Is that fair? It’s not right, it sets a bad precedence. It’s not the deal. These guys came in from all over the world and it’s been that way for 16 years. People have been doing the PR.”

The only other fighter ever removed from a card for not undertaking their promotional duties was Nate Diaz’s brother Nick, who no showed for the UFC 137 press conference.

This is different. Nick was returning after a long time away from the UFC. McGregor has worked tirelessly both inside and outside the Octagon since he landed in 2013. It would be fair to expect this has earned him some latitude but not according to the UFC.

Dana White’s parting shot on the issue was pretty blunt – “We’re spending $10 million on promotion and we can’t shoot a promo with the main event?”

With regard to Conor’s future White said – “Frankie and Jose are going to fight and Conor will get the winner.”

No date or event was mentioned. When pressed about further punishment for Conor, White admitted he wasn’t mad at Conor and respected him and all he’s done for the UFC. When one reporter asked if the intended to pursue him for breach of contract, White was unequivocal… “We’re not going there.”

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For most that was the door slammed shut on McGregor and UFC 200; until, this morning.

McGregor’s tweet that he has been returned to the UFC 200 card has again sent the media into a tail spin. So far the tweet is up to 70,000 retweets which dwarfs any tweet associated with UFC 197 from Saturday night.

Jon Jones who made a successful return on Saturday has been slated to rematch Daniel Cormier and headline UFC 200. White confirmed that if both fighters were healthy, this was ‘possible’.

The welterweight champion Robbie Lawlor is the only champion currently unmatched. Rumours suggest he could battle former welterweight king Georges St.-Pierre.

The time of this latest tweet this morning was when most of the US was heading to bed. Was Conor planting a ‘social seed’ knowing that UFC brass would wake up to a deluge of media coverage? Is he trying to force their hand with a ground swell of popular support? Was this latest post a show of force rather than a statement of fact? The UFC typically announce fights not the fighters.

Why would they persist with Jones v Cormier II talk if they planned on bringing Conor back all the while?

While we would all like to believe Conor is still narrating his career and will indeed fight in July, I’m not so sure at this point. McGregor has proved he is the biggest draw in the sport. The UFC need to decide whether that justifies compromising their rules. I think not.

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