Tuesday 24 October 2017

Conor McGregor: I can be the UFC's first billion dollar man

UFC featherweight champion Conor McGregor
UFC featherweight champion Conor McGregor

Joe Callaghan in Las Vegas

Conor McGregor has insisted he can be the UFC's billion-dollar man as he prepares for another huge Las Vegas payday on Saturday night.

The Dubliner takes on Nate Diaz in a headline bout of UFC 196 that, in spite of featuring a stand-in opponent, is still on track for over a million pay-per-view buys. McGregor set and broke gate records on his previous two visits here to the desert with featherweight title shots against Chad Mendes and Jose Aldo Jr.

Both of those events ranked in the top three of the UFC's 2015 calendar as the self-proclaimed fastest-growing sport in the world set a new mark with over $600m of annual revenue. However that still trails the magical billion dollar mark that the big four sports Stateside - NFL, baseball, basketball and ice hockey - break annually.

"One hundred per cent [we can break that mark] and I am that man," McGregor said in Thursday's fiery final pre-fight press conference at the MGM Grand, when the rivals almost came to blows on stage. "If you look at the analytics, the evidence, the numbers are all going up. All the channels, all the platforms and the numbers continue to rise. You're damn right I'll hit that billion dollar mark. In 21 or 22 years, whatever the company has started, 2015 was its biggest year. Who was 2015? That was everything got to do with me."

With UFC president Dana White standing just to his left, McGregor was under watchful eyes as he was questioned on his plans for further domination of the fight game. However White needn't have broken sweat as by some distance his most marketable asset pledged his entire future to the organisation.

"I'm not trying to bigger than nobody," he insisted. "I am with this company and that's it. It got me into the game so to be rising up and to be neck and neck is where we want to be. Maybe there'll be a time when I take that lion's share of the pie. But I will be with Zuffa until the day I walk away from the game, one hundred per cent."

A temporary move away from the octagon has been continually mooted over the past 12 months. As McGregor, well on his way to becoming the pound-for-pound king of MMA, has sparred verbally with Floyd Mayweather, the retired pound-for-pound king of the ring, the wild prospect of the two coming together has been debated.

Having said "bring it on" to the prospect in a TV interview earlier on Thursday, the Notorious one again took aim at Mayweather, more specifically the giant poster of the man they call Money that hangs down one side of the MGM Grand.

"I might go up there and rip it down myself and what's he going to do about that. I'll rip that down after this press conference. I know the people in the MGM are singing, singing all the way to the bank," he said.

"Maybe they should take out that lion statue and put in an Irish lion, put me standing up there. I like Vegas, when I come here I do really, really enjoy Vegas. I've buried three bodies clean out here. On Saturday there will be a fourth. The dirt is clean, you can scoop it up easy and bury bodies in there. I will continue to do that."

While the meeting with Mayweather must still be ranked as the longest of shots, McGregor was asked what fight would appeal to him most of all. The answer? Pretty much what you would expect.

"The dream fight? There isn't really. I'd love to fight myself. Imagine the numbers that one would do, if there was two of me," smiled McGregor, before striking a much more reflective, respective tone when another boxing great was mentioned.

"Look, this is a question we get asked all the time. I take inspiration from everything and anything. For me Muhammad Ali was probably my first combat sports star that I looked up to [most]. I had never seen anything like him. I cannot accept a comparison like that. Muhammad Ali is a special man, he changed culture, period. I am honoured to even be put into that bracket."

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