Thursday 14 December 2017

UFC's mainstream march reliant on Conor McGregor win

UFC fighter Conor McGregor Conor McGregor faces Jose Aldo in a featherweight title unification bout on Saturday night
UFC fighter Conor McGregor Conor McGregor faces Jose Aldo in a featherweight title unification bout on Saturday night

Tom Rooney

At some stage today Conor McGregor will arrive in Las Vegas to fulfil a final round of media obligations ahead of his featherweight title unification bout with Jose Aldo at UFC 194 on Saturday night.

Unleashing McGregor on the press corps once again will drum up every last available ounce of hype and hysteria that no marketing machine on earth could conjure.

And, whether they'd like to admit it or not, that's precisely why the UFC top brass will be crossing their fingers that McGregor brings an end to Aldo's five-year reign as their only featherweight champion.

Aldo and the notoriously irascible UFC president Dana White enjoy a tempestuous relationship at the best of times.

His refusal to learn English or churn up the sort of pantomime narratives that translate into pay-per-view buys (at roughly $55 apiece) has often obscured the fact, for the uninitiated at least, that he is one of the greatest fighters ever.

As such, the division has largely failed to ignite.

Since being installed as champion in 2010, his subsequent title defences have been limited to seven due to a string of injuries stemming from over-vigorous training regimes and, on one occasion, a motorcycle accident.

The few times he has made public proclamations of any kind was to agitate for better compensation for fighters which, in the eyes of White and majority shareholders the Fertitta brothers, is among the most mortal of sins. Though little of this would be of consequence if the UFC possessed the type of transcendent champions they once had in abundance.

When women's bantamweight champion Ronda Rousey was shockingly dethroned by Holly Holm last month, her sheen of invincibility, and ability to be marketed as such, was indelibly tarnished.

This year, she and McGregor almost single handily restored the promotion's viewing figures, which had suffered in 2014.

McGregor is now the lone member on a roster of over 550 fighters capable of continuing his employers' slow, but steady march into the mainstream.

Love him or loathe him, the Dubliner's brash persona has generated the type of viewership figures that none of his contemporaries are capable of, particularly Aldo.

When he fought Dennis Siver last January in Boston, 2,750,000 people tuned into Fox Sports 1 to watch the bout.

The UFC's prime-time events with the network averaged 864,000 in 2014.

July's UFC 189, despite Aldo's late omission with a rib injury, saw 825,000 pay-per-view buyers watch McGregor clinch the interim title by starching Chad Mendes.

When Aldo fought the same man, only 180,000 people shelled out for the bout.

The gate at the MGM Grand Garden Arena for UFC 194 is in excess of $9m and the pay-per-view buys will break one million.

The UFC tends to recklessly peddle hyperbole, but they've left it to a lad from Crumlin to spearhead their most ambitious undertaking.

Irish Independent Sport Star Awards

Pick our magic sports moment of the year and win a trip for two to London. To view the shortlist and cast your vote click here.

Irish Independent

Promoted Links

Sport Newsletter

The best sport action straight to your inbox every morning.

Promoted Links

Editor's Choice

Also in Sport