That’s what the world believed was running through Dana White’s mind this past Saturday at UFC 196. The man who currently runs one of the biggest prizefighting companies in the world had every reason to get pretty nervous as two huge moneymaking fights went up in smoke. As Holly Holm and Conor McGregor both gasped for air in front of the entire world, White might have well been doing the same thing as he watched dollar signs evaporate. A Holm-Ronda Rousey rematch lost a collective amount of luster as the former women’s bantamweight champion passed out rather than tap out to the new champion, Miesha Tate.
Conor McGregor, the sports biggest star and biggest mouth, bit off a little bit more than he could chew as he took a fight two weight classes higher than his current UFC featherweight championship status and ran into a buzzsaw named Nate Diaz. So the question remains: is it time to panic if you are the UFC president? Not necessarily. Sure, if you are a die-hard fan of mixed martial arts, the Ultimate Fighting Championship has always been the bee’s knees to you. However, in the eye of the national spotlight it’s still seen in some circles as a barbaric sport that doesn’t carry the same sweet science as boxing. To the general public, the UFC and its constituents are nothing more than human cockfighting. To the general public.
However, this past weekend’s UFC 196 may have done more for the sport on a grander scale, at the expense of the sport’s two biggest stars. Ronda Rousey may not have fought this past Saturday night, but she still took a bit of an L. Once dubbed the female Mike Tyson for her ability to finish fights in quick and stunning fashion, the only way the former women’s bantamweight champion was going to restore her glorious luster was to avenge her only loss against Holm. Rousey, who is still in line for a rematch for the title that she lost, will almost certainly have her returning match against Tate, the new champion. Rousey had soundly defeated Tate twice in the past, and getting past her a third time won’t nearly be as much of a draw as the rematch against Holm, who put her to sleep. What it did do, though, is create intrigue in a division that severely lacked household names outside of Rousey. In the pro wrestling world, we like to call this a rub. A rub is using one performer’s star power to create another star and build credibility towards that performer. How does this work, you ask?
“Who is Holly Holm?” is the question most people would have asked if they were glancing past UFC 196. “That’s the girl who knocked Ronda Rousey out? Well, shit I’ll watch her fight.” It is likely that the millions of people who tuned in wanted to see if Holm wasn’t a fluke. The people who did check the fight out and witnessed Miesha Tate choke out the new star in Holm, likely did their research to discover that the longtime mainstay in the bantamweight division had her run-ins with Rousey and, although she was defeated twice, gave Ronda her best fight outside of Holm. Thus, creating intrigue in the sport that boxing has lacked for a long, long time. You absolutely cannot maintain the popularity of a fight sport with just one name. Just ask the people who cash the biggest boxing checks if they miss having Floyd Mayweather lace up his gloves.
On the other hand, you’ve got Conor McGregor, who may have gained more in a loss than any UFC fighter in a long time. Fighting on 11 days’ notice against a very game Nate Diaz, who matches him in epic shit talk in every way shape or form, McGregor was humbled in front of the world but carried himself like a true champion in defeat. “I stormed in and put it all on the line. I took a shot and missed. I will never apologize for taking a shot. S*** happens,” said the brash UFC featherweight champion. “I’ll take this loss like a man. I will not shy away from it. I will not change who I am. If another champion goes up 2 weights let me know.”
“If your tired of me talking money, take a nap. I’ll still be here when you wake up with the highest PPV and the gate.”
If you were fearing that McGregor might go the Rousey route and go into hiding after having to eat his words in front of the world, we are all gladly mistaken. It is still entirely possible that McGregor will “take a shot” at the lightweight division against Rafael Dos Anjos in a match that may possibly still make him the first man in UFC history to hold two championships in two different divisions.
And here is where I believe that the UFC truly arrived on Saturday night. There is intrigue. There is drama. There are storylines. But most importantly, above all of that, there is money. Lots and lots of money.
Despite suffering his first Octagon loss on Saturday night, Conor McGregor took home a record $1 million in disclosed pay for his performance in the main event of UFC 196 in Las Vegas. The payout makes McGregor the first UFC fighter to break the million-dollar mark for a single disclosed fight purse. Diaz took home a cool $500,000 with no win bonus. Holly Holm lost her UFC women’s bantamweight title but earned a flat $500,000 in defeat. That clocks in at five times that of the new champion in Tate, who nabbed $92,000.
Stylistically, the co-main events showed why the MMA is more sport than show. Holm’s classic kickboxing style was no match for Tate’s impressive conditioning, patience, and Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu. The same could be said for Diaz, who took a ton of damage to the face and was a bloody mess, yet still managed to outclass McGregor on the biggest stage of his career. Diaz, who has suffered 10 losses in his career, is now reinvigorated and back into being a must-watch fighter. That is something that is nearly unheard of in boxing. There’s almost no way you would pay to see somebody fight on pay-per-view who has lost ten fights in this career, and yet, there is Diaz who now may have a date with Robbie Lawler in the future.
And to think, this is all happening with a UFC landmark 200th event on the horizon, the debut of Phil “CM Punk” Brooks, the eventual returns of Jon “Bones” Jones, Rousey, and possibly Georges St. Pierre. Right now, there is more intrigue, interest, and spotlight on the UFC than ever despite some stars getting put to sleep. So is Dana White panicking? Nope, he’s got the world in a rear-naked choke and isn’t about to let go anytime soon.
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