LAS VEGAS — They will be in opposite corners Saturday night, coming into the ring from vastly different personal and professional backgrounds, but they might not be that different. Floyd Mayweather Jr. has accused Conor McGregor of stealing “my whole blueprint,” and even UFC President Dana White says, “In a lot of ways, I think, they are very similar guys.”
That can mean many things. Both are cocky, loud and certainly prone to juvenile antics at times. They like buying flashy things. And each is, of course, among the very best at his respective fight discipline.
But with Saturday’s mega-fight showdown at T-Mobile Arena, McGregor is suddenly subscribing to a key part of the Mayweather plan. He has formed his own promotional company and agreed to a contract substantially different from the UFC economic formula into which mixed martial arts fighters are locked. The result is a payday unlike anything an MMA fighter has seen that carries with it potential pratfalls for UFC. Namely, what does Saturday’s bout mean for McGregor’s future competing for an organization that pays him a fraction of what he will earn for a single night in a boxing ring? And what of the other MMA fighters who suddenly might feel there’s more outside opportunities and money available than the UFC has been able to provide?
“It’ll be a huge eye-opener to MMA stars on the real money that’s out there and available to them,” said Bjorn Rebney, the former Bellator CEO who recently has pushed for fighters to unionize. “It really sheds light on the fact that even the best MMA fighters in the world are getting a fraction of what they deserve.”
White’s organization is getting a slice of the pie Saturday, but he knows the highly anticipated bout brings some residual headaches.
“Believe me, it’s something I’m going to be dealing with for the next three years,” White said. “There’s no doubt about it.”
Media reports suggest McGregor could pull in a payday Saturday in the $100 million range. Seven-figure purses are not the norm in the UFC. For his rematch with Nate Diaz at UFC 202, McGregor earned a $3 million fight purse, though his total haul that night, according to reports, might have been closer to $15 million, including incentives, pay-per-view and sponsorship money. Aside from the two headliners on that show, the next-highest earner that night took home a fight check of $270,000.
Rebney says MMA fighters, particularly the biggest draws, will be following Saturday’s numbers closely and asking UFC a lot more questions about their earnings in the future.
“You can extrapolate off the numbers this produces,” he said. “It does not take a math wizard or a forensic accountant to figure out how much money is generated and where it goes.”
McGregor’s deal is similar to Mayweather’s in that he’s expected to earn a percentage of the various revenue streams, from pay-per-views to tickets sold to concessions in arena. The formula, which cuts out traditional promoters, is why Mayweather regularly earned eight-figure paychecks late in his career. It’s possible his share of Saturday’s earnings will top $200 million.
While neither fighter’s true purse will be known for a while, McGregor’s will dwarf anything he has earned in a single night for UFC, an organization that sold last year for $4.2 billion. He almost certainly can make as much in sponsorship money alone Saturday as he does from a UFC fight purse. Unlike when he’s fighting under the UFC banner, McGregor is permitted to sport corporate logos on his shorts and robe against Mayweather, a lucrative revenue stream not available to UFC fighters.
“I’m very happy with everything that’s been going on the endorsement side,” McGregor said last week.
White said no other MMA fighter can generate the same type of revenue or interest that would command a similar life-changing payday. Fans aren’t buying this fight; they’re buying the colorful characters involved, he said, and Saturday’s show is really unlike any boxing or MMA card that has come before it.
“Money is always an issue, and it always will be an issue,” White said recently. “How many guys in the UFC do you think I’ve got texting me right now going, ‘I want to box this guy, and I want to box that guy.’ It’s not as simple as — they see Conor doing this and they think — there’s not going to be the [same] interest out there as there is in this fight.”
While he surely will have to keep the UFC’s large stable of fighters happy, White’s biggest sales job after Saturday’s bout might have to be made to McGregor, by far the biggest star in an organization that doesn’t have as many bankable names as it did just a few years back.
McGregor is perhaps the biggest personality the MMA world has seen, and Saturday’s bout — and certainly the accompanying paycheck — might show that the UFC now needs McGregor more than the fighter needs the world’s largest fighting organization.
“[Shoot], there’s so much money in this thing he might never fight again,” White said recently, chuckling. “. . . You get a check like this, that might be the end of it.”
While McGregor has told White that he would like to fight again later this year and defend his lightweight title, he also has joked publicly that he might not return to the octagon. White seems to have considered that possibility.
“I’m never concerned whether guys or girls are leaving or coming or going,” he said. “In this business, you have to want to be here. I would never contractually make anybody do anything. Conor’s been great for this sport; he’s been great for this company, and if the kid makes a bunch of money and wants to take off and do something else, good for him.”
For now, McGregor will commit only to the days immediately following Saturday’s bout: He will be attending a friend’s wedding in Ibiza off the Spanish coast, perhaps realizing his bank account — and maybe his sport — might never be the same.
“We are going to go to Ibiza, and then I will relax on my yacht in Ibiza, and I will begin the counting game,” he said. “Because that is counting sponsorships, our count of the gate revenue, the merchandise sales and the multiple pies that I have my hand in. And then I build up my fortune, and there we go. So that is my plan.”
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