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A Star is Forced: Why the UFC is banking on Conor McGregor

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The UFC exploded a decade ago in 2005 when Forrest Griffin and Stephan Bonnar put the world on notice that the sport of MMA had arrived in the much ballyhooed TUF Season 1 finale. The sport is now suffering from turnover, as the established stars make their way off into the sunset (or Bellator), and the sport is left without star power to pay the bills. Which is why the UFC is banking so heavily on brash Featherweight, Conor McGregor.

Before you rush to judgment, I have nothing against Conor McGregor. He is being pushed into the spotlight, being given the ball and told to run. Run he most certainly has. He bought his Chael Sonnen handbook and is following it play by play. Don’t blame him though, It would be ridiculous to think badly of a fighter who is being given the keys to kingdom, for accepting said keys and rushing to cash in. He’s young, brash, gifted and isn’t just on the fast track to stardom, he’s being rocketed to superstardom by his new besties, Uncle Dana and Uncle Lorenzo.

Private jet getaways, check. Poolside umbrella drinks with the boss man? Check. Hanging out at the high school of your boss’ son, taking selfies and tossing around the ol’ pigskin, yep, you bet. Spending time at home with Dana watching the fights? Hell yeah. Conor is living a charmed life right now. You think this is commonplace? Think again. If you think you’re going to see an Instagram of Dana and Stipe Miocic judging a bikini contest on the beach or Raphael Assuncao shooting a selfie of him and Dana just relaxing poolside with a couple of cold ones, well, you’re misguided.

The UFC needs stars. They need stars like The Baha Men need a second hit. Their top PPV stars have unquestionably been Anderson Silva, Georges St. Pierre, Brock Lesnar, and to a lesser degree, Chris Weidman, and the jury is still out on Ronda Rousey. Anderson Silva is clearly on the downhill side of an amazing career, GSP is currently on the sidelines watching and Brock Lesnar is working part time in the WWE as their World Champion.

Former draws, Chuck Liddell, Randy Couture, Tito Ortiz, Matt Hughes, Rich Franklin, Chael Sonnen and few others have moved out of the UFC or simply retired into other careers. The crises the UFC faces is very real. The Ultimate Fighter while serving to springboard the UFC into brand new households, has also in turn created a glut of fighters on the UFC roster who are not top-notch, and who are under contract as space fillers as the UFC attempts to throw more and more shows at its fans. There are two events this weekend, and of the 22 fights how many appeal to fans? I’d set the over/under at 5, and bet the under.

Dana has forced Ronda Rousey at us as well, but at least Ronda has proven that she is the best in the world at what she does. She is an amazingly talented fighter who has the heart, attitude and determination to not just succeed, but dominate the sport. It remains to be seen however if she is a viable commodity to carry the UFC through their current period of growing pains.

Dana has also put the world on notice that this season of the The Ultimate Fighter has produced “The next Ronda Rosey” and most would bet that he is referring to Rose Namajunas. She doesn’t have to be the next anything, how about marketing her as the first Rose Namajunas. She has an incredible story, is beyond tenacious, fights with furious drive and backs down from nothing or nobody. Win, lose or draw she should be among the best and brightest to emerge from this season.

Before we beat up the UFC too much for trying to build stars out of necessity, let’s take a closer look at the star they are trying hardest to build. Does Conor McGregor deserve all the hype? Not sure. He might be a “can’t miss” prospect, or he could be the next in a long line of next big things, who wilted when the competition stiffened. He is already being talked about as a title contender, the next logical contestant for Jose Aldo. Huh? Really? Let’s take a gander at exactly what he’s done to earn it.

Conor holds a perfect 4-0 record inside the UFC Octagon. He has wins over Marcus Brimage, who boasts a less than stellar 3-2 record in the UFC. Conor defeated Max Holloway, which is a quality win over the 14th ranked fighter in the division. When you look at Max Holloway, and I believe he’s a talented up and coming fighter, but his wins come against less than top-notch talent. He holds UFC victories over, Pat Schilling, Justin Lawrence, Leonard Garcia, Will Chope, Andre Fili, Clay Collard and Akira Corassani. Yep, some of those guys fought in the UFC at some point. Fast forward to Conor’s win over Diego Brandao which is where Conor’s star exploded. Diego, won The Ultimate Fighter, but since has gone 3-3 in the UFC. Lastly, Conor defeated highly ranked and regarded Dustin Poirier. I thought he’d have his hands full against Dustin, but he won handily. Great fight, and it certainly puts him in the top 10 of the division.

How about before we talk title fight, he faces someone like Dennis Bermudez, Frankie Edgar, Cub Swanson, or Ricardo Lamas. Make him earn it in the cage, not behind a mic or on Instagram. If he’s the fighter Dana and company think he is, they’ll put him in with one of those guys. I think it’s telling that instead of him facing one of the aforementioned fighters, he will instead face Dennis Siver, who is ranked below him, and will likely provide the plodding, striker that Conor can best expose.

That being said, Conor will feel at home in Boston as the fans will undoubtedly rally behind him. It’s going to be quite the show, a spectacle and when it’s over, Conor will be talking title shot, and taking selfies with Dana and company while Stipe Miocic scratches his head, and wonders why not him.

image credit – Dan Sheridan/INPHO

Dan has been writing about the sport of MMA for the last 15+ years. During this time, he's met amazing fighters, and awesome friends sitting cage-side covering MMA. The memories and relationships are payment for his passion. Dan got his start as a featured writer for Sherdog.com and now serves as owner and co-host with Evan Shoman and Dion Harrison of The Crimson Canvas Podcast, on the Fight Booth Podcast network. Dan is also a part time contributor to FightBooth.com with pro wrestling, and MMA articles. He thanks Dave Reno for the opportunity and for years of friendship and support.

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