Comment: UFC veering from noble, bloody path with cash grab

Irish MMA superstar Conor McGregor has been the poster boy for the UFC since his octagon debut in 2013. Picture: Julio Cortez/AP
Irish MMA superstar Conor McGregor has been the poster boy for the UFC since his octagon debut in 2013. Picture: Julio Cortez/AP
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It’s official, the moment would-be martial arts experts in “Tapout” shirts everywhere have been waiting for has arrived, the fight is on.

The Ultimate Fighting Championship’s Irish poster-boy and boxing’s most obnoxious rope-a-doper are fixed to fight in a boxing match on 26 August at the MGM Grand in Las Vegas, a suitably tacky venue.

Conor McGregor has ostensibly taken over the UFC since his debut in 2013, with his propensity for aiming verbal jabs at his opponents as well as those of the physical variety.

He stunned the world time and time again with his versatility in the UFC octagon. He has shown great accuracy, decent speed, impressive control of space and even his ground work has improved. McGregor boxed as an amateur growing up in Dublin but has never done so professionally.

In mixed martial arts, footwork and striking are done differently to account for the variety of ways you can be attacked. McGregor picked apart Eddie Alvarez like pulled pork with excellent boxing but that does not equate to fighting an elite pugilist like Mayweather.

Still in shape after only recently retiring, with a 49-0 record no less, the American is one of the greats of his generation and arguably the most proficient defensive boxer ever. Tricolour toting McGregorites know the true odds of him losing this fight.

The world is dying in anticipation, to pay to see a fight they already know the result of. This is a one-off sporting event to settle those lager-laden pub arguments over who would win in a brawl between two different types of fighters.

Mayweather is the bigger draw here, that’s important to bear in mind. When McGregor suffers defeat at the speedy hands of “Money” Mayweather there will be a demand for a rematch. For it to be fair it would need to take place in an octagon, which will never happen because Mayweather, pictured below, would never tarnish his legacy by agreeing to a fight he’s almost certain to lose.

Sports are suffering from too much commercial influence, pundits have been whining about the volume of cash in football for decades. Boxing isn’t nearly as popular as it once was because of people who prioritise revenue over the integrity of their sport, people like Don King, people like Dana White, people like Mayweather.

McGregor has far too much control over Dana White at the UFC. He is, in his own right, the Floyd of MMA. From his fake-out retirement to his proclivity for stirring up controversy, McGregor gets away with a lot because he draws in viewers and this is indicative of a wider issue in modern sport.

Just like the Mayweather/Pacquiao fight that happened seven years too late, the promoters are pegging this as the greatest fight ever. The same was said about the Pacquiao fight but most experts agree it was an abysmal display of boxing.

This “give the people what they want” approach to sports marketing can have its benefits, for example the transition of Brock Lesnar into MMA from pro wrestling was thrilling and though he didn’t deserve such an early title shot he did deserve to win it. Lesnar is the exception though, not the rule and this bout in August could send MMA on a path to oblivion.

The UFC is regarded as a professional platform for premium martial artists. It boasts some of the most formidable athletes in modern sport and has built a reputation as a company that cares about developing the sport more than exploiting its fiscal potential.

This is what MMA fans want the UFC to remain, though with cash grabs such as this it now looks set to veer from its noble, bloody path.

Ten years ago MMA was sneered at as a barbaric circus that showcased brutality and endorsed unsafe health regulations. MMA is now as safe as any other martial art-based sport, including boxing and is fast accruing a mass following globally. It has just escaped that stigma and swapping genuine competition for commercial appeal will not further progress it.

UFC president White told the world in a video addressing disgruntled boxing fans, that “everybody should be thrilled.” Many people are thrilled, some don’t care, some see through the transparent “this is great for combat sports” rhetoric and feel concerned for the future of both sports.

The UFC has made MMA a ubiquitous sport. There appears to be a new MMA gym operating on every street corner and people of all ages are engaging with the culture. Thus far the UFC has been beneficial to the sporting community, let’s hope this ludicrous fight is just a misstep and not a change of direction.